What If Jasmine Loses Its Fragrance? Could Poetry, Nay Life Itself, Ever Be The Same?


“Flowers may be losing their diverse and delicious fragrances, thanks to increasing temperatures associated with global climate change, scientists say.”The research was published in the journal Plant, Cell and Environment.

The ideal temperature required for cultivation of flowers – 28 degrees and 18 degrees respectively for day and night – is not available anymore, not even during winter.Due to climate change summer jasmine has been reported to be flowering at Christmas in a South London garden.

I am aware of the debate and consequences of climate change but never got to be actively associated with the issue at heart. I am aware of glaciers and polar ice sheets melting leading to rise in sea level; coastal flooding ensues; droughts and wild fires appear with greater intensity; human life is thrown out of balance; there is the issue of food and drinking water insecurity; health issues like asthma and heat stroke deaths and other extreme weather events.

While climate change may ensure the wiping out of life from planet earth in a few decades or a century or perhaps earlier or later than this but the simple fact that disappearance of fragrance of just a jasmine flower could have mind boggling effects on life itself is frightening. It is this simple learning alone which has made me sit up and be alive to the consequences that face human kind. I have a jasmine plant extending over ten feet in height and spread over ten feet in width at my home garden. I have been tending to it for the last twenty years. In earlier years its fragrance could reach and percolate down several houses away. Not so any longer. Yet the fragrance has been permeating our house every morning for over two decades. I have been gently plucking about a hundred jasmine flowers every day for about five months a year i.e. the summer months for two decades; the constant companion which keeps on whispering sweet nothings into my ears is the red vented bulbul which sits atop the main power supply line to the house right from 4 a.m. onwards even before crows and sparrows (before they disappeared from our area) make their presence felt. The red vented bulbul would momentarily halt even as it gets replies from other bulbuls across the road perching on branches of trees.

About two months ago when I first realized that the jasmine flower is not as fragrant as before I started despairing about life itself and that set me of in little steps to enquire how peoples’ lives would change much before the doomsday which global warming may bring.

Jasmine flower is intertwined in the social, cultural, economic and political life of communities across continents over the millennia. A few random examples are worth recapitulating.


Jasmine is called by different names in different parts of India e.g. Motia; Chameli; Juhi; Mogra; Jaati; Mallige; MalliPuvvu. Over the past century poets, theatre activists and artists of Karnataka have extolled the “Mysore Mallige”; it was immortalized by the late K.S. Narasimhaswamy, the MalligeKavi. His poetry collection (1942) is considered one of the best literary works in the Kannada language. It has inspired the movie made by T.S. Nagabharana and also a musical play by Kalagangothri. Interestingly the MalligeKavi wrote of romance and relationship within the marital life. It is ironic that translation of his poems in English is virtually impossible.


The beautiful, heart moving poem titled Nila, NilaOdiVaa (Moon, Moon Come Running to Me) is a popular children’s song in Chennai, South India.

Moon, Moon, come running to me.
Don’t stop while you run.
Climb over the mountain and,
Bring a Jasmine Flower when you come to me.

(translated from Tamil to English)

This poem is sung by mothers to small children and acts as a lullaby.


A new kind of love poetry sung mostly by women had emerged in Kashmir. HabbaKhatoon (1551-1606) and Aarnimal (late eighteenth century) were the ruling ladies of this genre of mellifluous verses:

Although a garden jasmine I,
in the very prime of bloom,
yet waste I as the snow in June.
Come in the garden, Love,
Come and enjoy the jasmine bloom;
It blooms for you.



Jasmine garlands and the enchanting mushairas

Urdu – the language of love and poetry – is arguably the most romantic language of the Indian subcontinent. Urdu poetry or shairi has within it ghazal which literally means to talk to/about women. Traditionally ghazals mainly deal with the topic of love – more specifically unattainable love. Mughal emperors had cultured courtesan poetesses to enchant Mughal mushaira, a poetic symposium. The setting of the enchanting mushaira included row upon row of jasmine garlands hung from the centre of the roof of the house. Umrao Jan is amongst the most well known courtesan poetess and the 1899 novel Umrao Jan Ada was made into a movie (UmraoJaan, 1981).


Algeria, the land of jasmine


The Algerian poetess AmelTafsout (means hopes of spring) a master dance artist, choreographer, language and dance instructor, frame drummer, singer, wrote poignantly in the poem ALGERIAwritten a few years after the Algerian civil war of the 1990s:

Land of sunshine and jasmine
Land of love and scents
What have you done with your own children? …

Land of dreams and beauty
Land of happy occasions and joy
Why this terrible fate? …


Giovanni Pascoli, the greatest Italian poet and classical scholar writing at the beginning of the twentieth century (1855-1912) reminded that one yearns for the beloved at the very hour the jasmine flower opens.

Night-Blooming Jasmine

And the night-blooming flowers open,
open in the same hour I remember those I love.
In the middle of the viburnums
the twilight butterflies have appeared. …

The whole night exhales
a scent that disappears in the wind. …


The Jasmine Revolutions


The jasmine flower song, Moo Li Hua (Jasmine flower) is a classic popular Chinese folk song dating back to eighteenth century. Any Chinese person would be able to sing it. It is indisputably the unofficial national anthem for China. The song is just seven lines long.

Flower of jasmine, so fair!
Flower of jasmine, so fair!
Budding and blooming here and there,
Pure and fragrant all do declare.
Let me pick you with tender care,
Sweetness for all to share.
Jasmine fair, oh Jasmine fair.

However the song’s fate was sealed with the populist movements reshaping the Arab world. “Jasmine revolutions” suddenly threw from power or shook the all-powerful and firmly entrenched leaders in their palaces. During the 2011 Chinese pro-democracy protests the songbecame associated with the Jasmine Revolution; the song was placed on authorities’ list of online censored materials.


The Palestinian Struggle


Mahmoud Darwish, poet of Palestine and the world as the most important Arabic poet wrote a 1999 poem titled “We Were Without a Present”:

“We gnawed on stones, to open a space for jasmine.”

“The image is gruesome … of occupation but is in pursuit of “opening a space” for not just any flower, but jasmine, at once the most ordinary and yet the sweetest scented of free-growing vines. … Years of hope and history in a single line.”


Sentenced to life imprisonment for jasmine poem

Life sentence was handed to a Qatari poet, Mohammed al-Ajami on charges of trying to overthrow the ruling system. He was arrested in November 2011 following the publication of his “jasmine poem” which broadly criticized governments across the gulf region.  Later the sentence was reduced to fifteen years – for a flower – and eventually given freedom in March 2016.

Abu-Zeid’s translation:

Jasmine Revolution Poem

… All of us are Tunisia
in the face of these oppressors.
The Arab regimes and those who rule them
are all, without exception,
without a single exception,
shameful, thieves.
This question that keeps you up at night—
its answer won’t be found
on any of the official channels…
Why, why do these regimes
import everything from the West—
everything but the rule of law, that is,
and everything but freedom?



Sensuousness and jasmine

UsefKomunyakaa was born in 1947 in Louisiana, USA where he was brought up during the early years of the civil rights movement. He started writing poetry in 1973. In his poem Jasminehe talks of:

… The blonde, the brunette –
whichone is scented with jasmine?
… The blonde
hasher eyes closed, & the brunette
is looking at me. Our bodies
sway to each riff, the jasmine
rising from a valley somewhere
in Egypt, …

Once the jasmine eventually fades away due to climate change the jasmine cottage industry in Chennai, South India would suffer reverses; households dependant on it would lose their livelihood. Girls and women wear garlands of jasmine around their hair bun or have it simply tied to the hair. These are worn on a daily basis and more particularly during traditional occasions, festivals and wedding ceremonies. Jasmine has been in use in aroma therapy for ever since; recently scientists have confirmed the tranquilizing or the sleep inducing power of the jasmine fragrance. Major problem facing the perfume industry is the difficulty in obtaining regular supply of the natural ingredients.

The Chinese, Japanese and the Vietnamese would have to forsake jasmine tea – scented with aroma from jasmine blossoms. The jasmine plant is said to have been introduced into China from Persia via India during 206 BC to 200AD. Would the people of Thailand, Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia miss out on jasmine scented rice? This is a long grain variety of rice that has a subtle floral aromaviz a distinctive jasmine scent, though it is not artificially infused with the essence of jasmine blossoms. These rice grains have a shiny translucence and are white like jasmine blossoms.

So what would happen if jasmine loses its fragrance? Poet-lyricist Gulzar’s two lines penned in another context apply to the jasmine flower:

“Without you, there is no complaint against life
Since without you, life actually is not life.”

[The writer is a member of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at: [email protected]]

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