Lalitha Sridhar writes in The Hindu:
A botanically-inclined friend once told me how the ugliest of cities are made beautiful by trees. She then introduced me to Millingtonia hortensis, a slow-growing indigenous species that bursts into fragrant bloom from October to December. If that sounds like a name J.K. Rowling would give to a loopy aunt, it’s the lyrical mara malli (tree jasmine) in Tamil and Malayalam, the latak chandni (dangling moonlight) in Marathi and the Sitahaar (Sita’s necklace) in Bengali. I have spent every year after that helpful conversation with my heart uplifted at the sight of the many mara mallis in the city, every one of them carpeting indifferent roads and boundary walls with their slender blossoms towards the end of the year (I even know of one that leans gamely over the roof of an unsightly public toilet on the Theosophical Society Road in Adyar).
Talking trees is a hobby that delights me. I learnt, for example, of the shady magizhampoo (Mimusops elengi, or the bakul of which Kalidasa writes in Meghaduta) from a fellow walker who was tsk-tsking at how carelessly sweepers had shoved the tiny, sweet-scented flowers of the grand yet diffident evergreen, as she picked them carefully off the ground and folded them into her stole. I must have squashed hundreds of them under my sneakers till we met.
It was chats like these that I wanted to have with Shobha Menon, founder of the urban greening NGO Nizhal, over its evocatively-titled Living Landmarks of Chennai, a book on the many remarkable trees that may still be seen in the metropolis.
Vardah was still a ‘low pressure area’ faraway in the Malay peninsula when I first sought to meet Shobha, who was travelling at the time. Neither of us knew it was to become a ‘severe cyclonic storm’ that would make landfall at Chennai, of course, and this story would have turned out quite differently had we managed to connect before it did.