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Pink bloom in boom town

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide

— A Shropshire Lad, by A.E. Housman

A stretch of Calcutta is awash with pink, bringing to town a touch of Tokyo, London and Washington in spring.

Cherry blossoms in bloom, a fleeting glimpse of nature’s magic that is celebrated across continents through poetry, paintings and postcards, are the latest surprise to pop out of New Town’s concrete jungle.

A row of trees on the median divider of the stretch from the Nazrul Tirtha crossing till almost Hidco Bhavan on Rajarhat Expressway has been in bloom for just over a week since Holi, prompting even motorists in a hurry to slow down or stop to take a picture.

“Flowering trees such as the cherry blossom are an integral part of the landscaping plan of New Town. We seek to balance the hardcore construction activity in the area with softscaping activities through such trees,” said Debashis Sen, Hidco chairman and principal secretary in the urban development department.

The pink canopy cutting through the cluster of highrises and construction sites in the area is already a Facebook star. Sen himself has uploaded pictures on his blog and Facebook account. “I had missed the bloom last year but this time I was ready with my camera and captured the first flowers,” the Hidco chairman said.

Sumita Chattopadhyay, a New Town resident who teaches English at La Martiniere for Girls, loves to start her day with an eyeful of riotous pink. “The sight of the trees in bloom brightens my day as I set out for work. These beautiful trees are a wonderful gift to the township and its people,” she said.

The forest department had planted around 1,000 such trees along the artery and some of the adjoining service lanes in 2012-13 as an experiment.

The species isn’t the same as the cherry blossom found in Japan, where it is known as Sakura and celebrated as a national flower. The trees in bloom in New Town are a variant called Tabebuia Rosea. The regular cherry blossom tree belongs to the Prunus family while the species that adorns part of the township is from the Bignoniaceae family.

The most significant difference is in the longevity of the flowers. Botanists say that unlike flowers of the Prunus family that remain in bloom for around a week, the Tabebuia Rosea grows in tropical climates and bears pink flowers for at least a couple of months.

In a note accompanying the pictures uploaded to his blog on March 17, Sen wrote that the species was very much a cherry blossom by another name. “I searched the web and discovered that the Tabebuia trees in Malaysia are often regarded as Cherry Blossoms of Malaysia. I think we too can call these trees Cherry Blossoms of Calcutta,” he said.

For those still hopeful about London being recreated in Calcutta, a drive through New Town might evoke visions of The Regent’s Park in London, where cherry blossoms are the main attraction in spring.

In Washington, the advent of spring is celebrated every year through the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

A spring highlight at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace is the walk that the emperor and his wife religiously take through the royal gardens when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Hidco chose the Tabebuia Rosea as part of a landscaping master plan to give the roads of New Town “an international look”, officials said.

“The idea is to create landscaping along a straight line of vision for at least half-a-kilometre so that the pink flowers become a beautiful blur as you drive past. That way, the sight also stays in memory longer,” said Saurabh Chaudhury, the chief conservator of forests.

Architect Prabir Mitra, who drew up the New Town landscaping plan way back in 2004, said his colour palette was inspired by what he had seen in England as a student.

“I had first noticed the beauty of the cherry blossoms when I was in England in 1956 as a student. In the New Town master plan, the idea was to give all the roads unique floral identities. While the major arterial roads have been lined with red and pink flowering trees, the inner residential lanes will have blue and green flowers,” he said.

Talking of floral identities, Cherry Blossom Avenue would be a hot contender for a name if someone were to decide to rechristen that stretch of Rajarhat Expressway!

In any case, New Town’s pink patch is already the place to see for a colour break in this long election season with a profusion of political green, red and saffron.

Have you seen the cherry blossoms of Calcutta? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com