There is an enduring legend in Greek Mythology about a young man who happened to see his reflection in the water and was so enamored by the sight of his own face that he spent the rest of his life staring at it. This man’s name was Narcissus and needless to say, he soon pined away his life sitting at the spot by the stream just looking at himself. It is said that when the young man died, a flower emerged, where he had died and was named after him. The legend also spawned the word ‘Narcissism’, which denotes a trait wherein a person falls in love with him or herself. Such an individual came to be known as a ‘Narcissist’.
This wonderful member of the Daffodil family is perhaps rated, if not equal to, then a respectable second to the Rose, in the symbolic expression of a romantic association between two people. Snowy white in color with a bright yellow center, the Narcissus grows from a bulb. It has a wonderful refreshing fragrance and looks best when displayed in large numbers. In the Orient, Narcissus is referred to as ‘Nargis’ and it was perhaps the fragrance and beauty of this bloom that inspired the screen name of one of the most prolific screen stars in Indian Cinema.
The oriental culinary culture has also adopted the word ‘Nargis’ to denote a particular type of meatball curry. This is the ‘Nargisi Kofta’, which is cooked with a complete boiled egg on the inside. When this meat ball is sliced open it also cuts the egg in half giving a near perfect imitation of the flower, with its yellow yolk and egg white.
The subject of our column this week, blooms at the height of winter in the plains and during spring and early summer in the cool environs of the hills in the Northern regions. Surprisingly enough, as one drives along the Karakoram Highway from Abbottabad to Mansehra, one can see clusters of Nargis plants adorning the top of graves.
In Lahore, the Nargis season began with people thronging to one of the most popular spots where one could find ample quantities of this bloom at a makeshift florist located between the steps of the well-known Haji Karim Buksh & Sons and the Mall Road access to the Regal Cinema. This ‘shop’ consisted of planks placed on bricks that were stacked into steps. Iron buckets full of cut flowers were then displayed on these steps. On Sundays, the flower seller used the steps of Haji Sahib’s famous business outlet for the purpose.
My grandparents from both sides of the family and my mother were regular patrons of this spot and our home was always filled with large arrangements of this bloom. My father also made full use of my mother’s love of ‘Nargis’ and always used a large bouquet to appease her whenever she was vexed with him for one reason or another. Much later in life, I began using the same technique to put my better half in a good mood, producing very satisfactory results.
I have now begun growing the flower in my home with amazing results. For those of my readers who (like me) are passionate about the fragrance and elegance that this bloom radiates, let me assure you that this is the easiest plant to grow. This is so because given the right climate and soil, it will sprout year after year after lying dormant during the warm season. It will therefore not be long before, having bought and planted a modest quantity of Narcissus bulbs under your bedroom window, you will have the pleasure of having a complete bed-full, filling the house with a wonderful aroma.

The writer is a historian.