Under the Ilanji tree

One of the memories I have of childhood is that of sitting under the dark shade of the ilanji tree in the backyard of my ancestral home,having lunch with my cousin.I still remember grandmother had made rice and mango chutney for us.I yearn for the taste of that mango chutney grandmother had lovingly made for her grandchildren.I doubt that I appreciated the fact at the time.I think it was my cousin’s idea that we sit under the ilanji tree and have lunch that day.                                    

An Ilanji Tree( Mimusops Elengi)
The backyard was thick with many trees and plants.Near the ilanji,there was a koovalam tree,few jackfruit trees,one or two mango trees,guava and many more.I remember there was a big patch of the ‘nandyarvattam’ flowers.My grandmother was especially fond of them and took great care of them.Those five petalled white flowers were the favourite of the deity in the nearby temple.There was also a patch of dark red ‘chethi’ flowers.Huge round bunches of the flower hung on the short shrub. When grandmother went to the temple some mornings,she would collect the flowers in a piece of banana leaf and take it along with her.Sometimes she would let us kids pluck the flowers and take it to temple.

The sand in the backyard was white and soft.And we had a yearning to sit under the ilanji tree,on the sand and have food.It was to be a picninc for us.

We told grandmother that we would have lunch outside.She agreed and brought us a plate of steaming hot rice,sambhar,the yummy mango chutney and a big steel tumbler of water.We sat on the sand in between the roots of the tree.My cousin kept the plate on her lap and I kept the tumbler of water on the root of the tree.It fell down and the water spilled on the white sand.We laughed hysterically at the cumbersome act.I got another tumbler full of water and we kept it in the same spot as earlier.It fell down again.We laughed so hard at the foolishness of the tumbler.This little trick we repeated several times,as if we wanted to teach the tumbler to sit properly on the root of the tree,until grandmother came out and scolded us for not having food.It was perhaps one of the finest meals I ever had.

Ilanji Fowers
The ilanji tree bears small white and brown,sweet smelling flowers.In the evenings we used to pick them up and collect them to make garlands.We would take thin fibres from the trunk of the banana trees to use as thread for the garlands.We would use the thin midribs of the coconut leaf (irkili)as needles at the end of the fibre to ease the flowers in. After making garlands out of the flowers we would compare who had the longest garland.After evening bath we would wear the garlands on our hair.It used to make me feel like a queen.

A few years later the vagaries of the monsoon caused the giant ilanji tree its life.The tree slanted a bit under the weight of heavy rain and wind.My grandfather decided it was time to cut down the tree. I remember him saying that the tree was planted by his father more than fifty years back. Everyone was sad that the tree had to be cut down.I think I didn’t realize that I would miss the tree.

Further down the lane I read the lines written by Kamala Das in her book ‘Neermathalam Poothakaalam’. She wrote about how the women liked to wear garlands of the ilanji flower on their hair and how little girls wore earrings and bangles made out of them while walking to school.It reminded me of the big ilanji tree which stood in the backyard with the thick foliage of dark green leaves and small brown flowers littered on the white sand.It reminded me of my grandfather and grandmother whom I naively thought will be around for a long time. I still yearn for that big old house, which was brought to ground too when it was too old to stand erect. A modern house was built in its place, which had many convenient amenities the old one didn’t. To build that house many of the big trees had to be cut down.

As grandmother became too old to take care of her plants, they died gradually too. But the memories remain, of my grandparents who lived in the big old house, the ilanji tree and a carefree childhood.

Chethi Flowers ( Ixora Coccinea)
Nandyarvattam flowers (Tabernaemontana divaricata)


  1. Awesome. I was looking for articles about Elenji tree as I am planning to plant it in our back yard, back in Kerala. So, I stumbled upon this nice images of Elanji, chethi and Nandyarvattam, and how those trees are connected to our life.

    Very interesting and awesome.


    1. Thankyou :)Hope you got around to planting the tree at your place..I'm planning to plant one too, one day..

  2. Seemingly simple memories, yet precious, penned down with such fondness. Nice writing style :)


    1. Thankyou, You_know_who :)You actually inspired me to come out of my laziness and write something else for the blog :P

  3. The story has a soul :D .. Its coming from heart :)

    1. Ninakku thanks onnum illa..ee 'Heart' um 'Soul' um enthannu polum ariyuo? :P

  4. Was searching for something on elanji..to refresh my nostalgic memories.. Thanks :)