Orchids, an obsession for many in the city

Nalini Kottolli

Nirmal Mote, a full time maxillofacial surgeon and an orchid enthusiast, was at the Orchid show at Lal Bagh over the weekend. “You’re constantly thinking about your orchids, it becomes an obsession, there’s no other way to describe it,” she says. Organised by The Orchid Society Of Karnataka (TOSKAR), the event draws out lovers of the plant from all over the city. One will find signs that read ‘Orchid’s are God’s expression’, showing visitors that these enthusiasts have high regard for this plant.

Out of all the people I spoke to Nirmal was what one would call a beginner. She has only three orchids and came to the show to gain whatever knowledge she could to grow her collection.

Sandhya Mahesh, a founding member of TOSKAR, says that she has lost count of the number of orchids she owns and the number could be over a thousand. Though her father-in-law introduced her to orchids almost 40 years ago, she only found interest 30 years ago.
“Orchids were brought to the city by the company, Indo-American Hybrid Seeds. I visited them to get orchids like how other women would go to get saris and jewellery,” she recalls. She says that orchids are an addiction, “I’ve seen young men, who spend Rs 20,000 a month on this hobby.”

One of them is Chandan GD, a pediatric dentist by profession and the secretary of TOSKAR by passion. He says he was “bitten by the orchid bug” in 2007. “I never tell my wife how much I spend on the flowers,” he says, “all good things come at a price.” 

Shakuntala Manay, a retired home science professor feels the same way. “I don’t have a budget for it. If there ever was one, it has only grown over the years,” she says. Spending time with her collection of over 300 orchids rejuvenates her. A life member of the Orchid society, she says that she has just passed primary school in terms of her knowledge of the plant.

Nalini Kottolli, another retired professor and member for life of the society, says, “Once you get into it, it’s very difficult to get out. I tell my family that I don’t want any clothes or jewellery, all I want is plants.”

Nalini has over 3,000 plants on her terrace with 800 of them being orchids. “When I feel unwell I go and water my orchids, it makes me feel better,” she says. 

Suresh Kalyanpur, another TOSKAR member, was seated at the society’s stall. “I got into orchids in 1973. In those days they weren’t as readily available. I remember I once ordered them from somewhere and it came by rail. It took 17 days to reach me,” he recalls. He says you need to learn about orchids to be able to grow them. There are over 1,000 varieties in India alone and all of them have different requirements. “It upsets me to see people buy them without even knowing the basics. One because I don’t want people to waste their money, they’re expensive plants, ranging from Rs 500 to over Rs 2,000. And two, because the plants will die unnecessarily,” he says. He suggests the dendrobium variety of orchids as the best starter plant.

Ex-president of the society, Dr Sadanand Hedge says they have trained over 3,000 people in the art and science of growing orchids. He talks with such infectious passion and dedication about the flower. He has dedicated 50 years of his life to the popularisation and conservation of the “highly evolved” plant.  “If you find people who love orchids, it means they are very good people,” says Dr Hegde.

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