“Bach flower therapies will not fix your broken bone, nor will they cure third stage cancer,” was not the first thing that Antonella said to me. I wasn’t quite expecting that they could, but I’m glad she cleared it up anyway.
The first time a friend told me about one of Delhi’s few ‘Bach Flower’ therapists, I was half-intrigue, half-dismissal. It sounded whimsical, something for Caviar Hippies. But this resplendent spring – which for some reason, feels like one of Delhi’s best, ever – I found myself viewing flowers as not aesthetic pleasures, but functional beings too. The more I looked at the sea of poppies, zinnias, and moon-sized chrysanthemums lighting up balconies, the more I felt they contain some underlying powers. This caused me to remember Antonella, and write to her.
She was quick to respond, inviting me to her lush terrace-garden for tea. The space feels like a beautiful old boat: contained, flush with resources, and a keeper of antique secrets. I instantly took to Anotella’s kapha personality. When I went home from our first meeting, I realised that it was the first time anyone with therapeutic knowledge had asked me real questions. Not questions just about how long my phlegmy cough had been bothering me, but whether I was someone who hibernates in January, sits in the direct sun in summer, and has trouble breaking things off with lovers.
Antonella Simonelli Mathur has been making and healing people through Bach Flower remedies for nearly fifty years, and has been based in Delhi for forty of those, having moved here as a bride. These whimsical-sounding cures were developed in the early twentieth century by a German doctor (of course) named Edward Bach. A successful medical professional, Bach nonetheless felt the limitations of the “allopathic” practice, to use the controversial term alternative healing types use for evidence-based, drugs-and-surgery medicine.
Bach, who thought the treatment of disease needed to incorporate the treatment of people and their personalities, developed a natural system that’s now seen as an extension of homeopathy, and earned a cult following in the UK, Italy and Germany, where it is still very popular. (Disclaimer: None of this should be taken as an endorsement, but you knew that, didn’t you?)
If I was Antonella’s patient, it was my emotional make-up, not my mother’s history of allergies, that she was ready to slice a gentle knife in to. Simple queries told her that I had the “gesture”—Bach Flower terminology—of a water-lily, a flower that typically blooms slightly off course, away from a pre-determined path. I can only guess now, post-diagnosis, that the way I picked at the cookies she offered, the times I spaced-out staring at her fiery red Semal tree, and the things I laughed awkwardly at were all important gestures – real data in the Bach Flower universe.
On our first meeting, which Anotella said was dedicated to explaining ‘structure,’ she broke down for me how these remedies—made from flowers, brandy and water, looking like fragrances in little glass bottles—work holistically. Because no flower has just one gesture and no person has just one personality, getting the remedy right is the magic of the cure-maker.
While Antonella has a relaxed, sea-side vibe about her, and is casual about a lot of things (including her current side job as a fiction writer) she’s got an air of uncompromising, almost reptilian precision. Our appointments started on the dot, the cakes at tea-time looked like they were cut by a laser beam, and her reading of what-I-must-work-on was something I’ve paid much bigger bills to a psychoanalysts to tell me.
Further, when she put together my remedy – a beautiful process that involves dropping tear sized quantities of liquid from her ‘stock’ bottles in to a glass jar – she wore not the look of the gleaming, satisfied surgeon who had gone smoothly from A-Z, but the half-smile of someone who knew that managing the body, and the heart, was a life-long affair.
The Well-Tempered Clavicle
After my visit, my best understanding of the Bach Flower method is that they want you to tell them the things you usually discuss outside the doctor’s office, in the waiting rooms of chilly hospitals. The more we chatted, and the more I thought we were passing time, the more Antonella was getting to the meat of her subject, casually lying back in her sturdy planter’s chair, cool, unsweetened nimbu paani in hand.
Antonella is one of a few people in Delhi who conduct workshops for Bach Flower therapies. Men are welcome to attend, but these sessions are typically filled by middle- aged women who take hours to discuss their troubles, which range from the well-baked joint family to ‘bedroom issues.’ What Antonella considers to be the most wonderful thing about this profession is the dilution of expertise that accompanies the act of healing: the more people who learn about Bach, she says, the more the expertise is shared.
On our final visit, I left her with a glass bottle to support (not treat) the-thing-i-have-to-work-on, a stomach full of coffee and treats, and a mind full of thoughts. My Wikipedia searches on Bach therapies rubbed my screen up with the word ‘placebo’ more often than I cared to find. In spite, or perhaps because of this, I, with my little knowledge, felt that something was already a teeny weeny bit better. Maybe it’s the four drops of new liquid I place below my tongue that’s doing the trick, or maybe it’s the new ideas they’ve sprouted. These days, I find those harder to come by than effective medical solutions.
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This story was contributed by Meher Varma.
Photo source: Real Flowers, UK.
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