“Would you like a sprig of rosemary?” asked an usher, when I entered church this morning. “It’s for remembering ANZAC Day,” said another gentleman, as I took the little twig, wondering what to do with it. His words took me back years, to the professor who taught us Hamlet. There’s a line in the play where Ophelia hands the herb to the unhappy prince, and talks of rosemary for remembrance. I’m not quite sure it worked on him, but it certainly seems to have had its effect on me.
The other night, my neighbour (the elusive Darwinian) was plucking sprigs off a bush near my flat. He was also doing a fairly good lamb impression.
“Do you know rosemary?” he asked.
I said that I did, although I hadn’t realized there was a bush there. Rosemary bushes seem to be like curry leaf plants in India – you’ll find them in almost every garden. In fact, it was my Aussie friend Alana who showed me how to use rosemary to roast lamb. She made slits in the meat and tucked a few leaves in. Quite a fascinating process for an Indian whose idea of cooking is to chop, grind or fry the herbs she uses for cooking. The roast was delicious, of course.
The rosemary plant has spiky green leaves and violet-blue flowers. It’s used for medicinal teas, for hair-conditioning, and as potpourri. So it’s not just for remembrance. I even have a colleague named Rosemary, who rather appropriately wears a lot of blue. My Chinese flatmate thinks it’s very inventive to have word that’s two names in one – rose and Mary. I think so too.
What I should have been remembering instead of all this, of course, is the soldiers who fought and fell at Gallipolli and in numerous other campaigns. To commemorate this, the church had on display, by the altar, the distinctive Australian army slouch hat, the brim turned up on one side and pinned with a badge. It was placed beside a few poppies, more rosemary, and a lighted candle. My great-uncle once told me that he served in Africa when he was in the air-force. I wonder if it was the RAF back then, and whether he knew any Australians. In India, we remember our war heroes on Veteran’s Day on 11 November, when servicemen turn up in pomp and polish for the service at Afghan Church – itself a war memorial for soldiers who died in the Anglo-Afghan conflicts of the 19th century. You’d think by now we would have learnt a few lessons about that part of the world.
As we sing hymns, I remember an old song I was learning to play over Christmas – “Smile a little smile for me, Rosemary/What’s the use in cryin’? /In a little while you’ll see, Rosemarie/You must keep on tryin’”. I rescue my sprig of rosemary – it’s been dangling rather inelegantly from the fringe of my shawl, where it mysteriously got stuck. I’m not sure whether I’ll remember ANZAC Day, when I next see rosemary. But I certainly will remember it grows in Australia.