It's called a Night Blooming Cereus and is rated as amongst the more exotic flowers to be found in human homes. It's a type of cactus and its main feature is that it produces a flower that opens only at night and lasts only for a few hours, always dying before dawn. Some people give parties to celebrate the event, usually timed for mid-summer and no-one who has seen one can forget it because it looks like a blessing in the shape of a beautiful white-petalled flower.
One of my sister's colleagues gave her a plant two years ago and it has been blooming regularly ever since. Between episodes of blooming it looks like a particularly gawky and awkward item, a delinquent hot-house resident that wants nothing more than to lurk in corners pretending that it knows nothing of blooms, pollen, stamens, petals ... until one day, quite suddenly and from the edge of one of the leaves, it puts forth a curling stem, about a finger in width. At the end of the stem there is a bud that looks almost normal, almost like a standard lotus bud, except that's a little bigger (about four inches from tip to where the stem begins), and a little hairier and it appears to have several tentacles, nude pink and white, clasped tight around it. There is something distinctly sinister about the thing, reminiscent of body-snatcher pods and other such unwelcome house guests.
On the evening that the bud is due to open, the tentacles begin to stir and to stretch -- all the action takes place within the course of a couple of hours, so the movement is practically visible. As the tentacles loosen their grip, the flower grows in size, its inner petals unfurling like a ballerina's tutu until, by around 8.30 pm (it's a punctual plant) its Cinderella transformation is complete. The tentacles have now drawn back completely, and form a spiky aureole around the petaled crown. Inside the pristinely white circle of petals there is a star-shaped structure, rather like an albino spider doing a languorous cabaret, poised above an audience of stamens sitting in taut, tight formation, as if at the edges of their seats, their pale golden heads bulging with barely suppressed lust.
I had seen photographs of the flower on-line (Google, of course! Just type in the name), but watching it in real life is a treat on par with seeing a one-time-only performance on stage. There's no saying when a bloom will make an appearance and at one of the web-sites online, where a number of owners and Cereus-fanciers share their experiences, there are several wailing voices claiming that they've owned a plant for 14 years and NEVER seen it bloom! My sister feels this can only be because the owners are too attentive towards their temperamental wards who (which?) seem to delight in taking their human hosts unawares and positively preen at the cries of delight that greet one of their sudden buds.
This flower may or may not be called "Brahma Kamal" in India, but if so, it is a bit of a mystery how it came to have such a name. The Cereus is supposed to be a native of the New World, while the Brahma Kamal I discovered on Google is a resident of the Himalayas. Certainly, Shashi Deshpande's recent book "Moving On" appears to make a reference to the flower that is even as I type this, blooming in my sister's Sun-room (well at night, I suppose, it ought to be called a "Moon Room"). Just another botanical mystery? Perhaps Zigzackly will tell us more ...