Elegy for a jungli badam

While driving, I have an eye out for some of the trees I’ve grown fond of, sort of like familiar faces when I used to be a regular runner. In some measure, they seem to say all is well. I remember tree locations better than I remember people’s homes and in their season, visit them just like one would visit a friend. It is comforting to see them year after year, watch their rhythms, look forward to their flowering and fruiting. One such gentle giant that marked a turn on my regular weekday route is the wild almond tree. A tall and handsome tree outside Akashwani Bhavan in Shivaji Nagar, Pune. Yesterday, as I turned the bend, the space occupied by its canopy was empty. The tree had been chopped with just the stump. It’s almost visceral, the sense of loss at the amputation of a tree.

Much has been written and many fight the good fight to save our trees, rivers, hills but it does seem like a lost cause. The city has been seeing frenzied work in terms of infrastructure, the Metro one being the most talked about in recent times. I wonder if it will really be all that it is touted to be. Most people use two wheelers here as that is still the fastest way to get around and it provides freedom from having to keep time of erratic buses. Rickshaws are not very dependable as their drivers tend to be moody and refuse fares if they think the distance is too far. In many respects, it is still a lazy town. Parts of this place still operate as though we were in an 80s warp.

The tree that no longer occupies a piece of the sky was one of my markers along with a few others on that street. The species is fairly common in the city and come January, they begin their transition here. The leaves fall, new leaves emerge, flowers bloom in all their foetid beauty and their green fruits appear only to turn a gorgeous scarlet. There is more than enough botanical information about the Sterculia foetida on the internet should you be interested so I won’t repeat all that here.

I don’t have any images of the tree that is no more but there are memories of its presence over the years. It is a route I have been taking for 7 or 8 years now and the trees along the way are etched in my mind as firmly as they stand on the ground. The loss of this tree is simply added to other tree phantoms. An old eucalyptus that stood outside an erstwhile home, a babool outside my old office, a putranjiva in one of the gardens and so on. I’m sure there would be others who miss some of the trees that used to be. A natural death of a tree is one that is celebrated for a life well lived but getting loped off is murder so it elicits reactions of sadness, anger, frustration, despair.

While there is indiscriminate hacking of nature, there is also the well-intentioned but harmful plantations across open spaces that are best left alone. As very young species on this very old planet in a very, very old universe, how do we even imagine that we can fix things we don’t know fully? Is it even possible to know fully? I suppose one can but that would need something more than science, more than imagination. I suppose consciousness might be the answer but that moves into the realm of the metaphysical and is perhaps best left to those who have seen.

Across the country, we are losing mature trees to ‘development’ like F1 tracks, metro construction, building of car sheds. There is ‘replacement’ that happens with saplings, often in places far away. How does one replace the loss of 40-50 or more years of a tree’s existence which encompasses so much more than just a tree? Imagine the frantic fluttering of birds that lose their nests and other creatures, their food? Younglings don’t have the maturity or the capacity to maintain the balance as it is their time for being nourished and nurtured. Many, if not most of them, perish in environments that bewilder them.

Every living being needs a mother’s care, love and wisdom. In the absence of that vital nourishment, life is stunted. Trees are our mothers.

late night notes

Life changing transformations happen in an instant, often in quiet mundanity. It is only when looking back that one realizes the enormity of it. Like, a late hour when one finishes something that has taken years in its commencement. Many years from now, will I remember a night when that little BIG shift happened? I don’t know. My memory is fickle. What seems so important in the now is lost in the future and what seems ordinary is vividly remembered.

Just a marker for a day when I’m old and might want to remember a moment.