Trees of life

Vaccine Depot Areaby Swatee Jog

Bella Vista Belagavi

The showers from the skies have brought with them myriad hues of greens, a thousand shades if you wish to count. After the first madness of the petrichor has settled in the mind, what remains is the fond sight and memories of your favourite trees. That gooseberry tree in my house, laden with the light hued pebble-like fruit with sparse leaves that felt as though they are reluctant to mingle with the world. Small leaves huddled together on the tree like the dreadlocks of a pop singer. Standing in my backyard in Shahapur I’ve seen it since I was a small kid. It drenched in water yet felt so aloof. It was a treasure of sweet sour fruit while it bore them, but otherwise it was so English. Stiff, dry, never waving its branches like the mango tree did.

Some trees just don’t socialize, I felt. Its neighbor, the mango tree, had spread in the neighborhood of other trees. Some branches even merged with the others. The gooseberry tree with all its fruit felt like workplace acquaintance while the barren mango tree was a dear one. As luck would have it, the mango tree flowered that year and bore tiny fruits, the same year that it had to be felled one day to make place for a new bedroom. While it lay collapsed on ground, it looked like a mother killed with its tiny tots orphaned. My family cried all day while the workers hit one blow after the other. People just came and picked those fruits, some even tearing them apart from the tree. They forgot that this was the same tree whose leaves adorned their doors every festival. The gooseberry tree lasted longer, but broke its stoic stand days after grandpa died. Never judge a tree by its appearance. Perhaps it loved grandpa so much.

A neighbor’s curry tree made friends with our trees. It had the fig tree for company. And both flirted with the birds with offerings of juicy fruits. The curry tree was a favorite with the ladies who sweet -talked the lady of that house into sparing a handful of leaves while they put their woks on the stove for tempering. Then they knew that the old lady murmured while handing over so they waited for the young woman who willingly shared the leaves. The old lady obviously made some quick money by selling a bagful in the Saturday market. The curry tree dropped its luscious green-red round fruits in season which sprouted tiny clones, pulled out delicately and taken home by scores of people. These saplings fondly grew even in small earthen pots in balconies or tall and wide if planted in the ground. The friendly fig tree merrily waved at all the birds, parrots, mynas, crows, sparrows and the rare Greater Coucal – the Bharadwaj, whose sight is considered auspicious. So much so that many from the vicinity strained their necks to trace it and followed its peculiar hoot on Ugadi day, considered special for such a sight. The orange-black colored birds with red eyes started early in the morning and returned by late noon, feasting on insects elsewhere but finishing off with a dessert of the luscious figs. One can even spot these birds in Tilakwadi, especially Vaccine Depot area. I recall the huge Banyan trees, one opposite Khade Bazar police station, which I could see from my cabin and the other opposite Bank of India in Shahapur. These trees hosted thousands of birds and was a sight to watch when they all flocked in the evening.

Birds in Vaccine Depot
Birds in Vaccine Depot

The rearmost end of our huge house was home to a neem tree that was planted by my father when he was detected with diabetes. He prided in chewing its leaves every day, freshly plucked, cleaned and eaten raw. The lone neem tree never gained girth, growing taller instead, had the guava tree of the neighbor for company. Another curry tree stood there, but it never quite made any friends except for the parrots who visited for the guava and just dropped by for the red fruits. You may see flocks of parrots still passing Belgaum skies, in the morning and evenings.

Then the school offered its own share of familiar trees. Right in the middle of our school premises ( St. Joseph’s), just on the periphery of the assembly ground and overlooking the entire middle campus, this huge tamarind tree stood there for the past 70 years. Its fruit laden canopy was just one amongst the myriad things that attracted us to it and was an eyewitness to the chirpy babble of the thousands of girls who passed out each year, carrying with them tales to share about their favourite tree. It conversed through its nods during our intervals and shared our silence while we wrote our exams. And yes,it helped that it bore the most forbidden (and hence, most yearned for) of fruits— sour, deep brown but equally luscious tamarinds! Every morning, we jumped out of our vehicles and headed straight towards the tree, dropped our bags at its feet and began running around it.Some grabbed the few juicy tamarind pods that the tree had dropped at night. There was much rejoicing over good fortune if a pod happened to fall on someone’s lap while we were having lunch beneath the tree! We would check if there was any chance of getting more fruit by throwing pebbles at the branches. But there was the fear of being spotted by the nuns who watched us consistently. Maybe… the tree knew that it stood on the grounds of a strict convent school and that the Mother Superior would not like us going crazy over tamarind instead of pursuing knowledge!

It used to be a sight to watch hundreds of students lineup for the prayer assembly under its cool shade. Years after I left school, I realised that the magic of the tree lay not in its fruit, nor in its shade, nor in the bark that we leaned against to read. It was the irresistible matronly shape, its drooping foliage that seemed to place its arms around us like a loving mother. In an environment charged up with classes, activities and fierce competition, the tree provided a sense of stability. Although there were numerous trees in the campus — huge gulmohars, nilgiris, coconut palms and even a peepal, the tamarind tree held a special place in everyone’s heart. The other trees came into limelight only when the incessant rains uprooted one of them every rainy season. We were often asked by our mothers to wait under the tree, perhaps because they felt we would be safe there. I remember some of my cousins fearing the sight of it, especially at dusk, for they said a tamarind tree is the favourite home for ghosts. But I was not one to buy this theory when I played in its shade every day, right into the evenings when we stayed back for practice,without ever sighting even the ghost of a ghost! When it was time to lay concrete across the middle ground, we all feared the tree will be felled. But the nuns loved the tree as much as we did, and it was preserved. A whole page was dedicated to the tamarind tree in the school’s centennial magazine! And lucky me, for I was selected to model with it with our principal in tow.

Trees must be loved. Love those commoners in the forest, lost among the biggies, love the lone special one in your backyard. Climb and sit on the branches and never care for the stinging ants. Hold their leaves in hand, rub against their rough bark. Look at them with affection and you’ll realize that they talk back. Plant them in thousands and don’t ever work an axe on any tree. They can’t talk in words, they may not smile as we do, but all their emotions can be felt in ours. I don’t know if trees can remember people who love them, but I know that these trees are one of the most loved treasures of my life!

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