We are the Trees,
Our dark and leafy glade
Bands the earth with softer mysteries.
Beneath us changed and tamed the seasons run:
In burning zones, we build against the sun
Long centuries of shade.
(Song of the Trees – by Mary Colborne-Veel)
The true tragedy of the times is that people no longer understand what succour ‘long centuries of shade’ afford in ‘burning zones’. There was a time when Bangalore was a city of trees; the climate making it possible for them to grow in abundance. But that was before ‘development’ and unkind architects who, inspired by the splendour of Dubai, were enthused to turn a verdant, lush city into the reflection of a desert state.
Between 1982 and 1987, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka State, in collaboration with the forest department and S.G.Neginhal, had initiated the planting, in the city of Bangalore, of 1,500,000 saplings with public consultation as to the varieties. Apparently there was a near hundred percent survival rate of the saplings. No such drive has been undertaken in Bangalore since then and the tree cover started deteriorating as soon as it was handed over to the local administration.
Over the years, at this time the flowering trees bloom and we notice the reduced numbers. There was time when one would drive past tree lined roads which would be covered with blooms of one single, radiant colour depending upon the month. The pink or yeeelow tabebuias (it was never just yellow), purple jacarandas, mauve and lavender lagerstroemias, the two toned java cassias, the feathery, cotton candy rain tree blossoms and the scarlet gulmohars at the beginning of summer. Now they survive in isolated clusters on certain streets and one has to make it a point to go there just to see the last remaining remnants.
PS: Do you remember those things? We used to have quite a few of them in Bangalore. Those things with wood and leaves and flowers and pollen?
LL: Yes, vaguely, we do have the occasional one left by mistake or oversight of the BBMP. But they are soon going to go the way of the sparrows and the bees.
PS: And the name. Bangalore was a city of trees and lakes but Bengaluru is a city of cars, cement, glass fronts, smoke and techies who infest every corner of it and pay no obeisance to the old tree gods.
LL: Poor things have probably fled to kindlier cities which are not so axe happy and hopefully don’t have as strong a timber lobby.
PS: Chopped trees always remind me of the dying dryads in Narnia and how criminal it was considered to cut their trees down.
LL: I remember a few years back the BBMP had actually proposed getting rid of all the flowering trees because of their soft wood causing havoc during rains and also the increased pollen count.
PS: Makes you wonder how the pollen count could have increased with so few trees surviving. I hate the stretches of roads without any trees on the sides and absolutely no shade in the summer. The sun is particularly merciless in those areas and the temperature rises by a few degree.
LL: The worst are the slow killers, the shops and restaurants who don’t want the trees obscuring their name boards or shop windows and so they slowly poison the trees and then pretend they died on their own.
PS: Unfortunately the penalty for tree killing is minimal. A shop which had chopped down a two hundred year old tree, when questioned, told me quite proudly that they had paid a penalty of Rs 300,000/- and that their shop front was now visible because of it.
LL: I am so fed up with the reality and just want to keep looking at those glorious paintings of Channabasavaih Rumale, which display both the colours that used to be Bangalore as well as the shade.
We constantly ask ourselves why the paintings can’t once again represent reality. All it needs is a little effort on the part of the citizens. The following prayer, used in Portuguese forest preservations for more than a thousand years, could as easily be the prayer of our trees.
Prayer of the woods
I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly shade screening you from the summer sun, and my fruits are refreshing draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.
I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table, the bed on which you lie, and the timber that builds your boat.
I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead, the wood of your cradle and the shell of your coffin.
I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty. Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer: Harm me not.