Early morning, driving through narrow pot-holed Tindivanam road in an old, rickety Ambassador always spelled home and the promise of a beautiful sunrise. Tamarind trees with white bands on the trunks ran along the road, revealing its darkling contours, in little parcels of oohs and ahs. “They are protected by law. They will never be chopped,” the driver told us. So innocent was his faith, and so firm. A decade later we were driving on a six-lane Tindivanam highway….
In no time, India had metamorphosed into a global powerhouse. Highways after highways piled up with mad drivers in a hurry to reach somewhere, anywhere where the roads would take them.
In some cases, people protested against the indiscriminate clearing of green belts, whether for the landing of a VIP helicopter, building of a new mall, extension of a metro line, or a bullet train! But, progress is a monster which devours everything. Along with the obvious animate living entities like the trees, ground water, clean air, small businesses, a whole way of life is gulped down voraciously in an act of sheer avarice.
I remember being mauled by a mob of thirsty mosquitoes at a station and seeking shelter under a neem tree whose inherent virtue lies in repelling everything that is abhorrent and sanguisuge…. In tribal wisdom, if one is gripped by inexplicable fear while walking through a forest, taking refuge under a neem tree can be calming. Yet, in our neighbourhood, a mighty 200-year-old neem tree was mowed down ruthlessly and we could do nothing about it. This happened despite the fact that neem trees are considered hallowed and protected by law. The residents did call the police, but no one showed up. Why? “To keep the drunken rowdies at bay from your area, ma’am,” was the explanation.
Nothing is sacred anymore. The street dog lifts its leg and pisses right on the Tulsi plant, the holy basil. Men cruise into our community, sit in their car, drink and leave behind a pile of trash. The base of the mango trees which so generously offer their bounty to us in the summer months has turned into a dumping ground riddled in stink. It saddens me to think that this year, mom and I will not be able to forage kilos upon kilos of the fallen fruits filled with summer sweetness, the way we have done in previous seasons. I wonder how these trees must feel…what opinion they must have of us humans?
Needless to say JCB and chain-saw owners are making a fast buck as tree-cutting in the name of progress becomes a national pastime. Even though we pat our backs for holding the Guinness book of world records for planting the maximum number of trees in a day, it seems nothing but a gimmick. And the trees know it.
What follows is a eulogy to this sublime sacrificial being, whose life is so intricately woven with ours:
how it rises
in its gathering
shade of purple
skies to lean
birds to sing
the grass to
a tree is the
which the seared
itself to the
Seema Muniz, a feature writer with the Times of India group in the nineties, is an avid reader and educationist, who homeschooled her son until tenth grade, while drifting between New York and Alaska with her family. She is also an artist, with a few solo and group shows in Albany, NY, to her credit.
Photo Courtesy: Balu B, WordPress