February 17, 2018

A year later on: Notes on Bangalore trees and me

I can't believe it's been over a year since I last posted here. Where to begin? How to begin? Perhaps, where I ended last year: the trees, the trees of Bangalore, which have given me so much life and inspiration and beauty that I often quite can't encompass it all.

The tabubeia are now beginning to lose their flowers and I will have to wait for another year to see them bloom, lushly coloring the Bangalore skies. But this is the thing that a year of Bangalore trees have taught me, gifted me, rather: there will always be a tree leafing, flowering, fruiting somewhere whatever the season.

The rain tree outside my apartment is bursting into the brightest of life-affirming green; all last month, I saw the old leaves fall in a rain of yellow, one by one, until the branches were entirely shorn of them and I could clearly see the eagles which came to rest on the bare tree limbs. A green-throated woodpecker has made its homes in one of the trunks: perfect black holes of nests. One of the three avocado trees is filled with upside-down Christmas trees of flowers, the bees and butterflies giddily orbiting around them. The imli tree hangs heavy with deep brown pods, home to several birds including a owl couple; it now splits its time between the imli tree and an enormous peepal tree metres away. A tree I discovered only last year, the lipstick tree offers spiky chocolate brown fruit to the sky; once, when I picked up a cracked open fruit, the red seeds spilled out and I rubbed them on my palm skin, seeing a cloud of red form. And it occurs to me that all trees are not the same, responding to seasons as they please: if one avocado tree is ready to flower, the other is patently not.

One of the fig trees is plump with fruit, a few hardly making it to the ground without being bitten or tasted. Last year, I learned about the flowers inside its fruit, the wasps who make it their universe, their dance manifesting into a theatre production which I was proud to be associated with.

I participated in a human chain last July where we protested the proposing felling of trees on Old Airport Road, Bangalore. The trees had already been daubed and marked with bright red paint, much like branded cattle, in my eyes. The protests worked as in those trees were saved from senseless destruction; yet I hear today that there is yet another protest for 600 trees that could be purportedly axed elsewhere in Bangalore. I hope and hope that these trees too will have the opportunity to grow and spread their wings of branches for many more years. What price, development in face of these venerable creatures who give you shade, water, filter the sunlight, and illuminate the otherwise drab urban landscape with their leaves and flowers?

There was a rain tree which I made friends with soon after moving to my neighborhood; I would see it every day, its branches in conversation with that of its neighbors, the massive peepal tree and the jacaranda. Last summer, it was cut down in order to make space for an Indira Canteen. The process to uproot and destroy its existence took days: the stump lingering for days before giving way to the messy sight of the massacred leaves and branches and those once indomitable roots. The Canteen was built, the space where the tree once stood unused. Do trees have ghosts? Do their ghosts haunt the spaces which they once called home? The peepal tree leaves look lonelier, the jacaranda when it flowers seems less purple in its absence.

The other night, as my husband and I sat in our apartment balcony listening to Chopin's Nocturne, it was as if the surrounding trees' leaves too had ceased to rustle, the trees as absorbed as in drinking these slow, languid, gorgeous musical notes. Moments later, once the music stopped, I could hear the trees rustling again, in response to the music that they had just heard. I went to sleep, lulled by this most sweet lullaby of them all, thinking how fortunate I have been to live in homes overlooked by trees. They are my guardians, my protectors, emblems of spirit and strength and defiance.

I would be so very different in the absence of trees.

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