lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I never saw a poem as lovely as a tree

Lady Luck and I are definitely not on talking terms, that is clear. What ought to have taken four days took a week; but Dear Reader, I'm back.

Ever considered a tree? Ever looked at a tree? How many trees are real trees in our cities?

Come on, don't laugh. Think about it. Can you think of a real tree you saw? A tree that hasn't been shaped by human intervention by way of lopping off branches to suit human convenience? Every tree in a city is a victim of human whims.

Have you seen a tree all grown as weather, climate and nature shaped it?

You think a journey on a train gets you the treat of watching the countryside? Well, it does, but that countryside is full of trees made to follow the needs of mankind. Everywhere the tracks have been laid, there has been unreported and unremarked-upon rape of trees.

You will never find a real tree along any railway tracks: they all have been tailored to suit our convenience. It is the same whether your train powers out of large towns or mega-cities or small villages. You won't find a real tree in human habitations, ever. It'd have been shaped by humans, to suit themselves.

Humans seem incapable of letting vegetation be. A tree that grows on its own can be a breathtakingly beautiful thing. But we chop branches that block our light or may tangle with our electric cables; we hack away, leaving unsightly stubs and we make urban or rural trees ugly to suit us.

Southern Avenue in my city has grown hotter in summer in the last decade, thanks to the thoughtless chopping off of limbs to allow street-lights to shine through. Every year, and I swear, every year they "trim" branches of trees. Soon enough, there is no tree. It has been blown down by a nor'wester. There seems to be no basic understanding of ecological needs and principles. The branches they hack off so heedlessly take the tree decades to grow to that size. (I won't even begin about the brainless felling of trees to make room for a swimming pool or how shade, shelter and traffic safety were sacrificed for that monstrosity.)

Perhaps if it is put across as a quid pro quo , the politicians may realise the issue is bigger than constituencies or vote banks. It is more vital; we all need to breathe, after all. Whichever coterie is currently in charge has to realise that trees are important as lungs to cities. More than that, we need the trees to provide shade and some insulation from weather.

We read that Ashoka and Akbar planted thousands of trees. They did it for travellers; they did it to provide a green canopy that counters urban heat islands that cities and civilisations tend to generate. Trees absorb pollution, carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen that sustains us. A well-established tree cover can reduce peak summer temperatures in cities by some six degrees. Surely that is desirable?

Trees regulate temperature, bind the soil, give us shade and help us breathe. Cut down too many of them and your city will swelter, your citizens will wheeze, your streets will sizzle in the shadeless and breathless heat of summers. Simple enough? But civic authorities don't understand this, or if they do, they still won't stop the illegal tree-felling and timber trade.

Folly follows folly.

There used to be a huge traffic island at the Golpark end of Southern Avenue, and some lovely by city standards trees on it. They built a fly-over in Gariahat, and to cope with the bottlenecks it generated they shrank the traffic island to a third of its original size. They chopped off the trees, leaving one single sorry specimen to stand alone. They widened the Avenue by, guess what, cutting down trees. Now each summer storm claims a tree or two on the Avenue, and the monsoons harvest more trees weakened by indiscriminate digging and breaking of their roots.

Oh, they claim they planted a tree for every tree that was felled in creating the new island. They claim they have beautified the island. Piffle.

If you plant saplings in what are essentially flowerpot sized holes in concrete, it doesn't take genius to realise the sapling won't survive. A tree's rootballs need more soil than that. As a sapling grows, it requires soil to expand its roots, not concrete and bricks.

If you chop down trees and plant ornamental shrubs and a lawn, they don't miraculously bring back the shade you took away. The whole area shimmers in heat haze in summers now. Beautification doesn't serve people who have to use the streets. They would prefer shade and some relief from the sun.

Instead of dismissing these concerns as rabid green overkill, civic authorities ought to consider the benefits. But they won't. Because they know best.

I saw trees unmolested by humanity in Chitwan, Nepal. A tree that grew as nature and climate, locus and time shaped it is an awesome thing to behold. I admired real trees as I trekked to see wildlife. But near the lodge I was staying the trees were again subjugated to human convenience. Humanity strikes again.



Anonymous PB said...


5:43 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

pb, Thanks. Keep visiting.

1:41 pm  
Anonymous Mike Cappelletti said...

Amazingly! Amazingly!

8:42 am  

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