Under Bengaluru’s trees

Did you know the tamarind tree came from Ethiopia two thousand years ago? Or that the vast majority of Bengaluru’s avenue trees are native to South America? In fact, so many commonly-used plants have come from that continent, the famous botanist and Kannada writer B.G.L. Swamy wrote a book called Namme Hotteyalli South America (South America in our stomach).

If you’ve ever stopped tree.jpgin the middle of the road to admire a gorgeous Pink Shower tree in bloom, a tree walk is right up your alley. The tree walk I dropped in for took place at Rest
House Park on Museum Road. We were led by our guide Arun, who, while not tree hugging or bird watching, runs a restaurant near Brigade Road. As for the tree walkers, they were an eclectic bunch, ranging from an editor of an e-magazine on sustainable living, an architect with a keen interest in permaculture farming, and a Ph.D. researcher from Los Angeles.

The walk nearly did not happen, because just as our guide began with a brief history on Bengaluru’s gardens, a security guard took umbrage to our “meeting”. After we convinced him of our harmless intentions, he reluctantly agreed. And then we set off.

“This here is the rain tree,” our guide began airily. The rain tree is a native of South America, its name possibly a shortened form of rainforest tree. It was once a popular avenue tree due to its leafy canopy, but of late municipal authorities have stopped planting it as its branches fall during heavy rains. It is a fast growing tree, says Arun, its soft timber a perfect choice for nesting barbets.

All the way from Madagascar

Next in line is the Gulmohar, a native of Madagascar; the mast tree (also called the False Ashoka!) with its tall, skinny frame and drooping leaves, and the Cassia Javanica or the Pink Shower Tree.

There are old favourites, the east India almond tree, the soap nut tree, the cannon ball tree. Fruit trees: mango, jackfruit, avocado and fig. Thin reed-like golden bamboo and stately silver oaks and mahogany trees. There are gorgeous flowering specimens like the flaming-red African tulip and the purple Jacaranda, waiting for spring to burst out in colour. It is astonishing that a space so concise can host more than 22 different species of trees.

Arun also identified a staggering variety of birds in the area, sometimes by just their call. Green enclaves are like magnets that draw the birds in, he stresses. The talk veers to current conservation methods, and how for various reasons, trees the city was known for are no longer being planted. Fast-growing trees are often adopted in sapling drives as they make for “good figures.”

We come to the end of our walk, each lingering in their own thoughts. There is a deep satisfaction in learning the names of trees and birds, it’s almost a feeling of groundedness. We talk about the altercation with the guard, about how ‘public’ our public spaces truly are. Someone fondly recalls the trees from their childhood, and reminisce how their beloved city is fast losing something that defined it for decades.

“It’s easy to learn about trees,” says our guide, before parting. “They aren’t going anywhere soon.”

Now that’s definitely a thought to take home.

(This piece first appeared in The Hindu Metroplus)

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A morning at the terrace

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(Wrote this quite some time ago. Still love mornings. 🙂 )

“What makes you truly happy?”

Somebody posed this question to me once. It’s a question we should all have an answer to, a Happy Place where life seems a little easier. Eventually I decided on this: “The smell of earth after the first showers… and watching the sunrise from the terrace.” Well, there are months for the rains to arrive, but the sun comes out every day!

I love my mornings on the terrace. Since the sun peeps out at five o’ clock in this part of the world; it’s like putting aside an extra hour just for yourself, that would otherwise have slipped by under the blanket cover. And so I traipse up two flights of stairs to greet the dawn. The air is chilly, the silence so stark you can hear your heart’s whisper. Some sounds come alive at the crack of dawn; crickets chirping, a hundred different bird songs. The birds are always there… mynahs, sparrows, pigeons and parakeets. On lucky days, you can spot leaf-birds and blue kingfishers in the trees.

The enchantment starts from the moment the night sky pales. You wait, and just as the chill seeps into your bones, the first rays of dawn spray over the horizon, spreading a tingling of warmth through your blood. Before your unsuspecting eyes, the grey pallor of the night sky melts away into an azure blue. The sun jostles through the clouds in a subdued shade of crimson. The chirping starts, first timidly, then louder; till it’s a cacophony of sounds. A new day has arrived.

You can see the lake from up here, it’s still waters reflecting the morning’s calm. Of course, the lake looks prettiest when the sun dips into the waters. It’s a sight so beautiful that it can take your breath away. But I’ll leave the sunset for another day. Today, let’s celebrate the morning. A time to mull over the day ahead; a time to ponder over the purpose of life. Because you’ve just been given another day to do something glorious, something so satisfying it could be worth all your yesteryears put together.

The magical moment of dawn break is over. The sun is astride and getting in my eyes, in fact it’s so hot that drops of sweat have begun to trickle down my forehead. Too soon a journey from the bliss of dawn to the fierce sunlight telling you, “Off to work!” Like my childhood days that are now up, leaving only the glare of youth upon me, urging me to do my part, before my sunrises are up and gone forever…