Trees fascinate me! They seem like sentinels, standing patiently and majestically, watching over the earth and protecting it. My memory of my boyhood days is filled with trees. I remember the stately Semal tree [Red Silk Cotton] with its lovely red flowers and fluffy cotton seeds dispersing in the wind. The tree stood just twenty meters from my home and was a little paradise for birds of every kind: mynas, bulbuls, drongos, sun birds, babblers, parrots and orioles. The birds seemed to have a lot to say and kept chattering away the whole day. Sometimes they seemed to be arguing about important matters, while at some other times they seemed to be singing away in gay abandon. I also remember the stately mango tree looking over the cottage my cousins lived in. During the summer it gave huge mangoes which never ever got ripe and had to be used to make pickles. What made the tree unique is that the mangoes [every one of them] was more than a kilo each. Unfortunately, the tree was cut down when the property was redeveloped and a building replaced the cottage. I remember the coconut palms of my native place near Udipi in Karnataka. My grandma made sure that the coconuts were harvested soon after we arrived for our holidays. Me, and my brothers, had a quota of one whole coconut every day. To keep us busy and away from mischief grandma suggested that we water some of the young palm trees in the compound. We used mud pots to fetch water from a little pond close by and a number of times in our eagerness to water as many palms as possible we ended up bumping into each other and breaking the pots in the bargain. I remember the grove of mango trees in which we played [cops-thieves]. One day I overestimated my ability to swing between the branches of a tree to escape the boy chasing me. I ended up flat in the mud, my teeth shaken and my left arm broken. My hand was in a cast for more than a month and when it finally healed I got back to my mischief only to break my hand once again. I remember the other trees from a little later in my life: the groves of sacred trees in both Maharashtra and Gujarat which people believed were home to the spirit of their ancestors; the other large trees towering over everything else in the countryside, by some miracle of providence these trees had escaped the axe; the trees growing out from crevices of rocks high up on mountainsides.

Trees sustain the world!! I have no doubt about that. But the truth of this fact hit me quite forcefully when I had to relocate to Mumbai after spending many years in Nashik. We were fortunate to live in a large campus full of trees of every kind in Nashik, whereas, in Mumbai, though our campus has many large trees along the perimeter is a bit overpacked with buildings and artificial turf courts in the center. I guess it cannot be helped – but am convinced we have not yet come to sufficiently appreciate what trees do for us. Nothing can replace the birds singing in the branches, the flowers and the fruits, and the thick canopy of leaves that block out the summer heat. Nothing is as refreshing as the cool breeze wafting through swaying trees, and the experience of climbing trees even though falling out of them does have some very serious consequences.

I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to trees and I must admit that constantly falling leaves create quite a problem when it is a question of keeping carefully sanitized school campuses spic and span. Falling branches too can pose quite a danger and there have been experiences of children getting badly hurt.  May be, we need to be a little more prudent about the type of trees we plant on school campuses. But to deprive altogether, our growing children of the experience of living among the trees would be very sad. Trees nourish the spirit. Trees heal. We could teach our students grammar and math and science. We could even give them the opportunity to learn music and play sport. But if we cut them of from trees – and the birds and flowers and fruit – that come with them, there is every danger that we could only make of our young people ‘Clever Zombies’!!

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