My Tree Story – Max Babi

I have somehow been a greenhorn forever when it comes to greening of the planet… I have  tried and failed mostly to nurture even a small plant, though my love for trees goes before time begani.e. before my memory started recording impressions.

This story concerns the golden period of my life, circa 1993-95, when we were stationed at the world’s Greenest Capital, i.e. Gandhinagar. I still feel, I had been transported to heaven, the three years that we spent living in midst of a million plus trees in a city with barely a quarter million souls sharing all this abundance. For those who have never been to what is perhaps the best planned city in the world, which runs with clockwork efficiency and nary a stray plastic bag or stinking garbage can be seen. However the government’s job is to rule us unruly subjects, so often, I would watch with apprehension and diffidence, as hundreds of young frees would be chopped off now and then… from the ‘green’ portions of each sector.

” Why do they do that?”  I asked my Mr. Know-all driver who had an answer for any question. ” The cops feel thieves hide in the thickets sir,’  he said but the smile hovered on his lips so I gave him another questioning look. He added : ” Ahem, in the evening sir, love-birds use these thickets as safe rendezvous points.”

Gandhinagar was then a city planned with 34 sectors, though only 29 sectors were built. Each one was exactly 0.75KM in size, with a few bungalows, one small shopping centre, one dispensary, one school, one religious place ( temple, church, mosque…) and properly tarred roads, sheer paradise for walkers and joggers who would stream onto the parks. Yes, and one park each for every sector. The two of the  largest parks were in sector 28, just opposite ours, and the other was in sector 24 where the world famous Swaminarayan Temple stood in all its magnificent glory and attracted hordes of visitors. As the highway passed through the city, most of us walkers avoided the main arterial road, often spilling over to either the river side, the Sabarmati river flowed close by, or towards the village Manasa, where even the Neel-gai (blue bulls) hordes would come close to the industrial estate and watch us, as we watched them.

I had a decent little garden of my own in the rented bungalow. My wife is an expert gardener and she brought it to sparkling life soon. I would religiously water the entire garden, and often wonder if I too should plant a seed, and nurture a plant? On a wild impulse, I chose a patch outside our bungalow, close to the four foot high wall. The idea was, I could put the water hose through a hole in the wall and water the budding plant. The golden moment came, when I was eating an orange. On another impulse, I planted a few orange seeds, marking the place efficiently. I watered it for weeks and nothing except wild grass grew. Then one fine morning a tiny plant showed up. Just two tiny leaves, and I put up all sorts of thorny branches from bramble bushes to save it from stray cows, goats and even rampaging kids. We had hordes of kids marauding the gardens, so I would chase them  away, the moment they showed up.

In a fortnight my orange plant was a few centimetres tall. I became darker green, it grew sturdier. Within a few months, it became almost a foot high. I still kept the crude fencing around it. Somehow it became a sort of an anchor for me. Every evening, back from work, after parking the car, I would go out and see how many new leaves had sprouted, if there were any signs of germs or bacteria discolouring them, if the stem was okay…. every morning after waking up, long before sunrise, I would go and steal a peek at it. In my rituals -visiting my own plant, there was a curious mix of affection, fear (lest someone chop it down, eat it up…), religiosity -because I kept coming back at fixed intervals, even taking one last look at it using a torch at midnight.

Sadly, the company promoting my project ran into labour trouble. The writing on the wall was clear, within a few months my own employees would be forced to look elsewhere for work. They left one by one. I too looked around and found a suitable job at Pune. But I managed to stay back till the last piece of machinery was sold, and the last debt cleared.

One day we too packed up and left. Yes, the last thing I did was go to my orange plant, and shed a tear. I didn’t know how to care for it, I mean taking it with me, on a long journey and re-planting it may have worked but I had too many human troubles hounding me to think constructively. Strange but today after nearly 17 years, I have never gone there to take a look at what may have died out. Or may have grown into a large tree.

(c) Max Babi

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