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Little Aami held tight to her mother’s hands as she rushed to get the bus that would take them to the city. From the excitement of the children of the Vacation camp her mother was coordinating she knew that they were going to witness some event that would be unusual.Aami was game for any fun as long as it was different and not boring.She loved outdoors and from the chatter of the group she understood they were going to see a Tree.

 

After a long ride, Aami felt her mother shaking her up from the snooze she had fallen into in the heat of the fading day. They rushed to the site where the tree stood. Aami was amazed by the light green leaves that formed the canopy of the huge Tamarind tree that stood decorated by long brown pods and new foliage. There were many others who had gathered under the tree, some her mother’s friends and some strangers. But they all looked friendly and smiling.

The camp members like Jahat joined by new friends Nivedita and Meenakshi                        set to work immediately with poster papers and pens.Aami was a bit sad she could not write or read so well- she would have loved to draw and write. From the captions that were being read out loud,Aami understood that there is a plan to cut the tree. An uncle explained about the drain that was being built from the top of the road that would soon reach the place where the tree stood. That would be when the situation would come when the huge green shade would be cut. Little Aami wondered whether it was possible to built the concrete drain in such a way that the tree could be kept safe. But she was shy to ask or talk aloud. As if understanding her thoughts, Arsha voiced this loud and everyone nodded their heads that it is possible. Many commented that engineering and construction has become so innovative that trees are now even maintained inside houses not to speak of beside a city drain.

She was impressed with the poster that said a full grown tamarind tree absorbs 50,000 kgs of carbon in its life time. Aami knew that the summer had been very hot this year and many city dwellers  were  forever lamenting about fitting an Ac in their homes. But to think that a single tree can reduce temperature by 3-4 degrees was amazing knowledge for her. She heard the elders in the group talk about Urban Heat Island Effect that occurs when spaces get filled with concrete, tiles and glass. The soil that is often called “dirt” in a derogatory manner is living and breathing – so essential for plants to grow and also plays an important role in cooling  the Earth. The heat and dust along with pollution from vehicles makes the city an unhealthy place with lung infections and skin diseases on the rise.

Her mother’s friend Seeta spoke about the ecological services of trees that go beyond mere quantitative timber value and add qualitative precious values to the green presence.Apart from producing oxygen through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide and store this as carbon in their bark. Trees like Raintree stores 20,000 kgs of carbon while Myrobalan store 28,000kgs, with Silk cotton tree storing 40,000kgs and Mango 15,200kgs. These findings are based on scientific analysis done in India. Trees also absorb soil and or atmospheric nitrogen thus creating suitable atmosphere for other plants to grow. The most significant quantitative role that trees play with their flowers and fruits is providing conducive habitats for bees, butterflies, birds and mammals like squirrels and monkeys. The de-stress value of trees especially for urban human life is immeasurable- just looking at the green leaves of a tree swaying in the wind and standing still with roots sunk deep in the soil will cool the eyes and heart.

As the group stood near the Tamarind tree tying the posters gently around the huge trunk, a soft wind blew causing the tender leaves to fall as a shower on the group.Aami felt that the tree was murmuring thanks. The crow’s nest perched on the tip of one of the main branches also shook in the wind and she could hear the cawing of chicks.

Yes, a single tree in the middle of the chaos and heat of a growing city like Thiruvananthapuram is like an ecosystem that provides so many conducive spaces for life to flourish. It makes sense to come together and preserve a single tree in a city..and also suggest how we can develop without destruction.

Anitha.S in conversation with Lawrence, Seeta Dasan, Sheena Bashir, Soumya,S.L and Jerome Antony.

Afterword:

The Tamarind Tree believed to be over 100 years has been growing in the Kunnumpuram area of Thiruvananthapuram city. Spreading shade and flowering and fruiting regularly, this tree has been part of the ecological landscape of the city. The development plan of the Public Works Department that include widening and building drainage channels consider trees as a hindrance to development and all those who raise questions about this as anti-development maniacs.In 2016, a group of concerned individuals came together when road widening was announced with axing of this tree as the first step. Now in 2018, the same scheme but with drainage development has surfaced. The Tree Committee to whom a request for cutting permission for trees in public spaces has to be submitted claims ignorance. The PWD claims to have submitted the request. Caught between these two contradictory statements, groups like Tree Walk, SEWA-Union and concerned local citizens had to raise relevant questions and proclaim that we care about even single green presence in the city. The lottery ticket vendor for whom the tree is work space and the shops nearby are convinced that the drain can be constructed without cutting the tree.

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