A FABLE FOR TODAY

Five year old twin brothers Udit and Sooraj loved hearing stories, in any form and length – real life stories, fairy tales, animal and wild ones with songs and action…Knowing this, their grandmother who was a primary school teacher set up a small space in their city home where children of their age could  gather and listen to her. She also loved telling stories just to watch the expressions change in the eyes of the children. They had many plans during the summer vacation including short outings, all of which got cancelled due to lockdown.

Yet on their birthday with cousins and some friends who came virtually in their father’s phone, the boys did cut a cake and got wished by their uncle and aunt which made them happy. Then came the story time and they wanted to hear about the tree which was hurt and which they had participated to heal. Rishab, their closest friend in school had also joined them .But not so their cousin Aditya and her little sister. Their grandmother set the chairs and table so they knew the story would be long and elaborate. Whether true or made up, she always started the story with a preamble like this:

Once upon a time in a city like ours there lived a tall tree. It had long slender branches, slender green leaves and swayed in the wind spreading shade and coolness. It had been standing in the middle of a crowded part of the city for many years, absorbing the heat and dust, giving out oxygen and inhaling the poisonous carbon dioxide. Once or twice a year as if by some signal, the tree would burst into flower. The flowers were white and had a long stalk. During night time, a very special fragrance would fill the air from these flowers and any slight wind would make them fall and create a carpet of white blooms under the tree. Some sweepers who came in the morning would pick the flowers and enjoy the fragrance. But there were others who would curse the tree for shedding so many flowers and leaves that increased their work load. And the tree was often unhappy.

Most of the days a mother and child going with vegetables to sell in the market would stop by and pick flowers. The tree somehow knew that the mother will make a garland for her daughter’s long hair and the sweet girl would become sweeter with the nectar filled fragrance. There was an elderly fruit seller who parked his cart below the tree and sat on the concrete steps to attract buyers. The tree was never alone during the day. At times a group of students would come with their boisterous talk and jokes – the tree was thus happy.

One day at an unexpected moment, the tree was shocked and caught unawares at the height of dry season by strong wind and rains.  Her branches were so dry that before she knew it one big branch broke with a big crack and fell down. She knew disaster had struck because the branch fell on a person who was sheltering himself under her with an umbrella. Fortunately he was not injured but there came a big bunch of people from the shops in the shopping complex behind her demanding that the tree be cut! She kept as quiet as possible not waving in the wind. The squirrel pair who always roosted in her branches at dusk had vanished that evening. So too the mynahs and koels who sang their evening song swinging on her. She was alone that night. Her branches, green and laden with flowers lay abandoned below her.

The morning dawned with a team of cutters along with the people in charge of the shopping complex coming to start the cutting operation. With no one in the big city to speak up for her, the tree saw herself being cut mercilessly. With no voice of her own and with no voice that she could use to run away, the Tree Jasmine saw her end coming. But she kept doing her duty of exhaling oxygen and inhaling carbon dioxide, spreading shade and coolness that the cutters and her murderers enjoyed.

Unknown to her, a young girl who travelled by in a bus for an early morning tuition class alerted a few people who were concerned about trees and green cities. Within half an hour a few people arrived on the scene and in the discussions and phone calls that followed,  it was decided that only the branches will be cut and not the whole tree. Many people came to see her, photographs were taken and reports were given in media about her wounded state.  By then the cut branches were raw with pain and she was feeling very weak and tired.

Within 2 days she was amazed to see two people come and sit by her shade to write down a list of items to start her healing. In a week’s time a huge gathering of people including school children assembled under her one morning. The place became a flurry of activity with sand, mud, cow dung, milk, ghee, honey and many items being sorted and mixed by many hands.

There was very efficient division of labour with some getting water to wash her bark. Others were scrapping her outer lifeless bark, some others removing the nails that had been painfully pushed into her to hang advertisements. It was then she saw three little boys sitting on the ground and mixing cow dung and sand with enjoyment and laughter.

Grandmother stopped the story to watch the smiles on the faces of her twins and asked: “Do you know the two boys and their friend who were there that day?”

Udit impatiently answered loudly “Yes, yes “

Sooraj mimed touching his chest shyly: Me, me! Him, him pointing at his brother and then at the phone where he knew Rishab was listening.

Grandmother broke her silence by saying “Now the story is yours. Tell me the rest

Both started shouting: We took the mixture made and started putting evenly on the rough bark of the tree. We were joined by everyone

“Did you tell the tree something?”, asked granny

“Yes yes. We told the tree like how you tell us when we are sick- Don’t you worry, dear tree. You will be fine soon. Your illness will vanish with the care and medicine …”

The boy Abhishek who was with them in the tree healing program showed them many trees that day – a tall Mahogany, a Crepe Myrtle with pink flowers, a mast like False Ashoka, an Ashoka tree with red flowers and a slender gooseberry with fruits. They also saw tree pies and mynahs, a woodpecker, a kingfisher and a black kite that kept calling its sharp call from the top of the Mahogany tree. Their grandfather who came after three hours was surprised that the children sat through the whole exercise without any fuss or demand for water and food. He was not so happy with their soiled hands and dress…Even the girls from a city school who had come to participate were gleefully mixing dung and sand as though they were playing or making dough for rotis or may be do some clay modelling…So enjoyable was the feel to touch Nature and know they were part of a meaningful process! The earthworm that wriggled out of the wet sand, shocked with all the kneeding felt soft and moist in Udit’s hands till he shook it off wondering where it will go. A person in the group gently picked it and put in the soil under the tree.

After many days they were returning home from school with their grandfather and Sooraj was surprised that new leaves had come on the tree that they had healed along with a big group of people. ..

June 5th 2020

This year’s World Envrironment Day came with the message “Celebrate Biodiversity”. As humankind expands and occupies more and more areas, we lose even small vestiges of diversity around us making the world a duller and unhealthy place to live in. Cities become concrete jungles and heat islands where children suffocate with no open spaces or commons to run and play. Children like Udit and Sooraj along with their friend Rishab are lucky to have families who understand the need for young minds to communicate with Nature. The girls who were brought from the school are fortunate that they have teachers who value outdoor exposure. So too Abhishek whose parents are keen that he stays outdoors. Many schools especially Public Education Institutions still have spaces where children from underprivileged backgrounds can play and grow, discover their physical strength and flexibility and also de-stress. When more and more such areas are built up or concreted, we lose forever the opportunity to celebrate healthy, free and life sustaining learning grounds that Nature provides.

Anitha.S in conversation with Janaki Ramachandran, Jeevan Latha, Binu, K, Dr.S.Santhi and the children who participated in the Tree Healing program on Dec 7th 2019 under the magnificent Tree Jasmine at Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram,Kerala.  The tree healing was done by Binu K and team from the Tree-environment Protection Samiti (Kottayam) who have specialised in Tree Ayurveda. They are in the process of healing over 150 wounded trees all over Kerala. The Tree Jasmine has exhibited signs of healing with fresh new shoots and leaves on the cut branches, a success for the tree healer team and Tree Walk- Thiruvananthapuram who initiated the process. The whole process was documented by Madhava Kurup and Veena, M along with Mediacity.


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