There stood a large neem tree (Azadirachta indica) in front of a house I would pass on the way back from school. As I hopped and skipped and ambled home from school one evening, I saw something that arrested me. I grabbed the hand of my cousin sister who was tasked with accompanying me home in the evenings from school, asking ” Chechi, there is a red-eyed crow over there, on that tree! Why is its eye red?” She laughed and replied, “That is a koel.”
It was a revelation for me. I had only heard a koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) till that point. I never again spotted that bird amidst the thick leaves of that tree, but every evening I would pause in front of that tree to see if it was still there. One day, on my way back from school, I stood stunned as the tree was no longer there. There was an elderly lady sitting on the verandah, reading a magazine.
Chechi observed aloud, “Ah, you have removed the neem tree!”
The old lady replied, ” It was pretty dark inside the house because of the tree. So we did!”
I was disappointed and asked Chechi, “What happens to the koel?”
She replied, “The koel would find another tree!”
Years later, when I bought a small piece of land and built a house there, the first thing I did was to plant some trees. Three mango trees and two coconut trees stand on one side, and I planted a neem tree, a singapore cherry tree and a plant with tubular flowers for the sunbirds in the front yard. The neem didn’t do well, but the other two took over the front yard. The shade they gave made ensured that in the hottest of summers, we could sit in the hall and the verandah without being troubled by the heat. But as the trees spread out, my neighbour started getting restless. He never planted anything on his front lawn, kept it bare and neatly concreted and was finding it difficult that the leaves from my trees were falling into his yard. I resisted his complaints, but when I had to move to the US, he managed to call up and pester my parents (who are in charge of the house) so much that they agreed to remove the Singapore cherry and the flowering plant.
That is us. Trees are an inconvenience. Leaves falling, light being blocked, snakes showing up, tree roots destabilizing the walls, the need to widen the approach road – we have so many excuses to cut down our trees, and none for planting one. Let’s just keep cutting them down and sit cozily in our air-conditioned rooms, complaining about the heat outside. I once read this quote somewhere: “People would have planted more trees if they gave Wi-fi internet. Sadly, they just give us useless oxygen!”
Let’s remove all trees and let’s get our next generation walk around with synthesized oxygen in bottles everywhere, but be able to access free wi-fi everywhere they go. Let no kid of the next generation see a red eyed crow in a tree and be amazed.