Down in jungleland: Life in a metro

City life ain’t what it’s made out to be.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published:October 16, 2016 1:16 am
Reaching for the sky: A patch of hope in a concrete wilderness. Reaching for the sky: A patch of hope in a concrete wilderness.

It’s now being said that trees too are almost sentient beings. To check this out, Down in Jungleland interviewed one of the grand old avenue trees of New Delhi, who agreed to talk on the condition that it will remain unidentified (“or other trees will get jealous”).

Down in Jungleland: Good morning dada, or should I call you dadi?
Tree: Eh? Who are you calling dada-dadi? Abbe listen, I’m only 80 years old, still very young.

DiJ: Sorry, yes, of course! So how do you like being one of New Delhi’s grand old trees?
Tree: There you go again! I will only be old when I’m 800 years old, not a day less, understand? And no, I’m not too pleased about being a tree in New Delhi.

DiJ: But you live in a posh VIP area. Your neighbours are other grand old trees…
Tree: Neither grand nor old! Do you know if we were growing in the forest we would have been twice as tall with a canopy four times as large, and roots extending several square kilometers? Those forest pehelwans call us kamzor — wimps! And VIP area? Pah! We get stinking water, full of raw sewage and that too very little; no decent food, they choke our trunks and block our roots with cables, pipes and building foundations. How would you like to live your entire life with your neck in a collar brace made of plaster of Paris or reinforced concrete?

DiJ: But surely the sewage is full of natural, organic VIP goodness!
Tree: You have absolutely no idea about what you people are eating these days, et alone crapping out afterwards. Do the words, bacteria, viruses, toxic, heavy metals, radioactive mean anything to you?

DiJ: Ah, but you do have your fabulous “wood wide web” — the symbiotic mycorrhizae fungi that link your root systems up and enable you to exchange food, nutrients, gossip, danger alerts and WhatsApp messages.
Tree: Sure, and do you know how much those fungi charge for their service? They’re not your Mister 10 per cents; they’re 30 per-centers! They take 30 per cent of what we make — our hard-earned nutrients.

DiJ: That’s like our highest tax rate. But still, they provide a service don’t they?
Tree: (grudgingly) Well, certainly better than what you get for your 30 per cent!

DiJ: Oh, come on! You are better off than trees in the jungles who have to fend for themselves! There are horticulturists and maalis looking after you. You must have been cosseted as a sapling baby, given delicious khaad and water, admired, loved and trimmed to look tidy and civilised.
Tree: (Icily) Let me tell you, we have no desire to look like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, lollipops, giraffes, kangaroos or deer or elephants. We look just fine as we are. So you should use your trimming shears on yourselves.

DiJ: Sure, but you’re much safer in the city here than even in the countryside with its goats and livestock running amok. You don’t have to bother about animals grazing or elephants ripping your bark to shreds.
Tree: (with a hollow laugh) Haanji, here we only have to fear the Great Metro Massacre, which is going on and on, actively seeking out every tree in the Capital, and every road-widening project. Why don’t you people learn how to drive properly on the roads you already have first, instead of widening them unnecessarily?

DiJ: But, even to cut a single tree official permission has to be obtained, red tape has to be entangled with, and LG will fight CM on TV over the matter. In the forest, elephants knock you over just like that.
Tree: Yes, here you knock each other over like ninepins with your vehicles. But what happens to us before winter? All of us living in gardens or people’s yards have our limbs hacked off because you want to sit in the sun. Would you like to have your arm cut off for such a silly reason? Then you complain of too much sun in summer!

DiJ: Certainly, those of you who grow in gardens and parks — like Lodhi Gardens and Nehru Park — have a good life.
Tree: Sure, we love it when couples get cosy under us, but then they start to tattoo us, you know, stuff like “Lovely loves Sweety”, and the next thing you know, Lovely has run away with Pinky and left Sweety high and dry with a baby on the way. But those living in parks are better off than the ones by the road. Hah! Those fellows thought they would see only VIPs swishing past everyday: now, they have 24X7 gridlock to deal with!

DiJ: But we do generate an awful lot of CO2 for you to make food with. You should be happy.
Tree: Should I list some of the other stuff your vehicles — and politicians — emit? Just watch a talk show on TV.

DiJ: We also help you to have children. Cuttings are made from you and sent to nurseries. Tree planting drives are held every now and then with little schoolchildren or VIPs getting their hands all muddy.
Tree: Are you trying to insult us? We are as capable as you are to have children on our own. What do you think the birds and bees are for? You people don’t even teach that to your children! No wonder you’re in the mess you’re in!

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher.