Bringing alive the magic of trees

Anand Vishwanadha

just-look-up When I look back on my childhood days, I count a guava tree amongst the most steadfast of my friends. Yes, I count it as a friend because it was always there for me and silently kept all my secrets, gave me no pain (I could climb it in my sleep and surprisingly enough, never fell from it), and was a selflessly rewarding presence in all the days we spent at those government quarters in Rourkela. And though the one enduring regret of my life is that I never could live in a tree-house, I consider myself lucky that – thanks to my friend the guava tree – a large part of my childhood years were arboreal, elevated, and full of delightful treats.

I also count half a dozen mango trees and two palm trees as close friends from those days. The mango trees (remnants of what used to be an orchard) – a toweringly giant source of shade for me and my friends to fly kites from, or to play marbles in; the Palm trees – a treasure trove of wonder and excitement – because of the vultures that used to roost in them and the hullaballoo that used to result whenever one of their leaves fell, leading to various neighbors running through dust storms and gales or even pouring rain, to claim it and bring it home for thatching the cowshed, or for use as canopy/awning, or for a climbing vine, or as firewood.

I could go on and on and mention various other trees that left their distinct impression on my growing up years and with whom I was intimate – gulmohar, drumstick, jackfruit, wood apple, indian plum, and so on. But, I am sure this ramble (so far) has made its point. When I was a child, I used to look up and be fascinated by the magic in the trees around me. I will also openly confess that I still have a child’s sense of awe in the way I approach the natural world and that I still keep looking up (sometimes through a camera’s viewfinder) in wonder at the trees around.

But this article is not about me, my rambles or nostalgia for my childhood. It is about trees and a lovely book on 22 of them – Just look up… to see the magic in the trees around you by Sadhana Ramchander, with an excellent and very heartfelt foreword by none other than Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary magazine. Just look up… is intricately detailed, excellently designed and painstakingly put together, a book that is a veritable labour of love and has been long in the making.

These are 22 “common” trees found in and around Hyderabad, but I would openly admit that most of the facts presented about them in Just look up… were certainly uncommon to me and as such very welcome gyaan.

This book is primarily for children and meant to open their eyes to the fascinating world of 22 trees, but (as I discovered) even nature-loving readers and the outdoor types (like me) can learn a thing or two by reading it. Speaking of children, they should find it a fascinating read, because apart from bringing alive (and storytelling) each of these 22 trees through lucid writing and colourful photographs, Sadhana also suggests “Fun stuff” and “Craft” ideas that are guaranteed to keep young readers engrossed and take them away from the TV and Google.

The book also has a calendar of magical events, a ready reckoner, bibliography of books to read, and things to do pointers. It also presents a selection of thought-provoking poems and quotes related to trees, for instance on page 12 (where Sadhana acquaints us with the rain tree) there is a footer – “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. (Bill Vaughn)”.

I found this quote chillingly scary and echoing with menace, having seen so many of Hyderabad’s once tree-lined roads and avenues turning into glitzy kaleidoscopes of concrete and steel with malls sprouting everywhere like poisonous mushrooms feeding on consumerism and greed.

But then, there is hope as long as there are people like Sadhana and books like Just look up… Because, when we (children and adult alike) look up and see the magic in the trees, they cease to be things for us and we see them for what they are – living creatures and sources of wonder worth cherishing and protecting. Or so I would like to hope.

Just look up… to see the magic in the trees around you is priced at a surprisingly reasonable Rs. 175, surprising when you consider how long the book has been in the making, when you consider the amazing photographs (most of them taken by Sadhana) and the uncompromising paper and print quality (standards that one would expect from a professional editor and designer of books).

As I write this, my 11 year young nephew is reading and re-reading his copy of Just look up… and I am told that he has already “found” 5 of the 22 trees around his apartment building. As someone very interested in what his nephew learns and mindful of how his character gets moulded, I cannot thank Sadhana enough for seeing the need for such a book and then taking the pain to bring it out.

I look forward to a sequel of Just look up…, if for nothing else, just to recollect another friendship from my childhood, with another “common” tree.

The reviewer is a poet and writer, passionate about protecting the environment. He is also a blogger. You can visit his blog at www.thisandthatandmuse.blogspot.com.