Love your trees, and show the world how, at the first ever Bengaluru Tree Festival called Neralu, this February 8 and 9, says Bhumika K.

Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky/ We fell them down and turn them into paper/ That we may record our emptiness

Khalil Gibran

The irony of Gibran’s poem isn’t lost on Bangalore. Once lined with tree-shaded avenues, today you see a Gulmohar here whose roots struggle against the concrete slabs of a sidewalk, the branch of another tree there that has been cut so that a building’s façade can “be seen”.

Everyone who’s lived in Bangalore long enough to call it home will definitely have a story attached to a tree they know or knew. It almost takes the place of a person in many people’s lives. So what does a tree mean to us? Trying to bring out such personal stories, and other different perspective on trees, is the first ever Tree Festival in Bangalore called Neralu (meaning shade in Kannada).

Slated for February 8 and 9, the festival, under the shade of its umbrella, hopes to bring together people from various walks of life to engage in a dialogue on the trees of the city. February marks the beginning of the blooming season in the city and the event has been planned to coincide with that, to reconnect people with the city’s glorious natural heritage, instill a sense of ownership, pride and love for its green cover among the people of the city.

It’s a venture of the people, by the people — the whole initiative came together as a citizen-driven, crowd-funded and crowd-sourced voluntary group. “We were a bunch of tree enthusiasts who were wondering how we could re-connect with the city through its trees,” says Uma Bharath, a researcher at IIM-B, and one of the core members of Neralu. A few of them — Arpana Basappa, Mallikarjun Javali, Anush Shetty, Sangeetha Kadur and Uma — had attended a plant taxonomy workshop at GKVK and realised they had a shared passion. So they started off by mapping trees, making GPS coordinates, taking pictures, and putting them on maps. But they realised that such an exercise had its limitations. The deep angst in the group towards the loss of their beloved city’s trees and the city’s changing identity egged them on to meet regularly to explore means to do something about it.

In October last year they brought together ecologists, environmentalists, urban planners, artists, storytellers, homemakers, at a workshop to decide on how to take this initiative further. “That’s when it was decided that we’ll have Neralu as an umbrella event for all those who love trees to come together and start a dialogue with each other,” says Uma. “We take trees for granted. We are indifferent to them — we neither celebrate their existence, nor lament their loss,” she says, and it’s one of the reasons why Neralu wants to make people aware of the trees around them. Discussions were on, when Deepak Srinivasan came along and suggested a Tree Festival. Deepak, an environmental science student, now teaches at the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology. He had earlier experimented with “Around a Tree”, an urban tree festival that was conducted by Maraa and 1ShantiRoad, in 2010. “We need such a modern-day ritual to come together as Bangaloreans, and I hope it becomes a part of celebrating urban spaces,” says Deepak, who believes there should be something beyond shallow “ecological things” or CSR initiatives. “Within the setup, it’s great to see historians meet ecologists. A lot of collaborations could come out of it that could enrich our thinking and perception. People are forming networks…”

By December they had got a Google group going, which grew to 133 members. The core team of about 15 drove the Sunday meetings at Cubbon Park’s Band Stand to iron out details. Through crowd-funding, they sourced Rs. 1,20,000 from about 64 people. The amount will be used to organise the festival. “We want to reach out to people beyond the typical ‘festival’ elitist audience that such events usually bring in. We have kept the event bilingual, with Kannada content,” says Uma.

“We are not promoting any stance at Neralu. It’s for participants to decide what they takeaway from the event,” says Uma. Ornithologist M.B. Krishna, chief naturalist of Jungle Lodges and Resorts Karthikeyan S., wildlife photographer and film maker Sandesh Kadur are supporting the citizen’s group in putting the festival together. The festival will be on at Bal Bhavan on February 8 and 9. You can register to volunteer or participate. Registration is free. Walk-in registrations on the day of the event will also be allowed.

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