An Air Warrior remembers the trees he first saw in the city and is glad that at least a few of them are still there

I first came to Kovai over 50 years ago for pre – commission training in the Indian Air Force. The year I spent under training at the Air Force Administrative College (AFAC), Red fields gave me the opportunity to really savour the charms of this lovely city. It also offered the experience of a climate that varied from good to excellent (I obviously speak of the past!) But what stuck in my mind all these many years were the trees of Kovai . This is not because of some great abundance of trees or long shady avenues. In fact it was, what I imagined, the thoughtful planning of early visionaries who introduced many flowering and canopied trees. This fact was to leave an indelible impression on my mind as we cadets were flown in a Dakota aircraft from the Sulur IAF base for an air experience over the city. It was around that time of the year that Gul Mohurs, Laburnums, and Jacarandas amongst many other flowering trees,were in full bloom. To me, looking down from about three to four thousand feet, Kovai looked like an artistes palette as we flew in giant circles over the city. I recall a green canvas splashed with red, orange, yellow, purple, pink and white painted by the greatest artiste of them all— Nature!

Our training included pounding the pavements of Kovai during road runs and route marches. This gave me the opportunity of meeting these magnificent trees up close.

The Air Force connection

Over time some of them took on individual identities such as the big peepul tree on Avanashi Road on the turn leading to AFAC, a welcome sight after a long hike! Then there was the spreading ficus on the officers’ mess lawn under which we had our post-commissioning tea parties. These and some other trees are more fondly recalled than the giant on the periphery of the parade ground from which thick ropes dangled, which we struggled to climb during physical training. But they all stayed etched in memory, including those seen at the forest college TNAU and during a wonderful week at Top Slip during our jungle camp.

A sense of sadness

I have allowed my mind to drift back over half a century but as I write today and revisit some of these trees of my cadet days, I am deeply humbled and equally hurt because so many of them have been cut down in their prime. A sortie over Kovai today would show a tattered canvas of a once-beautiful painting. Yet, I am grateful that the ficus at the officers’ mess is still there just as it was way back in 1946 when the late AVM Victor Srihhari was courting his bride-to-be.

Old heroes

The ageless “devils tree” was there when I went to the Forest College a while back and so also were some of the yellow beech on Marudhamalai Road under which we ate a packed breakfast on a route march halt. I have had the privilege of watching a troop of Lion Tailed Macques feeding on their favourite tree at Top Slip during our jungle camp whilst under training. Then, to stand transfixed under that very tree a couple of years ago and watch Macques cavorting in the branches is to be doubly blessed. Whilst the tree was the same, the Macques were obviously descendants as were the Hornbills that flew heavily from the tall tree at Karianshola, as fascinated, I watched with moist eyes.