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Rajasthan comes to Delhi... .

Soaring tall trees is too tall an order for the town planners of Delhi. Every new colony is just a concrete jungle with no space left for those wonderful trees, giving comfort during daytime and shade at night. ANJANA RAJAN rues the decline of trees lovelier than a poem can ever be... .

Children find ingenious ways to have fun on a tree. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

``I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree....''

THESE LINES from the poem `Trees' by American poet Joyce Kilmer are etched in many a school-going child's memory when studying either poetry or the environment. I have seen it displayed at nature resorts, frequently with no mention of the author and though the sentiments expressed in the beautiful little poem are forever true and vitally relevant to contemporary times, this does not justify the predicament that poor Alfred Joyce Kilmer, whose short but eloquently creative life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, is possibly the most plagiarised poet in the world. It is not only forest rangers who like to claim a little unidentified glory; a school magazine once printed: `Trees', announcing one of its secondary level students as the poet! One possible reason for such a faux pas could be that the student read the poem, liked it and decided to pass it off as his own. He must have succeeded in the forgery because unfortunately, the teacher in charge of editing the magazine had not come across the poem before. Any other explanation would indeed put the school authorities in a suspicious light!

Be that as it may, the poem `Trees' by Kilmer -- by no means his only poem but certainly the best known -- is such a famous classic that it almost stands at par with proverbs and adages of the sort that have become common property, to mull over, quote and paraphrase at will. Therefore, while a certain tendency towards plagiarism is an irritating and complicated blot on the Indian psyche, it is also true that somehow no other words can better sum up the idea of the beauty, majesty and bounty of trees.

If only more people in Delhi would think on these lines! The shady tree-lined avenues of Lutyens' Delhi are after all a legacy of the British, but we in 50-odd years have not, alas, done much to continue this green heritage, and many of the wonderful old trees on those roads are in sad need of nurture. Of course, the horticulture department and various municipal agencies do their bit, but what seems to stand out, specially as the summer winds blow like a dragon's breath across the city, is that India's Capital is a concrete jungle with a desert climate, coloured by brilliant stretches of bougainvillea and flowering bushes, but with few oases of shady trees.

One motorist explained that it is much better after all that the authorities put flowering plants and creepers rather than trees along the length of road dividers, since at night, these dense hedges block out the undimmed headlights of traffic from the opposite direction. Since our motorists will never learn the courtesy of using the dipper when facing oncoming traffic, it is better, says this driver, that we are scorched by the sun during the day than blinded by the lights at night. So it seems we need our greenery more to protect us from our own electric rays than from the ultraviolet rays of the sun!

Perhaps this is the law of the concrete jungle. In any case, as new neighbourhoods come up across the city, there are very few areas where one notices that priority is given to growing trees vis-a-vis building construction. Even suburban areas like beautiful Gurgaon, for instance, where residents and developers alike pride themselves on the cleanliness of the area and the super modern facilities being developed, are like great arid vacuums, the landscape dotted with the occasional apartment complex or the soaring commercial tower, where the few young trees hurriedly planted seem to struggle to hang on to their leaves in the fiery wind. One professional driver, noting that it was impossible to drive with the window open in a non-airconditioned car because of the hot wind scorching his cheeks, philosophically conjectured that to carve out all the premium plots in the area, they must have cut all the trees down first. "Now Delhi has become like Rajasthan,'' he said cheerfully as he drove through this no-man's futuristic paradise.

In the settled neighbourhoods, where people have been living for years, infrastructure such as new smooth roads and better markets make life more comfortable. For the trees, however, those poor sentinels of the roadsides, their space to draw nourishment from, as Kilmer puts it, "the earth's sweet flowing breast'', shrinks and shrinks, as concrete surrounds them, leaving only the tiniest of squares of soil around their roots.

An issue of paramount importance to us city-dwellers is security, and here too, the trees suffer, since at many sites they are not allowed to grow to their full capacity for fear of becoming aids to terrorist strikes.

It's true that we can never see a poem lovely as a tree. But we should remember not to relegate trees to the realm of poetry books for good.

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