Tree bay Trees and saplings in Ramnagar have loyal friends in students, shopkeepers, conservancy workers and auto drivers, finds out Pankaja Srinivasan

Honking vehicles, shimmering heat and dust flying everywhere don’t really augur well for a tree hunt. But irritation fades as environmentalist Karpagam of the Oli Awareness Movement points out the neem, pungan, poovarasan, mangari and naval trees (more than 600 of them) that she and her team have planted in the 12 streets of Ramnagar. The locality goes back more than 100 years and dignified old trees line the streets. A resident points to her magnificent Ooty Nellikai with its clusters of blushing rose-apples. She says the fruit is very good for diabetics. Trees occupy pride of place in the compounds, big and small, of old houses. Gorgeous ones stand proudly inside a hospital compound in Ansari Street. A neighbour says at least one family of kingfishers makes its home there.

But it is not just about the trees alone. What is extraordinary is how active and committed the residents and shopkeepers in Ramnagar are to greening.

“November 21, 1988,” says A. Subramanium who runs a hair salon. He has entered the date in his diary when he planted a gulmohar outside his shop. Subramanium also keeps potted plants in the small space. “I want my customers to enjoy the greenery,” he smiles.

Nearby are the shops of four auto consultants, K. Rajendran, K. Sampath, Moorthy and Saravanan. They have planted five saplings of nandiavattai, pavazha malli and poovarasan.

"We would go across the road to sit under the shade of a tree. Till we decided to grow trees on our side of the street," he says. The days there is no water supply, a neighbouring tea-shop owner Rajendran, gives them water for the plants.

Each one teach one

What is the big deal about raising a few saplings? When even a handful of people in a locality decide to take charge and become responsible for four or five saplings each, it all adds up. Senthil, an automobile mechanic, looks after one tree outside his work place. More importantly, he has passed on more than 50 neem, pungan and naval to friends in other localities. Similarly, conservancy worker Shanmugham has adopted two trees in Ramnagar and three more near his home. Sudhakar, Arun Raj and Vetrivel, who work at Kasirajan Stores on Shastry Street, have a friendly contest with the neighbour to see whose tree grows faster. E.M. Krishna and his friends have planted neem near their auto stand. Sometimes, they bring water from home for their plants. They are also quick to inform Karpagam of any threat to existing trees, or if some saplings need replacing. S. Baskaran, a security guard keeps an eye on the neem saplings outside his building.

In between tending to her patients, gynaecologist Dr. Mythili looks after not just the trees outside her house, but on the entire stretch of road. K. Subramanium, a priest at a tiny Amman Koil raises trees outside the temple. He encourages visitors to his temple to go green as well.

Ajay Pasari looks after the tree outside his shop with the same devotion he reserves for his clients who come to eat at his Dilliwala restaurant. “I would plant 50 more trees if I could.” He had planted two beautiful neems that were wantonly destroyed. But he is happy that he has one tree still standing.

The heroes

Does every tree in Ramnagar have its own knight-in-shining-armour? Not quite, says Karpagam. There are the naysayers, but majority of the others are all for a greener world. And she says Ramnagar is indebted to the heroic support of the Corporation, right from its top officials to the conservancy workers, as well as the District Forest Officer and the Counsellor of Ward 54.