The 90 to 100 years old Jamun trees in Delhi will disappear in the next decade or so and the second line is nowhere in sight

Collecting stamps was a hobby that many of us took up in our school days; it turned us into letter writers. We corresponded regularly with relatives and pen friends spread across the world, not because we had anything of great significance to share but because replies came in envelopes and aside from letters, the envelopes also bore stamps. The habit of collecting stamps also turned us into insufferable little pests because we were either badgering people to give us stamps or rummaging through other people’s papers, looking inside trash cans or overturning rubbish heaps in the hope of finding discarded postage stamps.

From postage stamps I graduated to collecting First Day Covers. One had to be at the Gole Market, Kashmiri Gate or Patel Chowk Post Office early in the morning, in order to be among the first to own the new stamp and its special cover. One had to be early because First Day Covers were printed in limited quantities and were sold only for one day.

We exchanged First Day Covers and therefore bought more than one. We also bought old postage stamps from stamp dealers who thronged the post offices on the days when a new stamp was released. We eventually became experts in names of countries, their currencies and much else besides.

Since each one of us wanted to have the best and the biggest collection we did all kinds of things to save money, I began to walk more and more and saved the bus ticket money to buy stamps and First Day Covers. We used to live in Lodi Estate those days and I would walk via Humayun Road, Motilal Nehru Marg and Rafi Marg to reach the NDPO at Patel Chowk and this was a regular activity, many new stamps were released on Sundays or gazetted holidays so missing school was not a major issue.

Motilal Nehru Marg, earlier known as York Road, became one of my favourite roads and the reason was the lush green Jamun ( Syzygiumcumini ) trees planted along the broad avenue. May to July is the time of the year that the Jamun trees are laden with fruit. In the mid-1960s when I used to walk down this road the Jamun trees were in their youth. They wore a thick crown of glistening leaves that did not allow too much of the sun to filter down to the pavement and walking in their shade used to be a joy.

These trees were planted in the 1920s and now they are almost 90 or older. The life of the Jamun tree is believed to be about a hundred years and so they must now be on their last legs. The crown of leaves has shrunk, the leaves are no longer as large, as lush green and as thickly together as they were then and their shade is now just a patchy memory. The large and succulent crimson black Jamun fruits that attracted an army of birds during the day and legions of fruit bats at night have shrunk into large seeds wrapped within an emaciated blackish crimson film. It is the same with the Jamun trees along C Hexagon around India Gate and on the Sunehri Bagh Road, Tughlaq Road and Ashok Road.

The business of keeping Delhi green does not end merely with planting and looking after the trees. It is necessary to keep records of the area where specific varieties have been planted in a given year and to know about their life expectancy. Only when the horticulturists have all this information can they plan replacement plantation so that the next generation is ready to replace the old ones. We tend to forget that in matters of procreation the practices that are good for sustaining the human population are also good for other living organisms.

We forget these simple things at great cost to the environment of the city, go around the India Gate lawns or on the roads that had Jamuns planted along the footpaths and you will see places where yawning gaps have begun to appear. Trees have begun to break or die and those planted as replacements have not even reached tree adolescence. The 90 to hundred year old Jamun trees will disappear in the next decade or so and the second line is nowhere in sight.

This is not a problem that is unique to Jamun Trees, the Imli or Tamarind ( Tamarindusindica ) trees planted along Akbar Road, Tilak Marg and other roads or Neem ( Azadirachtaindica) planted along Aurangzeb Road, Kamal Ataturk Marg, Safdarjung Road, Shahjahan Road and many others too suffer from the same lack of planning and foresight. Unless long term measures are initiated now we might very soon be denied the pleasure of walking under the shade of trees. And we need to remember that with the trees will disappear the few species of birds that have survived in this city.

We no longer write letters, children do not collect stamps, the trees are disappearing and we don’t even miss their shade and all this is happening in a space that we want to be declared a world heritage city.