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Requiem for a park

A blessing rests on a house on which falls the shadow of a tree, said someone who must have loved trees as much as I do. The apartment I live in the autumn of my life is on the third floor, facing a park. The park had trees growing on all four sides, Eucalyptus mainly but also Laburnum and Saptpatika . A neem tree grew as a bonus on the side, raising its head high as if to peep into my bedroom. Like a promise never broken, it blossomed each year, filling my room with heavenly fragrance.

Many a bird found sanctuary in the trees and built their nests, feeling secure in the branches. “How blessed I am,” I thought, to see just the tree-tops when I wake up each morning to bird-song.

Sometimes if I was lucky I could even see some migratory birds resting on the tree, almost touching distance from my balcony. A kingfisher came and sat on the telephone pole in the lawn, a streak of brilliant turquoise as it took off. At night, a pair of white owls fluttered around.

Soon a pair of kites decided to nest in the tree overlooking my balcony. They built a nest so strong that even when the tree bent double in a gale, it stayed secure, rooted firmly to the branch. I discovered that year what wonderful and caring parents kites make. When the chicks were hatched, two fat little balls of fluff, one parent always sat on the branch opposite watching them with hawk’s eyes while the other went food-hunting.

Mr. & Mrs. Kite across my house liked not at all my forays into the balcony and definitely not on to the terrace. If the baby-sitting parent saw me upstairs watering the plants, it set up a screech, loud and persistent, till the other responded by hurrying back from wherever it was, and together they would stare at me and dare me to stay up there. It always resulted in my scurrying down to save myself from being pecked. The neighbours laughed to see me with a mooda on my head watering the plants, or doing so with a torch after the kite pair had left for the night.

The kite nursery stayed in action for almost half the year. It made me mad sometimes because I could not attend to my terrace garden or enjoy it for fear of their attack.

Our love-hate relationship carried on. And so we lived happily — woman, trees, and birds. Till one morning I saw six men arriving in a vehicle, armed with ropes, ladders, hatchets and power saws. They were all over the trees. My heart jumped. Grabbing a shawl I raced all the 49 steps down. “What are you doing?”

“We have permission to cut 10 to 12 trees”, he replied, and promptly took out a letter to show me. “Listen,” I said. “These trees took 35 years to grow. Please don't cut them. Since they can’t plead with you, nor can they run away, I am doing it for them.”

As I watched helplessly, all the trees were removed without a trace. By evening there was a pile of logs and a lawn littered with leaves. Men were loading the loot. I wonder who benefited from it.

The kites returned in the evening. It broke my heart to watch them sitting on the pole looking totally lost, bewildered and sad. They sat there and mourned as only mute and helpless beings can, for weeks on end. I don’t see them anymore, nor hear their cries at the peak of noon.

As if the strength of men against the helpless birds had yet to be proven, the powers-that-be erected an 8000-watts high-mast light system in the park, around which, like so many sentinels, stand the leftover trees. Slowly but surely, the rest of the nesting birds have flown away!

I think the merciless onslaught of light confused and frightened them. For there was no softening of light, the quiet of dusk, the mystique of darkness at night?

One by one they left, the crows, mynahs, parrots and of course the kites. The pair of uncommon white owls disappeared too, as the night never comes amid 8000 watts.

The leaves that the sad leftover trees shed, are burnt round-the-clock to give temporary warmth to the malis and the chowkidars who guard us in the chill of the winter night. The smoke rises and gets trapped in the tree-tops and chokes my apartment. When I get up in the morning, hearing or imagining the lost bird-song, the air doesn’t feel fresh. It’s heavy with the smoke of night-long burning. And there’s mourning in my heart….

The trees are gone, so are the nesting birds. And there is mourning in my heart….

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 1:13:46 AM |

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