If you grew up in Bangalore, especially before the ’90s, you most probably grew up in the shades of trees. As Bangalore gears up to celebrate its first Tree festival, aptly named Neralu, am reminded of those under which I grew up.
There was the Sampangi tree in Chamarajpet, spreading its branches all over the front courtyard of our compound as well as the one of the neighbor, and the road in front of the house. I remember my first experience of moonlight when the power went off and we spent time outside on a full moon day, with a carpet of moonlight streaming in through the canopy laid out on the courtyard. During the day you looked up and spent hours spotting crows’ nests in the high reaches of the tree; the sparrows had holes in the walls, crafted just for them to nest in, along with the mynahs. The tree spread a vast shade in the courtyard and we could spend the whole day in Summer playing cricket. By evening, the courtyard would be littered with dead leaves and flower buds. And during the monsoons, yellow flower petals turning black at the sides would form a carpet from the door to the gate.
The backdoor of our house led to a quadrangle with a Mango tree surrounded by tiny houses occupied by other tenants. We studied for our annual exams watching tiny mangoes forming on the tree and wondering if those are what get pickled in bottles. We spent the summer holidays watching them get bigger and then ripen. Green Parakeets flew in and feasted on the mangoes. End of May would see them being plucked and taken by the owner, and the tenants would get a small share. June came and the tree went back to its normal fruitless self, as we trudged back to school.
There was also the frail Parijatha tree, standing in front of the house, in different shapes in different seasons. Drier thicker leaves which felt like sandpaper, and small white flowers which were in much demand for daily poojas. You learnt to shake the tree well to bring down the flowers every morning. At times it would stop flowering and a neighbour would come by and chop away the branches. We watched as the leaves and branches sprouted up all over again and it went back to shedding flowers to form a white carpet when shaken.
One cannot forget the ubiquitous coconut trees, 5 of them, all over the compound – tall, aloof and inaccessible. We watched people tie a rope around their trunks and climb them, with frog hops. We tried it and managed 6 to 7 feet before the lack of grip hurt us and our arms started aching, forcing us back to the ground. The courtyard also saw smaller coconuts, barely the size of table tennis balls, strewn all over the place. When really angry with the batsman, you sometimes chucked in one of these instead of the rubber balls. They were guaranteed to cause much pain to the offending party, but not as much as to get you hauled up before the parents. You also took their long leaves, stripped off the green flaps on both sides of the spine holding them together and used the thin spine to make bows and arrows.
In summer we were packed away for a week or two to the Grandparents’ house in Srinagar to play with the cousins. The garden at the back was approached with care as we often spotted snakes. We’d spend hours looking down into the garden from the window, trying to spot snakes; a particularly fruitful summer saw us spot 3 of them within a week. When accompanied by grandparents we walked down to the Badam tree, with its wide leaves, which shed its fruits all over the place. There were the light brown/green Kaayis and the dark brown, drier ripe ones. The latter were broken down patiently and the kernel inside extracted to be eaten.
The garden in the back also had a jackfruit tree with smaller, thicker leaves. Every summer it bore large fruits which were opened up for the yellow pods. Unripe ones were plucked out to be cut up and cooked as idi-chakkai. The leaves were used as cups or plates in the evenings when the usual plates had been put out for the domestic help to clean.
Right in front was the huche-kaayi tree, or the African Tulip. You clipped the red pods attached to the leaves, on the sharper side and ran after others spraying the sap onto their legs. You’d run if you saw someone come after you with one of these pods as the liquid sap gives out a disgusting, hard to wash off smell and you really wouldn’t want it on your skin. And thus, it earned the name Huche-kaayi mara.
Watching the trees still growing in my newer layout, I wonder how long they’d take to be the real behemoths under which children grow up. The shame is that with 30X40 plots becoming more prolific the focus is more on trees that don’t grow too big to enter people’s premises or grow roots that damage foundations.
This post cross-posted here.