आज़ादी विशेषांक / Freedom Special

अंक 13 / Issue 13

Our National Tree: Mukul Kesavan

There are four desh-defining trees:
neem, bargad, peepul, aam;
not amaltas nor champa, these
gauds just lack the sober calm,
to stand for Ind.

Some nominate the tilted palm,
the other four being insular,
whereas the nariyal’s fronded arm
embraces the peninsula,
from Cal to Sind.

This desh looks inwards from its coast
it likes its landlocked history;
and were a list like this to host
a tree that lives by shore and sea
it’d mock al-Hind.

So keep our finalists at four
choose from them our national tree,
pick only one, we can’t have more,
one bole must brand our territory,
one tree per Pind.

The peepul? No. It threatens reason,
it’s home to godlings, garlands, ghosts.
The mango is a slave to season,
three months of fruit is all it boasts
(we don’t eat tinned).

Consider then the giving neem—
whose bark has bite, whose oils clean,
whose bitter twigs are dental cream,
whose leaves out-mothball napthalene—
blowing in the wind.

But can a tree as kind as this
stand for a nation raw as ours?
Might not its simple goodness miss
the darkness of Hind’s awesome powers,
the people ginned?

That leaves us the spreading ficus,
whose trunks start life as aerial roots;
tangled, dense, chaotic (like us),
shade, alike, for saints and brutes;
our nation twinned.

The bargad’s roots are practiced sinners,
they kill their host tree as they dig;
but since our mascots must be winners,
let’s all hail the strangler fig:

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  1. Its a tree which gave shelter to Sri Rama, sita and laxman during exile. The belt from Nasik to Pune ( what I have seen) had numerous huge vat-vrikshas. Their girth was that of a big building. their roots hanging out, promising eternity. (remember the famous tree in Banglore) And one single vat vriksha was home to thousands of birds who sang incessantly in the evening. it was like, listening to Broadway orchestra. Sorry, all this has vanished . to make the six lane expressway. they chopped several hundred , rather thousands of trees.So sad, so bad. The vehicles whizz by on the grave yard of the Banyan Trees.

  2. There’s an extraordinary bargad in the National Library campus in Kolkata. More a grove than a single tree.

  3. Sober and kind, and gorgous too
    The Gulmohor.
    Would it not be a tree al-Hind?
    Krishna-chura and Radha-chura
    Gulmohor’s name in Bengal,
    The eternal Indian couple
    Not a place (for them)
    in the Dastan-e-Hind?

  4. Mollica, I used to live in a neighbourhood called Gulmohur Park and every time there was a strong wind, gulmohurs would creak and split and fall on people and cars! Candidates for the Darakht-i-Hind crown need to be more robust, don’t you think? There’s a dense, encroaching, predatory feel to the bargad which makes it particularly suitable.

  5. I still think you have been unfair to neem divine… but love the doggerel… want more why not one on birds and beasts and other relatives of al hind?

  6. Great, Mukul ! I enjoyed it.
    The last time i heard you comment on trees, it was to say all trees were green, and their names and caste were irrelevant!

  7. Narayani, I was quoting Amis (Kingsley, not his second-rate son) who said, in a sensible, simplifying way, that ‘nature was green’.

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