Trees in April

"Vrukshavalli amha soyare vanachare", sang the saint poet Tukaram. Trees and creepers, denizens of the forest, are like loved ones to me. Tukaram sat alone on Bhandara hill contemplating nature, communing with its creator and conversing and arguing with himself.

We in the city have neither the solitude, the space nor perhaps even the desire to contemplate nature. But for me, the last fortnight has been radiantly different. I have made daily trips from Shivaji Park to Versova and back, grabbing the opportunity to at least befriend, if not commune with the trees along the way. Once the taxi driver's enthusiasm for racing me down the highway has been curbed, and he has been firmly directed down the leafy Linking Road via Juhu to Versova, I have found a clear hour in which to fix my gaze above the garbage and debris and clutter that humans have created on the ground and take in the exuberance of the many species of trees that line our roads.

The cab rides have brought daily revelations. I hadn't realised for instance how many bottle palms we were surrounded by. I'd been aware only of the striking double row that stands sentry over Bandra lake. One tree in particular, halfway down Kapad Bazar Road, had caught my eye. But it wasn't until the day an intrusive hand-cart had forced my cab to a screeching halt right beside it, and the cabbie and cartman had entered into an abusive wrangle, that I got to dwell on its sheer elegance. Clearly a young palm, it had a trunk of deep beige ringed by striations of a contrasting texture, ending abruptly in a tapering green stem topped by a head of gracefully curving fronds.

But April expresses itself more lavishly in flowering trees that go from brown and green to intense bursts of colour within a few days. The Peltoforum is everywhere, the mild fragrance of its bright yellow flowers wafting above Mumbai's regular stink. One of the best places to really soak in its incredible colour is the National College junction. If you are lucky enough for the traffic lights to turn againt you, you will see a mini forest of Peltoforums, all crowned densely with gold, rising tall behind the kiosks that sell readymade garments. The old poet must have had just such a show of extravagant blossoming in mind when he composed his song in raag Bahar : Sakal bana phoolan lagi / kaliyan, belariya tesua ambua / sab phool rahi --All the gardens are alive with flowers / buds and creepers, forest flame and mango / all bursting with blossom.

You rarely get a similar view of the soft pink coronets that deck the tops of rain trees. So you tell yourself that the wonder of the rain tree is less in its blossom than in its massive trunk and generous, perfectly formed canopy, dense with deep green foliage. Then one day your cab stops at the traffic lights on the corner of Vaikunth Mehta Road and the wide avenue that leads to Juhu Circle, and you're looking straight at a rain tree whose blossom-laden branches have bent obligingly into view. 

Even the peepul which you would normally take for granted, has its moment of beauty in April. More impressively called Ashwaththa or the ever-changing eternal tree, it turns from ordinary to extraordinary when it puts out its delicate, translucent pink leaves, which flutter and dance with the joy of flirting with the breeze. And when the morning sunlight filters through them, they are transformed into heart-shaped jewels of sheer luminosity that take your breath away.  

Amidst April's abundant display of yellow and pink, you might catch an occasional flash of red. That's the African Tulip, its intense scarlet flowers dotting a deep green foliage like so many brilliant head ornaments. There's one in Amitabh Bachchan's garden that stands in brilliant contrast to the flood of deep pink bougainvillea cascading over the wall below.

And just when I think I've seen it all, suddenly on Tuesday I see a mass of purple near St Lawrence School. What has blossomed practically overnight is the gorgeous Pride of India. And that's not all. April is not only for flowering. It is for fruiting as well. Everywhere you look, you see erect, bare-branched silk cotton trees hung from top to bottom with pendulous clusters of pods ready to split open and drop their fluff on the indifferent pavements below. This is the wonder of April.

Published On : 16-04-2014