So Much For A Good Cause!

for News Minute by Ranjani Ravi, Seattle

Photo Courtesy : Pexels

Plant trees! Save the environment ! Help Mother Earth !

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Save Earth

are slogans we see and hear these days quite often. Especially, with the Paris Agreement doing its rounds and our beloved PM, Modiji having pledged to show our solidarity, as a country, on this critical issue.  However, anytime any of us feel the urge to do our wee bit for the environment we think of planting a tree or two. Isn’t it? Emphasis is on “THINK” which more often than not never translates into action. Believe me when I say this, I was in for a pleasant shock when I found out that planting a tree in your locality is not a child’s play. It’s easier and safer to break the rules and carry-on-with-life-like-nothing-happened than follow the protocol or norm in doing something the right way.  In my mind all I needed to seed a tree was a sapling, a shovel, and a pail of water. But I was wrong!

Let’s rewind a bit.  So it all started on a sad note. My husband’s granny

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Paati enjoying her books

(paati in Tamil) – a gem of a person that she was, was diagnosed with stomach cancer (critical stage) one fine day. She was 85 years young and the most sophisticated granny I have ever seen or met. Her command over the English language would put any convent educated to shame and the voracious reader that she was her knowledge on all subjects was above average. She was a connoisseur of fine perfume/ fragrances CA2F1D07 E0E8 424A BC1A 8EFCB0E15259 300x296 - So Much For A Good Cause!and strongly believed that the secret to a good first impression is to look and smell nice, which I totally agree with. What if you met someone for the first time and they start removing their socks

(Ewww) and used the same hand to say hello? (Now, don’t imagine that! )

Rapidly, all of a sudden, paati’s days were numbered and the fear of losing her made our near and dear ones not leave her side, even for a bit. But, she kept her calm and peace like never before. She fought her way through every single day and emerged stronger than yesterday. But that wasn’t enough… The most agony that caused us was the fact that we live so far away across several oceans and seas in America and that we could not go meet her just like that.

By serendipity, it so happened that I had to travel to India the very next month and I was all happy and content that I would meet granny in person and hug her on behalf of my husband as well, who could not come along. I reached Mumbai ( my parents house) the following week and planned a trip to paati’s place in Bangalore with my in-laws. But  paati’s condition started deteriorating exponentially the very next day and she bid us all goodbye once and for all.

This quick turn of events made me extremely sad. Having come all  the way and still not being able to meet her kept gnawing at me from within. A reassuring presence can stave off suffering at least a bit, isn’t it?  Nevertheless,  I just went ahead with my plan and visited paati’s place in Bangalore to feel her memories and  rev up her presence. I met all our cousins and extended family and talked about paati and went  down memory lane. Just when all the relatives got together to decide which photo of paati would be nice to frame for her memorial service and what all arrangements had to be made in lieu of the ceremony, something struck me all of a sudden.  I felt the best way to remember her by would be to see her grow all over again, little by little, and bloom back into the amazing person that she was. And that prompted me to plant a tree in her memory. A flower laden. Full of life – Tree.

P.S. Up until now was the walk-in-the-park-part of the whole process. Then came reality: doing all the groundwork (literally) in our case.

So, my mother in law (MIL) and I decided to sow the sapling in Chennai (my husband’s native) where it would get ample Vit D (Chennai has loads of it!) and could grow unbridled. The next step in the process was to decide the Location. Initially, I was very particular and kind- of- stubborn, and wanted to plant the sapling in a great spot, overseeing the beaches, amidst mountains, and among other lush green trees (closer to heaven in my mind..perhaps).  As I went searching fervently for my ‘perfect spot’ from place to place and returned home disappointed,  I realized ‘heaven’ is just a  state of mind not a location. The best spot for  the tree would be right outside my husband’s house, where granny spent most of her days, her special cocoon.

My in-laws  live in a 4 unit apartment complex, on the top floor. So, we as responsible neighbors decided to get prior permission from the other co-owners. We felt this task  would be more of a formality than an obligation. Common, “Who says no to planting trees?” But alas, that’s when the real problem started… one of many. Although, one of the neighbors was fine with it, the next door lady was very reluctant to have  a tree outside the apartment as she vehemently felt the roots of the tree will weaken the foundation of the building and cause it to collapse any time. In her words, “Trees are great in gardens not near our house.” Also, she felt that there would be too many insects because of it. Then the other owner with a dog explained (which I still don’t follow) “My dog will feel very cold if we have a tree outside, there will be too much shade.” My mind went for a spin. “Is there a thing like too  much shade?” especially in Chennai, where its scorching  for most part of the year. After listening to all the (ill)logical explanations for not having a tree outside our house we decided to contact a professional, Mr. Anbu. He was a part time volunteer at an NGO in Chennai, dedicated to planting trees all over the city in his spare time. We felt at  ease now that we knew an insider into the whole ‘planting business’. So we called him and narrated our woes. Mr. Anbu said that as long as we are planting the tree outside the house we are not legally required to obtain permission from anyone. Now we were in a new ‘catch 22’ situation. Do we just go ahead and plant the tree outside, since we are legally allowed to do it or should we heed to our neighbors requests and refrain from it. I would love to know what you would have done, dear readers.

My MIL decided  not to mess with our immediate neighbors any further and went and approached her friend who lived down the street. Mrs. Shanti said, “Of course. That is not a problem at all. We would love to have a tree outside, with all the “Agni Nakshatram” / “Katri vayil” (heat wave) happening more often. But, may I suggest checking with our gardener once, as in what tree would go well with our surroundings?” We were thankful and relieved that she agreed so quickly without any fuss. We thought to ourselves now our job is almost done. Checking with the gardener will be a no-brainer.

Again! we were wrong… How?? You will find out.

We walked up to Mr. Gardener, who was busy weeding out and was whistling to himself. We told him that the owner had agreed to plant a tree outside their house and wanted him to select the tree. Joyous that he was tasked with such an important decision, he set out to do his research. He started measuring the frontage of the house, started checking the alignment of other plants wrt ‘the possible tree location’ etc. and finally came upto us after half an hour and said, ” It ought to be Podhigai Tree.”

“Podighai tree? What tree is that?” I asked.

“It is a rare tree, but best of all trees. It grows with very few leaves (so I don’t have to keep sweeping the dead leaves),  bears little to no fruits ( so I don’t have to ward off street urchins, who would want to pluck the fruits), grows just tall enough to not hide the wall. This way, we will have a tree but it would not hide the bougainvilleas that I just planted by the wall. I don’t want the tree to hide them. I spent way too much time nurturing them.”

“Fair enough.”

“Thanks for the info, Mr. Gardener we will try our best to find the tree of your dreams,” murmured my mind. A part of me wanted to go find the tree and plant it but I did not like the umpteen number of conditions levied on a nice act. Few days passed by and we finally decided to try out our last option we had in mind, as Mr. Anbu was way too busy to help us with our request.

So, in Sriperambatur, outskirts of Chennai my father-in-law has a small vacation home, where they go over on the weekends to be amidst greenery and solitude, the 2 most rare commodities to find in city life.  After a lot of back and forth conversations with the care taker/gardener-who agreed to arrange for all the tools, and water etc. we decided to plant our tree there, among other plants and greenery. Hence, with a feeling of achievement and relief we marched to the nearby nursery to find our tree. After brief discussion with out guide at the nursery we decided to zero in on “Gulmohar tree” – fast growing, orange flower bearing, and shade providing tree. In Hindi, as you would describe, “Sarv-ghun-sampan”, the one bestowed with all the good qualities.

We drove down to the Sriperambatur, where our gardener armed with a shovel, hand hoe and what not was all ready for the DIY.

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Savior Shovel

He sprung into action, and started digging and making small heaps of mud around him.  Then we slowly lowered the plantling and filled the hole with ample water. In matter of minutes, our tree was rooted and ready to bloom. Although, this whole ordeal took us over a week and a half to complete, but the happiness and satisfaction that came along was so much more worth the pain.

We were delighted and excited as we could sense paati’s presence  already back with us in the form of our loving “Gulu” (nickname for Gulmohar). We drove back home with a smile on our lips and little less void from the time we lost her to vicious cancer.


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So for all those of you who plan on planting a tree now or in the future, but want your experience to be hassle free, I did some research and found the following links. These links will help you get connected with professionals and also provide practical advise on how to go about the process.

Useful Links:

All about how to grow trees and care for them

SankalpTaru is the first technology enabled NGO “planting trees by the people, for the people” across India. The do much more than planting trees, but also support rural livelihood, empower women, and make schools cleaner and greener

Say Trees supports farmers through tree plantation

Basic Tree Planting FAQ

A pond equals ten wells, a reservoir equals ten ponds.

A son equals ten reservoirs, and a tree equals ten sons!

दशकूपसमा वापी दशवापीसमो ह्रदः

दशह्रदसमः पुत्रो दशपुत्रसमो द्रुमः

Matsya-purāṇa 154:512




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