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A stone for the Neem

Written on Aug 27, '14

The Neem tree in my tiny backyard is dying. Perhaps its dead already. The yard is strewn with dry yellow-brown leaves, and the branches are unadorned. The wind doesn't rustle the leaves anymore, for there are next to none. There's just this hollow, non-sound which I become aware of, whenever the wind picks up. I had become accustomed to that gentle rustling. 

It used to be the nursery for the local sparrow families. Last winter I had had a great time observing the chicks in wanton play. I wonder if they will return this winter, or find some other tree. I doubt if it'll still be there.

I don't know what happened. I didn't want this tree in the first place. There isn't enough space in this concrete jungle for trees to grow. A few years back the large, wild chestnut tree in the backyard had suddenly toppled over, falling on my neighbor's roof. I had to run around in driving rain, trying to find and then cajole someone to cut it down. The neighbors were understandably upset, although I consoled them by saying -'Kaku, I'll consider your house as mine, and will repair any damage to the roof as soon as possible". Thankfully, the damage wasn't much, and the tree could be removed by a heroic, local night-watchman. He risked his life in the rain to climb up the sloped, slippery surface of the felled chestnut, to chop it down section by section. I'll remain eternally grateful to him.

That day I understood that this is human territory, and only concrete structures and humans must live here - trees have no place in this 'jungle'. We must eventually adapt to breathing concrete dust, or perish as a race. So when this neem tree came up, I wasn't particularly happy. I still have vivid memories of that stressful day. But it grew up nevertheless, from a young sapling to a mid-sized tree, reaching nearly the height of the 2nd floor. When the wind rose, it'd susurrate through the tiny, bright green leaves of the neem. It was a sound of peace. Some believe that wind blowing through neem leaves brings health. 

Then one morning I discovered that termites had attacked it. This was a couple of months back. And I asked someone, who is used to seeing termites, to do something about the infestation. I was too busy at that time to keep track of what was happening. And frankly, like I've said earlier, the tree wasn't very welcome in the first place, and I didn't care about it too much. It had sprung in limited space all by itself, without care or pampering. It is really its own business, how it fared in life's struggles - was my attitude at that time. Like I said, I was too distracted to worry a lot about it. 

But the termites had to be gotten rid of, they are dangerous! I didn't want the termites to come inside the house, and some of the branches were actually brushing against the first floor balcony. Anyway, this person did something, and the termites were apparently gone, leaving the lower portion of the trunk a sickly pale color. I imagined that would be that... but it wasn't. Whether because of the 'treatment', or because I didn't love it much, or because of the original infestation - the tree began to die. And I can't say this hasn't left a hollow place in my heart. 

These are pictures from when it was in full bloom, and a happy play-pen for neighborhood sparrows. 



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