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.
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.