Under the jacarandaAn ode to the trees that reminds us that beauty is still a possibility.
For days, I’ve been staring at a tattoo on his arm. It looks like strands and leaves and tresses. But it has been barely a week since I first said hello to him and I’m unsure if it’s alright in the local culture to ask to see someone’s tattoo. Two weeks have passed when I finally muster up the courage to ask him about it, and he extends his arm so that I can take a look. There are ferns and letters at the bottom that says “Love Trees, Love Women”. He explains that since trees and women teach love, we must always respect them.
The cynical side of me wants to question if he’s boxing women as “nurturers”. But the sentimentalist side settles for the lighter explanation, he’s saying trees and women are great, in the sense of real greatness. Even as we reel under the shock of trees being reduced to cinders in the Amazon, the collective global shiver down our spines still holds on to a feeble hope for the future of the earth.
Hope makes me wait.
And so I spread out my arms as far as they can cover the tree trunk. I lean against it. My face, my chest, my stomach feels a quiet warmth as the bark pokes and pricks me. I rest my face against it for a bit and think, maybe this is the tree’s way of hugging me back. I hug trees when I long to be held. I’ve also learned from a friend to silently ask for permission before I do so. I hug the tree close to the entrance to my house. There are two trees in my front yard. The second one has ants crawling all over its trunk, so I have decided to not interfere with that one for now.
After I’m done hugging, I sometimes look around me to see if my neighbours caught sight of me hugging a tree. In a new neighbourhood, you do not want to invite unnecessary attention to what may appear like a mere antic. The best thing to do is to live quietly and peacefully. And so I turn to trees. Throughout history, they have been the silent caretakers of this planet. They’re doing that for me, here, in my new home.
I have made this big village that sprawls across a valley surrounded by hills at a distance, my new home. The valley is covered with trees everywhere you turn around to look. There are a couple of them that I have started forming friendships with. Most of them are frangipani trees I walk past when I’m walking home. The road leading to my house is punctuated with them. Most of them bear white flowers, some are yellow, some reddish-pink. I compliment them when I walk past them for their fragrant presence. These are neat trees—fleshy leaves, and stout but sturdy, clean trunk and branches.
When I walk past the creek on my way out to work, I talk to the coconut trees. They stagger over me, fencing the bright blue sky. Coconuts hang in little bunches under the spikey leaves. Sometimes ripe coconuts fall into the creek and they remain there, heavy from soaking up water. The water level in the creek rises when it has rained hard. Other days, the water settles down and with it, the coconuts.
I don’t know the names of the trees I’ve met here, but they are all dense and generous— the way most trees are. I’ve just learned that the residents avoid any activity that might get in the way of trees. If a public transport system must finally come into place, it will have to go underground so that no trees have to be cut to make way for it. That explains to me the confidence the trees here carry. It must come from being secure and knowing they are here to stay.
I have never seen such dense, brilliant texture of trees or vegetation before. They are fierce. The only familiar species I’ve met here is jacaranda. I recognise it from Kathmandu. The one in my office yard hasn’t flowered since I’ve arrived, as though I left their lavender blossoms back home.
When I was leaving home to move here, the thick masses of lavender had already wilted and strewn the ground with itself. One rainy evening, I went and stood under the jacaranda tree in front of the Bantawa family home. When I looked up, the branches were spread out above me like an umbrella guarding me against the wrath of Kathmandu monsoon. The clouds above me were dense.
In the evenings, when I took Kanchu out on walks, we would pause under the trees. We would mostly walk along the tree track along Ring Road. (I have never been able to figure whether it’s T-track or tree-track. I wondered as a child and never asked because it seemed like a stupid question, and that’s how it’s been. I used to wonder if it meant the shape of the overgrowth or just an abbreviation for trees. But I’ve left it at that. Something is better when left untouched.) Kanchu likes to pause under the trees, sniff the bark, and then move on.
The ground beneath the trees would always be beautiful when the lavender blooms scattered after a shower. Sometimes under heavy rainfall or wind, the yellow flowers from the fir-like trees covered the ground too. (Again, no idea what the yellow flowering trees round Ring Road are called.) For me, spring and summer in Kathmandu have been synonymous to these trees. The combination of purple and yellow against the blue sky seems like nature’s way of reminding Kathmandu residents that beauty is still a possibility if we stop smothering it with urbanisation.
On the way back home from our walk, Kanchu and I would occasionally stop by the Bantawa family home. It is her favourite lane for mole-hunting. While she would snoop around the shrubbery, I would look up at the sky through the branches of the jacaranda. The sky would look different every single evening against that old tree. Only, the tree never seemed to change. Perhaps it never changed in my mind, because I had made it my psychological mainstay.
I have watched this tree during my years as a schoolgirl in Kantipur. And in my teenage years and in the years steeped in the wantonness of urban life. I would stare at it as the branches and the leaves changed their appearance with the passing seasons and how the crows and the squirrels that live on it embraced its branches for safety and for nourishment. Many evenings, I would sit on the balcony, drinking tea, trying to drain my tiredness with what had become my jacaranda tree therapy.
Sometimes, Bantawa Uncle, playing the guitar in his conservatory, noticed me staring. I wonder what he thought of it. He’s also seen me taking pictures of the tree in rain, in early morning sun or of the birds on its branches. So, I assume he knows. He must know, because he’s also seen me standing under the jacaranda sometimes.
Across this distance from Kathmandu, I often find that my lungs fill with the smell of the bark of the jacaranda and it flares inside me, a deep longing. I dream of going home to those trees intact along the Ring Road. So that, on hot summer days, people can still lean on their trunks and drink coke. So that people can still sit under their shade drinking tea. So that pedestrians still have some shade over their heads as they walk or wait to catch buses. But most of all, so that Kathmandu Sky always has these lungs to breathe yellow and purple. And green. Yes. Green!