If I were to ever sum up the essence of Pune, I would probably call it verdant (much at the risk of being ridiculed or accused of fibbing). The once lush canopy that spread over the city is now reduced to mangy tufts of isolated patches of green. Worse still, it is something that exists only in nostalgia backed by a few photos. Unfortunately, nobody in their present encounter with the city would remotely associate the words verdant or lush with Pune.
Back in the day, a green cover meant something that was given. Not an abrogated promise by a builder of a housing society. There were trees and plants which were not specifically chosen for their aesthetic appeal but rather, like the citizenry, they were there because their forefathers had once been there – they were an organic part of the city, when organic was not something which cost an arm and a leg.
My earliest memory of trees as individuals is that of a huge Mimosa tree opposite Sambhaji Park on Jangli Maharaj Road. Its smooth, dark bark was a virtual cosmos of everything that crawled or creeped and best avoided in fear of being stung. But shoot a look at the canopy above and you would be dazzled by the millions of dainty pink flowers. Each almost on the verge of extinction the moment it bloomed. The delicateness of the Mimosa flowers is heart breaking. I could stand for hours under the tree and get drenched in the sunlight as it filtered in.
Many years later and quite by coincidence, I learnt that the Japanese have a word for sunlight filtering through trees – a knockout post Komerabi. I did not know what delighted me more at this chance discovery- the fact that I came across a meaningful word or the rich memories it brought up of my city. A city full of trees, trees full of Komerabi.
Another tree I distinctly recall is the sprawling Banyan under which Aniket Canteen would dole out its daily ration of idli, wada, pohe, khichadiand countless other snacks. This little canteen at the intersection of two roads in the University campus is abuzz like a beehive from early in the morning. The tree is its sole premise under which all kinds of intellectual and other exchanges take place.
The first time I had a cup of over-boiled chaha at this canteen under the tree, all descriptive accounts of Tagore’s Shantiniketan came flooding to the mind; I imagined it to be one such green oasis where the mind is without fear.
I have fond memories of Law College hill, Fergusson hill and Taljai bursting in the brightest of yellows and the prettiest of pinks after the first rains. The dry as twig hills are agog with green and yellow and crimson and pink. All reminders of goodness.
Of Ganeshkhind road exuberant with acacia and jacarandas, wearing its clusters of rich lilac and gold like a tiara.
That is the Pune I see when I shut my eyes and think of home.
Open my eyes and I am snapped out of my luxuriant nostalgia, metaphorically as well.
The insane rush to denude our beautiful hills and open them up to unruly traffic is the talk of town almost every day.
Everyday a dozen or so gorgeous trees are indiscriminately axed in the name of road widening, construction, or simply like that. The march towards ‘progress’ has hugely stripped the luxuriant green cover which we were once so proud of.
I shudder to think what would happen if some myopic politician were to really drill through our hills and permanently destroy what essentially calls for restoration. But something inside me tells me my city knows better. It has always known better. And some day, hopefully soon, Pune will once again be sheathed in a luxuriant web of Komerabi.