Of Banyans and Geo-tags

By Priyam Chatterjee

Drawing by Sharad Murdeshwar

All my life so far, I have received joy, happiness and life-force from trees and plants around me. My childhood had me wandering around the wildernesses near my house in the small town I grew in, hanging from tree branches, eating their fruit, using their leaves and twigs for strange games we played. Seeing my father grow everything in the yard. Rushing to stand under a tree in the rain on way to school, hopping from one tree shadow to another in the fiery summer sun. My school campus, a vast field surrounded by 40 massive mango trees - playmates, shelter-givers and snack-providers alike. An endless series of relationships with trees saw me through school, and later, college. Trees became family, spreading their quiet strength in me through the confusing times of early adulthood, the only constant in an ever-changing tapestry of failed relationships. Through time, cities, locales. Never one of constant station, whenever I moved, I found these new old friends, morphing the new cities to places I call home. 

So, when I moved to Hyderabad, the ‘Cyber City’, I was lucky again - a thousand Banyans along Chevella - a thousand gentle giants quietly casting their century-old shadows along a busy, winding road. As multitudes of cars and trucks hurtled down the road in search of strange happinesses in their concrete destinations, I found peace in the company of these new old friends, in the gentle breeze filtering through their thick green leaves, in the soft chirrups of birds feeding on their fruit. For the first time since coming to the Cyber City, I felt truly happy. And I felt a blossoming love and respect for the city’s residents and its leaders, for the beauty in their hearts to have these banyans here. 

I wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak, then, when it came. A growing whisper, a rumour, a knot in my chest - ‘these mighty Banyans will be chopped down,’ it whispered, ‘to make way for the cars.’ 

‘Time,’ it said, ‘time must be saved, most precious, we must increase the speed to reach the cities at both ends.’ 

‘That’s progress,’ the whisper said. 

Progress, measured in concrete. More precious than a thousand gentle beings fluttering in the breeze, cooling the brows of the same people who want to see them away. ‘What rubbish,’ my primitive brain thought, ‘can’t be true. The leaders know how valuable these trees are! They wouldn’t chop off parts of the city’s lungs!’ 

Like most bad news though, it was true - these gentle giants’ days were over. They were to be ‘moved’, to make the road wider, for the cars to travel faster, for more cars, more trucks, more transport. For ‘progress’ to come to our land. 

‘Translocation,’ - our leaders told us, ‘We will move the trees. Don’t worry, all will be okay.’

Translocation kills as much as 90% of the trees moved. Fact. 

They knew this. We did too. They knew we knew. They knew us knowing makes little difference, because it’s their words against ours, and they have the machines that are louder. Also, buttons to push - Progress, Speed, Safety, Economic growth. Money. Other buttons - Health, Future of our Children, Mother Earth, Nature, global warming, Ecological Balance…didn’t stand a chance. 

Between the two Eco’s - Economy and Ecology - between short term gain and long-term sustainability, it was an easy choice. Give us the quicker fix, obviously…Economy, or the easier interpretation of it that means cars and potato chips in metal-coated packets. Economy - 1, Ecology - 0, a packed stadium full of cars and potato chips and people in cars with potato chips. 

Long term? ‘We’ll see when that happens. Don’t worry. We can always build Urban Parks for your children.’

A rag-tag group of warriors appeared on the scene, a bunch of die-hards that refused to accept this easy, poisonous truth. ‘We cannot see these gentle defenders of the city chopped away like this!’ #savechevellabanyans was the call. The Banyans - the mute sentinels of centuries past, defenders against countless heat waves and floods, bringing rain to the arid city - they must be represented, saved somehow. 

(How I wish they could just walk away like the Ents - the ancient shepherds of the forest, in the movie trilogy Lord of the Rings. Just get up one night and leave.) 

‘We must let the world know about these mighty trees,’ it was decided by the warriors of the group. ‘We must mark their place on Mother Earth. Connect them to those who care, beyond the boundaries of geography and physical presence. Let it be known that we are because of the trees. We owe them, they don’t owe us anything.’ 

So, on misty mornings, fiery mid-days, dusty afternoons, these warriors braved the river of high-speed cars and oncoming vehicles to Geo-tag each of these mighty giants of Banyans along the Chevella road. Working relentlessly through the oppressive heat of Hyderabad summers and incessant pouring of the oncoming monsoon, but more so through the heaviness in their hearts in fear of losing these dear old friends, the #savechevellabanyans die-hards marked each one of the thousand Banyans on the map for the world to see and take notice. Let no-one deny their one true place on the land, let no-one question their existence as just a number on a statistic. I was able to add my penny’s worth to this massive effort, and how lucky was I to connect again with my old friends! 

The silent one thousand, the Banyans, are here today. Tomorrow, they may not be, breaking my heart to a million pieces just as I write this, the tomorrow I hope never comes. Tomorrow will never be the same without them, but for our leaders who can change this destiny to one that does not need to be the same. The long green garland of Geo-tags on the map posted by the warriors of #savechevellabanyans, resplendent in the glory of these mighty greens swaying their heads in the monsoon breeze at Chevella, can stay on forever, as testimony to the beauty and love in the hearts of the people of Hyderabad. The people, and their leaders, who make the difference in this land every day, can design a truly better future for everyone, a future that does not arrive on the backs of valiant, gentle, beautiful, dead banyans. I hope to be here, and see that future, in the sunlight that filters through the thick, green leaves and scarlet fruits of our dear old friends along the long, winding roads of Chevella.