I know this sounds strange. But there’s often a yearning, perhaps a wistful one for certain kinds of trees. One, almost always comes up in my dreams at regular intervals. It is a lime/lemon tree. It comes back to me as I remember it (the tree is now dead, that garden where it grew and flourished has also suffered the same fate.)
The lime tree
When we lived at Doctor’s quarters – we had a ground floor flat. With the flat came a nice chunk of a land that could be developed into a garden. It surrounded the flat in the front, side and at the back. My mother made full use of the land and planted many trees and shrubs.
In the rear end of the front garden, my mother had planted a lime tree. It grew up to bear amazing treasures. It bore fragrant white flowers that gave way to tiny limes/lemons. Those little green being grew larger; and when they turned yellow, they fell to the ground. Every morning, I would go to the garden and pick up the ones that had fallen to the ground. Some would hide in the hedge. Somehow, foraging for those ripe, yellow lemons gave me a sort of happiness that I can’t really describe in words.
The tree also attracted a lot of ‘thieves’. Nobody thought much of picking a few lemons without asking us. That brought me a fair deal of grief. I thought it was our tree and we should have a right over it and if someone wanted the fruits, they could just ask us. Once I caught a neighbour red-handed. All she said was, ‘It is hot today and I need to make nimbu-pani and I didn’t have time to go to the market.’
The flame of the forest tree
The desire to live somewhere where a flame of the forest tree grows and flowers also comes from my Doctor’s quarters days. There was a huge expanse of land near the quarters that was for the most part claimed by wild grass, trees, birds, snakes and children.
The flame of the forest tree was a little further down; you would come to it if you crossed the ruins of the boat-house on your right. During its flowering season, the blossoms were evident from a distance – like its name, the tree blazed in an orange hue, distinct and proud from the other trees. Everyone wanted its flowers. So Karsan kaka – the handyman who knew that vast expanse of land and its trees and shrubs would take an axe and bring down a few branches laden with the flowers.
The flowers were carefully left in the sun to dry out and then, my mother and several other mothers in the quarters would make little sachets out of muslin cloth and fill them with the flowers. These would then go into the bucket of water that was used for taking our daily bath. The sachet would lend a lovely yellowish orange hue to the water and it was meant to help with the prickly heat.
The orange tree
I have never ‘owned’ an orange tree. I had never seen one as well (except for a bonsai version at a friend’s place) and that changed when we went to Malta. I was fascinated by the tree. The flashes of deep, curvaceous orange nestled between shiny green leaves mesmerised me. As we took a bus around Gozo, I saw several houses that had the orange tree in their gardens. The Airbnb that we stayed at (it was a traditional Maltese house with an open courtyard and garden and those famed windows) also had two or three orange trees and the oranges from those trees made way to the breakfast table.
Every morning, I would go to the garden and feel as if I had entered a secret place. I couldn’t tire of watching the orange tree. It seemed like a magical being to me.
After our tour of the catacombs in Medina, we went to a courtyard café. There, to my delight, we could get a table under an orange tree. I was so happy and I took so many photographs – much to the amusement of the other café guests. But this was the first time that I had sat under an orange tree and it was an experience that I will always cherish.
The bolsari (or bakul) tree
Also known as the Spanish Cherry or bullet-wood tree.
It is likely that many of us may not have seen the tree itself but come across its flowers. If you have taken a local train or bus in Mumbai, chances are that you may have caught their heady, intoxicating fragrance. A lot of the women in Mumbai wear a string of these flowers in their hair.
My mother introduced me to this tree and its tiny star-shaped flowers. If you collected those flowers and held them in your palm for a few minutes, your palms would be left with a fragrance for hours afterwards. At the new Times of India office in Baroda, there is a Borsali tree near the parking area in the front. In the evening, I would collect the flowers that had fallen down and carefully put them in a small plastic container to take back home with me. We would put them in a bowl of water and for hours thereafter, we would feel a presence. It was as if a celestial being had visited our home and while it danced, a fragrance was unleashed and left behind for us.
The cherry blossom tree
One of the little rewards about travelling or living away from your home country for a while is discovering and then falling in love with a ‘foreign’ tree. I had never seen a cherry blossom tree before we moved to Reading, UK. I did not know that it would take hold of me and I would stop and stare – stupefied with wonder and awe at it on the streets, at parks and how I would take walks during my lunch hour at work – so that I could visit it each day as it blossomed.
The white and pink blossoms fired my imagination and fantasies. I would imagine I was Thumbelina and I had climbed up the tree and those blossoms would be my chair and table, also double up as my bed and duvet and how I would float from one bunch to another, riding a wave.
I took endless pictures, I made my husband go mad taking endless pictures of me posing with the tree.
The guava tree
I want a guava tree because the parakeets love guavas and they will always visit the tree, plucking away at the fruit with their red beaks. Recently, a friend’s mother posted a pic on Facebook of a guava tree and it almost made me go mad with desire.
The frangipani tree
This is also a remnant of my childhood and the garden at Doctor’s quarters. The frangipani tree that my mother had planted was very easy to climb and I remember several summer afternoons, where I had found my familiar perching place on the tree and would spend hours there with a snack in my hand. The beautiful white flowers with the yellow suns in the centre were imprinted in my mind during those afternoons and I would day dream that I was a bird, or a butterfly or a being from a fairy land while I was up among that tree.
The parijatak or parijat tree
You only have to see the tree and its beautiful flowers once to fall in love with it. The flowers with their orange stems and white petals would fall in heaps on the ground and it would always appear to me as a child that the stars had held hands during the night and parachuted down – laying together like a blanket for me to pick them up.
I don’t have my own photographs for so many of the trees that I have written about here – especially those from India. I will try and click pictures when I am in India next of at least some of them and update the post.