Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The learning Tree

I just read through this post. The sort of remarks people pass about elders who are deemed inconvenient.

And it has got me thinking.

There has to be an optimum speed with which societies evolve. And there isn't anything like sighting a preferred end point and rushing there at the cost of other things. Its like how we grow. Seamlessly from one stage to another. A bashful teenager doesn't turn into a mature lady overnight. Whenever there is an effort to unnaturally accelerate, we pay the price somewhere.

And so it is with societies. And the tendency of some to thoughtlessly rush headlong into something that looks attractive, without proper thought.

My generation was possibly the first generation where women really reaped the benefits of education, and lots of parents sacrificed personal and professional advancements, so that we could get the best. It was not unknown for women to stay put with the children and maintain a running house in a town because the children had the best education there, while the husband moved around on transfers, and enjoyed his family's company only during school vacations.

My parents did that till I went to college. Grandparents, elderly aunts, and such, were always part of our lives, and we observed and watched, as we saw our parents become the main caretakers for the elders. Yes, there were serious elderly illnesses, movement disabilities, and a second childhood for some elders as their seventies were reached. These were lessons to us , on how life is, how our society goes forward, the unwritten rules where elders were concerned, and that basically we were part of a tree.

Sometimes the tree teaches us a lot.

At all its stages of life, the nutrition sap flows , originating with the root. The root part is firmly, soundly entrenched, mobilizing to hold up a trunk. With time, the trunk matures into a tough support, for the various branches that grow off it. Which in turn, enjoy the leaves , blossoms and fruits.

True, the leaves , blossoms and fruits have extra curricular activities like absorbing sunlight, fooling around with caterpillars, moths and butterflies, mobilizing thorns and itchy chemicals to ward off attacks . But they never forget where they came from. Some trees with extra capabilities and wide spreads, even develop extra roots that grow downwards and anchor into the ground again, for the benefit of more branches, leaves, blossoms and fruits.

Those trees that grow in hothouses with special care would possibly be selfish trees, and are a pointer to how societies behave today. The odd rock encountered by a spreading low branch or subterranean root is roundly cursed , without seeing that it has helped keep in the moisture on one side, a boon in difficult days. Flowers are cut in their prime, because flying them somewhere earns you a lot of money, and at the end of the day it is all about looks instead of minds.

And so today, the society that curses its old, thinks of them as obstacles in someone's path towards some kind of ultimate promotion, and ignores their well being willfully, thinks nothing of denuding forests, destroying mangroves, and misrepresenting playgrounds and gardens as developable land, so that more and more concrete structures may be erected , to be bought with the more and more money being earned by dubious means.

The disconnect between where you came from and where you are going is huge, in body and worse so, in mind.

Many many years ago, I lived in a flat surrounded by what you could now call wilderness. Just outside my kitchen window was a Neem tree, and we enjoyed its benefits, including their capacity to improve the quality of air around them, eating the bitter leaves with jaggery at the beginning of the Hindu New Year on Gudi Padwa Day. The children were small and at an age where chicken pox, measles etc was happening. And so it was wonderful to be able to seep these leaves in the bath water, and then give the children a refreshing beneficial bath as was recommended by those who knew.

We had a garden of sorts, nothing landscaped, but something where we delighted in planting stuff like bamboo, kadipatta and tejpatta trees, fragrant flowers, with a wild growth of tulsi plants . I was sure that nothing we did would be held up as an example, or featured somewhere posh , but we enjoyed the hard work, and the children enjoyed the planting of assorted seeds, and watching things grow, looking out for snakes and keeping the marauding cows out.

We left the place for a year on assignment elsewhere, and when we returned , something was missing outside the kitchen window. The Neem tree , which was almost taller than the 2 storey building was no more. In its place , was a blackened wizened stump, bravely facing the world, with what was left of it.

A few discreet enquiries revealed that a fellow resident lady , taking advantage of our absence, had ordered the pruning, trimming, and finally the killing of this tree, because,, believe it or not, it was "blocking the breeze" . (That the breeze in that area would be blocked by concrete first was clear, but it didn't fit in with someone's idea of what a window view should be, and would be, for a respectable, upwardly mobile pillar of the erstwhile society.)

The pruned and trimmed tree, must have continued to flourish, possibly with renewed vigour, and a gardener was finally asked to pour some powder into the root area. That was the final killing blow. I was told this by the gardener himself.

I have always thought of this story as representative of our society today. While education has enlightened some, it has blinded some, to everything, except their own presumed successes in life. Relationships, dependents, are deleted from the environment, so you fit in with the debatable existing norms that define professional success.

And like our altered climate, and uncontrolled unpredictable seasonal weather excesses, that happen due to rampant avaricious destruction of the green , today you see family relationships in shambles, senior citizens being ignored, harsh words exchanged, and unfashionable common sense being ignored, in the big rush to be branded a "success"......

There is so much to learn from trees. We have an evolved cerebral cortex. But sometimes we fail to use it as intelligently as the trees.

George Bernard Shaw who had so many interestuing things to say on a variety of subjects, can be relied upon to say the final word (in Maxims for Revolutionists, 1903) :

"Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree does. ..."



  1. Well written. i cannot believe that a thinking woman of Indian origin could have thought that a neem tree was blocking the breeze. I only pity her and the likes of her. Society is paying a price for meddling with nature. It will pay a higher price for ignoring the physical and emotional needs of its senior citizen.

  2. Brilliant post ! got me thinking !

    There are ever so many people and with ever so many thoughts that quite resemble 'trees block breeze' !

    Thats exactly the way many of the modern day folks treat the very 'trees' that gave them roots !

    Someday we will realise that concrete is not life giving.

  3. I love your metaphor of the tree. You express yourself so beautifully and have well thought out points to make. To read your posts is to become enlightened. Thank you, Suranga.

  4. Your post reminded me of a well loved book- "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. Worth a read.
    Wonderful post, as usual.

  5. I luv ur header! Ravivarma is amazing!

  6. HHG Thank you. And the "thinking woman of Indian Origin" was someone who absolutely prided herself on being so culture-correct.....

    Kavi Thank you. The big rush to beat the Joneses often blinds , worse than a cataract. The cataract is removabale, this thing takes root in your mind...

    Darlene Thank you ...

    Ernestine Thank you

    Sandhya Thank you. And yes, I will certainly look out for the book by Silverstein....

    Swaram Thank you. And it just occurred to me that the lady in red in the first row in the header, possibly bears a resemblance to you , na ?

    Momsnetwork Thank you..

  7. Loved the story and the quote (but felt my heart being pierced at the tree-cutting :( )

    I often get a culture shock when I come from a smaller town back to Bangalore. The arrogant looks, the disconnection, the snobbery is very evident then.

  8. WOW Suranga, What a beautiful header !!! Impressive...made me stop to enjoy the beauty before reading...

    There are so many ppl around who are so insensitive to trees....it saddens me to see a tree being cut, let alone kill it. Do u think they can be sensitive to ppl around them ???

  9. Have been visiting your blog on and off and thought would stop to comment today. I am a 30 something and always wished my elders were still around - the grandfather especially -because like the neem tree they had so much to give- sane age old wisdom in these times of overcommunication. Nice post...

  10. Suranga Kaku,
    i had always avoided commenting on ur blogs only coz i cannot comment with a open name (and have to neccesarily use my old blog profile, which i wanted to avoid... !)But how could i avoid commenting on such a beautiful posts, filled with such words of wisdom & thought !
    awesome post ! related so much with it :)

    (a lover of both-grandparents & grand trees ! )