Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Grandpa Tree

Winter mornings in Bangalore are quite cold. Not cold as in ice-cream freezer cold. But cold enough to make you wish for an extra layer of clothing inspite of wearing a halfsleeve woollen sweater over the white and blue school uniform. At least makes you hope you had a full sleeve sweater instead. But knowing fully well that I looked better in the one I was wearing currently, I would scrunch up my face and brave the chill with a big wide smile. Better to suffer a few hours of feeling a little colder if it avoids having to wear a drab blue monstrosity of a sack with two sleeves.

    But then huddled together with fellow travellers on the road to Christ School, in a bus filled to the brim in white shirts, navy blue ties, navy blue trousers, navy blue sweaters and black shoes with matching navy blue socks is quite warm. Not black socks mind you. Black or white or any other colour (Pink!! God forbid) earns you a telling off from the PT master. So in a bus filled with all assortments of blue and white clothes and people wearing them, I would sit bundled into a seat for two seating five. Around me, as the puttani* girls played some game where they sang some song and flapped their arms about a lot and the peekiri* guys played hand cricket and rolled around in the seat when one of them lost, the older kids learnt poems byheart, filled out handwriting books, read for a class test, or like me, lazy bum that I am, stared out the window.

    I was not ogling at girls. Let me make that clear. Like I said its too cold for anyone to be about unless they are all bundled up. And anyway, I was just a kid of 13 years. Poor innocent me. I was just drinking in the sight of Bangalore waking up. One of the things that I would wait for though, was the sight of the Silk Board flyover bathed in mist. Bangalore does not have fog. It has mist, thick and heavy in winter. Its like the whole world has been painted white with shadows appearing out of nowhere right next to you. The sight of the flyover bathed in mist on a morning like that is quite beautiful.

    To the left is the Central Silk Board with several silver oaks peeping through the mist. To the right though is a tree that has fascinated me since I saw it for the first time. The grandpa tree. There are a lot of trees in the vicinity of the flyover, especially in that big plot in the corner where Sarjapur Road meets Hosur Road. No it’s not on the side which has the huge open drain. Its on the other side. In the days when we used to go to school, that plot had a pond in it and in an outcropping into the pond was this big old dying tree. On eerie winter mornings, it looked like a thin emaciated hand clutching at the veils shrouding it, a dark spectral shadow we saw through the mist. It presented a different story though when we came back home all sweaty and tired after a day at school. A tree with bare, dark and gnarled branches spread out and a bit of foliage at the top. Looking like a comical old umbrella that has seen too many storms; tattered and torn with bits of cloth hanging to the stained frame.

    On clear sunny mornings, the sky over the flyover would be dotted with large numbers of birds, Black kites and eagles gliding along high in the sky or diving down on each other while crows wheeled about cawing their displeasure about the presence of these predators so close to their nests. It was not an uncommon sight to see these majestic birds being chased away by a couple of very agitated crows. The grandpa tree on the pond was one sight I looked forward to seeing on such days because Brahminy Kites usually roost on these trees and It was such a beautiful sight to see them. Brown with a white head and breast, they sat serenely upon the dark boughs of the tree; some preening themselves slowly or others just sitting. I always thought they were enjoying the fresh morning air while it lasted before going out to begin the day’s laborious flight.

Seeing these ‘White Headed Eagles’ as I called them at the time usually made my mornings all the more brighter. I had this theory that if I didn’t get to see them in the morning, then something bad would happen in school. And it inevitably would. I also thought that the more of them I saw, the better the day would be. So when the bus began the slow climb up the flyover, I would football tackle anyone who stood between me and a clear look out the window and when I saw atleast five of them, I knew that the day would be perfect. Of course, it never worked out that way, but seeing them in the morning made me feel so good, that I was ready to take on anything and even if I did forget the Kannada homework that day, it didn’t make me feel all that bad.

    I resolved then that once I became a big man and had lots of money, I would buy that plot from whomsoever it belonged to and ensure that that pond and the tree remained like that without being marred by the next multi-storeyed corporate monstrosity. During my years in Christ Junior College, I could not take the liberty of football tackling random people on the BMTC bus, so I became content with the brief glimpses I got when I managed to get a window seat. Moreover, I was in college now, studying science and going to become a doctor or an engineer, I knew kites could never influence how my day went. But still it was with growing sadness I saw the pond getting choked by weeds. After a year came the lorries with their loads of mud. The pond was covered up with soil and fearing the worst I started forcing myself to stop turning around to look at the tree. By then the only sign of life on the tree were the kites roosting on it. So gradually, like the rest of my school days it got stacked into a shelf in my mind, dusted off and taken out once in a while when I felt like going back to school again.

    Last week, sitting on a near empty Volvo bus on my way to watch Transformers 3, I was as usual staring out the window. I noticed the plot again. It was almost the same. No corporate monstrosity had come up and the red mud that had buried the pond now sprouted a couple of year’s worth of undergrowth. The trees were still there and were all green and fresh after two days of rain. The grandpa tree though was no longer there. I don’t know what happened to it. It was just not there. There was a space there, a patch of blue sky speckled with rainy grey. When I came that way again the next morning, I looked again, just to make sure. The new patch of sky was still there. The eagles and kites were still gliding around the open drainand there was a lot more cawing than I remembered. The Brahminy were also still there roosting on the silver oaks at CSB. My tree wasn't.

*peekiri - tiny in malayalam
*puttani - tiny in kannada
And yes, I love the word monstrosity

(It turns out it was not just me who told fortunes basing on the Brahminy Kite. Google tells me that this kite is the Bird-God of War for the Iban of Malaysia. The Brahminy Kite's presence is an omen to guide them in major decisions such as warfare and house building. For those who want to know more.


  1. Beautifully narrated. :) And your power of observation and description is too good. Next time I visit Banaglore, I'll keep an eye out for the empty land where the Grandpa tree used to be. And I'm pretty sure I'll be able to picture it the way you've described it.
    Keep writing. :)

  2. @Spiff - Thank you! Glad you liked it.

  3. You are a very keen observer and really weave clear and beautiful images with your words.
    A loss of an object of familiarity is always a big blow..But one just has to deal with it and take it in their stride.

  4. Thanks Rohini :). And this is how I deal with it :D