“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy … “
These famous lines from the play Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare is what rings in my ears when I think of her. Occupying around an acre of ground, ‘She’ is the official bungalow of the Additional District Magistrate (ADM). An air of mystery seems to surround this magnificent bungalow of the bygone era, as she stands proud amongst her younger, mundane, concrete counterparts who have already lost much of their sheen. She has been around from time immemorial and there are no inscriptions to prove her exact age. Accepted fact is that she was built during the days of the Raj. Her beautiful sloping tiled roofs, the high-roofed porch and the huge glass windows, makes her a skilled fusion of Kerala and English architectural styles. The front portion of the structure reminds you of an English cottage, while the hind portion looks like a traditional Kerala home, complete with a Thattinpuram (attic) on the top floor.
In my school days as I walked past this beautiful abode, I would often crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the vast grounds packed with every possible tree that exists. The two huge banyan trees near the front gate are home to a large number of bats. Jackfruit, Mango, Seetha Pazham (Custard Apple/ Sugar Apple) and Papaya trees take turns in offering feasts to the avian visitors. Tamarind, Aana Pana (Elephant Palm), Murukku (A tree with thorns all over the trunk), Teak, Coconut and many other nameless trees grow in abundance. The building is in occupation off and on, being government property and an official residence.
For the past several years, the place is a picture of neglect with the shrubs and undergrowth fiercely eating up the free grounds. It’s a boon, however, to the many avian friends who have made their homes upon those tall trees. There are several tenants on the ground level too. A mongoose family can be spotted often. Chera (Rat snake), a common non-venomous snake is a permanent resident. If you are patient enough, you might even spot the common cobra, who intends no harm, provided he/she is left alone!
On quiet summer evenings, I have often been awed by the beauty of nature unfurling before me, even in the most unlikely place as this. The playful wind swirls around the tamarind tree bringing down a shower of ripe fruits and golden leaves. A pair of Olenjaali (Greater Racket-tailed Drongo) plays ‘catch me if you can’, gliding down from the huge teak. A solitary Cuckoo (Asian Koel) feasting on the ripe Papaya flies away with a shrill call of protest, as the fruit falls to the ground with a thud. A mischievous Robin (Oriental Magpie Robin) expresses his joy by twitching his tail. He strikes a pose for me, only to pick up a teasing game with a pair of watching Bulbul (Red-whiskered Bulbul). A pair of Myna (Common Myna) enjoy the show atop an old teak, rendered leafless by lightning many years ago. A Chempothu (Greater Coucal or Crow Pheasant) skips along, devouring the small insects amongst the thick shrubs. With some luck, you could even spot a pair of visiting Vezhaampal (Indian Grey Hornbill) feasting on the ripe papayas.
These birds, once common in every backyard throughout Kerala are dwindling at a fast rate. Green nooks like this, provide them with a much-needed refuge from the pressures of the ever-expanding city. I often wonder what would happen to this green haven which also happens to be a prime property close to the centre of the city, as the demographic pressures continue to increase. With the approaching widening of the National Highway which passes adjacent to this property, a good deal of trees will have to be cut. Moreover, there are plans for restoring the existing buildings. It’s only a matter of time before more concrete structures sprout up in this serene land and pave the way to many a song of sorrow! God Forbid!
This is not the story of one special green corner in district Y of a country X. This is what is happening to much of the developing world. Often blessed with a wealth of natural resources, but deprived of the will and means to protect it, green spaces continue to be compromised at a devastating rate in the name of expanding highways, bridges, real estate constructions, shopping malls and what not. While it is quite easy to thump your chest, and troll the climate policies of a yellow haired President in a far-off corner of the world, accepting and taking responsibility for what is happening closer back home is neither easy nor convenient. It’s not in the hands of the common man to effect a change, you might argue; Stopping all Arctic drills and burning of world’s rain forests might not be within your reach, but what you decide to do with that lone standing grandfather tree in your backyard, most certainly is. And more often than not, it is a single tree at a time that is lost!
As they say,
‘Many a little makes a mickle’