I DISTINCTLY remember the magnificent, neem tree in front of my childhood house. Its branches spread benevolently over our terrace, providing shade and cooling to almost the entire house. I loved to study on the terrace, in its shade, which was a great relief during those days of long power cuts. The natural air-conditioning was of immense help, especially during exam days. I can even safely say that had it not been there, I might not have got admission in a medical college. In its shade, I also developed the hobby of reading books during summer vacation. Another blessing of nature for me were its small fruit, the nimbolis. I savoured the ripe yellow ones. I attribute the absence of horrifying teenage pimples to them.
My father used to make a low-height jhoola for us, on one of its sturdy branches, on which I, along with my siblings and neighbourhood friends, used to enjoy summer fruits like mangoes, litchis and watermelon; and play endless games of cards and Ludo. Besides providing a nice rendezvous for friends, the fresh oxygenated air of the tree was congenial and invigorating for our health.
The prickly heat of summers was prevented by taking bath with neem water. Bird-watching and feeding the numerous birds that had made the tree their home became a favourite pastime, which I love to do even now. Waking up to the melodious chirping of birds was blissful.
My father kept big earthen pots under the tree in the summer months for thirsty passersby. The water was nicely cooled by the tree’s shade.
A liberal supply of dried neem leaves was used by my mother at the end of winter to pack woollens, acting as a natural anti-moth agent. The thinner twigs of the tree were very much in demand as datun, the natural organic toothbrush, for many needy and desirous people.
In addition to the daily vendors of different seasonal fruits, vegetables and other eatables, every Sunday, a special chat-golgappa vendor parked his food-cart under our tree. We used to look forward to it. People from near and far lined up for his delicious items that vanished in a short duration. Besides acting as a weekly meeting and gossip place for adults, it lent a special flavour to our Sundays.
A single neem tree was thus instrumental in enriching the lives of so many people. The pleasant memories of that benevolent tree are etched in my mind.
Unfortunately, on my recent visit to the place, I was extremely saddened to see that all the trees, including my favourite tree, had been cut down for the widening of the road to adjust the ever-increasing traffic. To my dismay, shrill horns were blaring all around, and the once familiar serenity, peace and bliss of that place is now lost forever.
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