Then the lights begin to flicker
And the sound is getting dim
The voice begins to falter
And the crowds are getting thin
But he never seems to notice
He’s just got to find
Another place to play
That it was tall and statuesque in its prime? That it was the source of shade and sustenance to an incredible number of species of wildlife?
If this sounds suspiciously like the beginning of a love story, I must admit, in many ways, it is.
I’ve been visiting Goa almost on a monthly basis for close to a decade. The invariable response to this being : “You lucky son of a bitch!”
And why wouldn’t it be.
Great beaches. Endless groves of swaying palms. Super weather. Incredible cuisine. A great, fun-loving people.
What’s not to be envious about?!
Surprisingly though, if I were to single out the one source from which I derived the maximum pleasure it wouldn’t be any of the above…
At the far end of my backyard in Goa stands a tree.
I’m not sure how long it’s been there. I think my dad planted it when he built the farmhouse in the 90’s. Over time, its grown to be the largest tree in the yard, standing head over shoulders over all the others.
It’s leafy branches and clusters of tiny berries are a magnet for a wide variety of species including birds, reptiles, insects and tiny mammals.
And, as a result of which – me.
Every morning at sunrise I go through this ritual of setting up a chair and table with a good vantage point from where I’ll sit sipping my coffee and look out at the tree. Unflinching at times for hours, till the heat of the sun or some social commitment forces me away. And I’m rarely disappointed; each session unfailingly having something on offer. Be it a new species of bird or an insect or butterfly. Or simply the relaxing sound of the wind in its branches.
It was only recently that I discovered its name, Trema Orientalis, and the fact that it goes by a number of other thought-provoking names including gunpowder tree, charcoal tree and Pidgeon-wood tree. Names that only serve to contribute to its overall aura.
For years this ritual has remained unchanged. Thousands of images on several hard drives will bear witness to this. And I’m not ashamed to admit the huge role it has played in my life to help cope with everyday stresses.
A few months ago I noticed that its leaves were getting sparse. Gashes began to appear on its trunk that deepened alarmingly on each subsequent visit. All my efforts to stem the rot or even control the problem proving fruitless.
Make no mistake, it is still a dominant presence. But its bare branches, now almost completely bereft of leaves, are in stark contrast to the lush greenery around.
The visiting birds have dwindled considerably.
With no shade or berries on offer, the post-monsoon droves of Pompadour green pigeons and Nilgiri Wood pigeons are conspicuous by their absence.
Species like the plum headed parakeets, golden orioles, brahminy and rosy starlings, black hooded cuckoo-shrikes, asian koels, fly-catchers and flowerpeckers, leafbirds and cuckoos (to name but a few) that were almost resident in its branches now only pay fleeting visits.
Woodpeckers and barbets now explore its dying branches to set up their homes, attracted by the softening pulp and the insect larvae that hatch in its already decaying wood. A last ditch effort on its part as it were to be of service.
And so it is with a deep sense of sadness that I look back over the past decade and fondly remember this one tree at the far end of the yard.
A tree that in its heyday was magnificent. Selflessly offering shade, beauty and sustenance to all that seeked it. Demanding nothing in return. Still eager to serve, even now in its dying moments, as it stands bare but proud in quiet, dignified acceptance of its fate.
And as I approach my sixtieth year I cannot help but wonder how far short I will fall in comparison when my turn comes.