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Vol. XXXII No. 24, April 1-15, 2023

Banyan Tree recollections

-- by Jayaraman Raghunathan

Before we moved our residence to Adyar in 1962, life was as usual in Thyagaraya Nagar. It was a Sunday mid-morning when my father announced the day’s programme.

“We are going somewhere today!”

My mother was curious.

“And where would that be?”

“Oh, not so soon. Wait and come with me!”

We took bus route 5B that plied between T Nagar and Mylapore. After twenty minutes of a very pleasant ride in a royal window seat, we alighted. It was a fairly broad road with sparse traffic, a scooter once in a while and a car, more rarely. We crossed to enter a twin-pillared smaller road that wound its way to yonder.

After a ten-minute walk we reached a four-road, well to call it a road would be an insult to roads, a four-strip junction and stopped.

“Turn left here and look!”

We did and found nothing!

There was an east-going strip of tar topped muddy road with dry paddy fields on both sides. A single storied house stood in one corner and the rest were passed-over ground that once ought to have been paddy fields. They were criss-crossed by uneven bunds and bordered on the northern side by a few palm trees and a lone date tree.

My father proudly walked along and stood before a south-facing piece of land and declared “our own house will come up here!”

His words of pride were met with silence for a minute because then in those days, owning a house was a big deal. My mother could not believe it and finally managed to blurt out, “What are you saying?”

My father, with pride written all over his face, nodded with happiness.

“Yes! I have bought this one-and-a-half ground plot and we are going to build our house!”

I am writing this piece from the very same house where I continue to live till this minute.

Well, I have not touched the subject I intended to write, and I already seem to have exhausted 350 words!

“Let us also go and see the school you are going to study!”

Father took us along to Gandhi Nagar and showed the Rani Meyammai High school that till date is my treasure trove of happiness and that which imparted me untold wisdom.

The first impression was of the majestic flaxen coloured-with-a-shade-of-amber building and more significantly, the three banyan trees. I had not seen a banyan tree before, and I was all curious.

“Amma! What is this big tree and what are those dropping ropes?”

“This is called banyan tree and those are its prop or column roots!”

The banyan tree became my first love in the school!

There were three of them in the school premises. The first one, not so big, was just behind the Shantha Memorial Hall where the school bell was hung. There was another near the elementary school section right near the fence that separated our school from St. Patrick’s. Its trunk with liberal girth used to be the stump for the innumerable cricket matches played by the boys. The third one, the largest of the three, stood majestically near the crafts room. There was a cement structure beneath it, that served as the stage for all the school functions and celebrations.

The Headmaster Mr. George, attired in neatly pressed suit and matching trousers, conducted the Monday prayers. At the end of the prayer, the whole school would be waiting with bated breath for his words “Saturday and Sunday will be holidays” – this was because there were many Saturdays when school functioned for a five-period duration, perhaps to make up for the lost time to cover the syllabi. I have noticed even teachers walking away all smiles when the headmaster announced a five-day week.

That cement stage served as the lunch place for many students as the banyan tree spread its benign shade atop and provided a pleasant cover from the scorching sun. I was the victim of, no not the crow excreting, but strangely, the banyan fruit, that looked like a playing marble, falling into my tiffin box more than a few times. The sight of its yellow fibres spoiling my crystal white curd rice did not go well with my sense of nausea and I avoided having lunch under the banyan tree.

There used to be a pond adjacent the banyan tree where now the Bala Vidya Mandir school stands. Children coming from Kotturpuram saved a considerable walking distance by turning left into the narrow pond-lane. They walked along its bank, reached the banyan tree and then the school. On many summer days, Meenakshi teacher would herd the students from the thatched room to the banyan tree for conducting her English language sessions. I am sure many of my school mates will fondly recall the booming voice of this amazing teacher who, later in life, was an unfortunate witness to a rail accident and in traumatic shock, lost her speech. She died within a few years without recovering.

The banyan tree stage was the scene of performance for all our school cultural shows when, year after year, the attractive senior, Bhanu danced to the tune of Mary Poppins. Another regular was our classmate Vasundhara belting some poignant numbers of Tamil film songs. We looked forward to these performances not just for the artistic merit but also to watch the girls in colourful dresses, a welcome change from the drab magenta skirt uniforms!

Thanks to my fear of heights, I would keep a safe distance from many boys who would be hanging like monkeys on the prop roots of the banyan tree during the interval breaks.

There were many banyan trees in IIT campus that I had seen whenever we went there to play street cricket matches. Somehow, they did not attract my fancy like those in my school, maybe they were thinner, the foliage not so bushy and may be, my perceptive association with my school was missing.

Now after almost six decades, on a dull and dreary afternoon, walking down memory lane, I realized that those banyan trees in my school had merged into my subconscious and etched an indelible image or more appropriately, a collage of emotions.

The Monday prayers, the unique liturgical Tamil pronunciation of the headmaster, glittering dance movements of Bhanu, lilting voice of Vasundhara, banyan tree classes of Meenakshi teacher are all vivid memories. How can I miss mentioning my senior Raguraman, who, on a day after Diwali, while swinging merrily on the aerial root of that banyan tree, lost his balance, fell squarely against the sharp corner of the cemented stage and in a few seconds, with a thin thread of blood oozing from his ear and his mouth open, died? – memories that engulf me on some lonely nights.

There are days even now when I feel the urge to just go across and visit the school but then the banyan trees are no longer there.

As is with my father and mother and the beloved teachers, Karpagam, Meenakshi, Padma and Seethalakshmi, the banyan trees have also died.

Well, I prefer not to use the term perished, it doesn’t sound appropriate, you see.

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  1. tris says:

    Banyan Trees are special. There is something called the Spanish Moss, an epiphyte which grows on trees — from a distance they give the impression of prop roots.
    I know a professor who was a once a student at IIT, Madras who took up a job in a university in the American South because he saw the moss-covered trees and it reminded him of the banyans of Adayar.

  2. Meyyappan shantha says:

    Nostalgic memories.
    பழைய நினைவுகள் –சுகமாக உணரவைப்பவை.
    பொக்கிஷமாக இருப்பவை .நன்றி

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