An old peepal tree’s journey from being a nonentity to becoming the centrepiece of religious fervour, and to finally being sacrificed for that very temple.
Not many years ago, I am told, the colony we live in was complete wilderness. It is packed to capacity now with concrete houses huddled together. Each exterior
reflecting the intention of its owner to outdo the neighbour; every interior sprouting room after room in a bid to take in a few more tenants and rake in some extra cash.
Since concrete does not burst at its seams and multiplying human beings have at
last learnt the art of living like the proverbial sardines (those albeit headless!) in a packed tin, the number of additional rooms is stretched as far as the law allows.
Outside – vying for similar attention – are rows upon rows of cars, parked in tight-fit disarray. Miraculously, one manages to find gaps big enough to walk through.
In the middle of this concrete jungle lies a park – something of an oasis gasping for breath under the stomping of seemingly countless feet at evening time, retelling the story of every popular hill station these days.
But this article is not about the breathless green patch still surviving in the middle of a crowded block in our crowded colony. It is about a beautiful lush green peepal tree that took roots many, many years before the park adjoining it came into being.
It is said that at one point (perhaps when the green jungle was dying and the concrete one was coming to life) some women would worship the tree. Sometime later, somebody put a small idol of a deity on a pedestal resting against its trunk.
The rest is an eyewitness account from when the green jungle died owing to the soaring land prices in south Delhi and we became inhabitants of the concrete usurper.
A tiny makeshift temple appeared overnight surrounding the peepal tree in an embrace that put a seal on the sanctity of the tree. Could have been genuine religious fervour or the brainwave of an enterprising pundit. However, the tree with its fluttering, free leaves stood branded.
After that, things moved fast. The makeshift temple gave way to a permanent concrete structure, except for the ceiling which had to allow the passage of the now aboriginal peepal’s trunk.
Next came the marble flooring, marble statues decked in finery and translucent curtains with matching zari work. In short, it looked like any other temple – except for the tree at the centre, stubbornly retaining its majesty in its cramped quarters.
The other day, as we stopped by at the temple on our usual evening walk, I saw a sight that I am not likely to forget easily. Instead of the tree, a deep, gaping wound bore silent testimony to an untimely death. I expected to see the dismembered corpse of the evergreen tree. It had predictably vanished.
One does not need two guesses as to its fate. We were told “the roots of the tree had spread themselves too far. The temple would have given in. It had to be the
tree or the temple. A choice had to be made.”
The temple is still there – now with sanitary smooth white marble flooring and a smoother ceiling. One prayed, perhaps irrationally, for this façade-conscious humanity so far removed from the truth of prayer and its “temple”… but not in the “renovated” temple. I do not know if anyone else has felt that something has gone out of the tiny temple. The soul.
One is also left wondering if we too have lost something along with the tree. Let’s just hope it’s not our soul.
Evocative, superb writing ! Loved it. Great to see this reclusive writer again!!
Have lived in S block gk 1 and have witnessed the coming up of the temple and the changed character of the colony.
Beautifully expressed how we human beings are encroaching upon nature forgetting that we are dependent on it for our survival. Kudos to you Rooma
The soul has left this temple only the husk in d shape of white marble reasons, I refuse to call it temple now…it’s at best mosoleum of that beautiful green tree that lived and breathed once upon a time, till marble horror took over
This awesome article, so relevant in this day of environment depletion, wrenched my soul and brought a tear to my eye. One of Rooma Mehra’s best. Congratulations to Vibes of India !