Monday, July 31, 2006


The Main quadrangle in IISc is fashioned like the Union Jack, a bit of a throwback to our colonial legacy. I must admit to a tingle of satisfaction whenever I walk over it.

One of the lanes of the Jack is lined with Ficus benjamina trees. These are beautiful trees with interesting architechture. They branch very low on the stem, have large and widespread canopies with drooping leaves. The branches often extend long distances parallel to the ground before turning up towards the sun into a canopy break.

I think it was during the last monsoon that two of these trees tipped over. The soil around their roots had washed away with the rains and softened. The weight of the trees and wind brought them down. They lay on their sides for many a month, and since some of their roots were still in the ground continued to grow. Some branches were torn off the main stem and they died, others continued thriving. There was a huge canopy gap where the trees had stood.

After all this time, the folks in the nursery decided they had to do something about the trees. the branches were pared to make the trees more manageable. The help of two cranes, many prop branches, ropes and humans was enlisted to make these trees stand up again. It was hard work and a little risky.

The wisdom of it, as always, questionable. I can't but think that the primary motivation in actions like these is a sense of aesthetic that is uniquely and exclusively anthropic. Functionally these trees would have gone on living and growing as they were. Branches would have grown upward and eventually filled the gap they had left. They were providing interesting undergrowth like space for crits close to the ground, which is now gone. Things live in dead trees, under the bark, in the gaps and the spaces.

Now they're standing again and they might find it easier to fill the gap, it remains to be seen. I hope the props and the ropes and whats left of their damaged root system will be enough for them to remain standing. Because the monsoon (if it ever comes) is upon us. And it will carry away all the soil thats been loosened in this process. I'm not sure if the roots will survive this time, if the trees fall again. The branches on the tree had prevented the angle of the fallen tree to the ground being from too acute and helped its roots stay in the ground. Not too many branches anymore.

Lets see yeah?

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