Listen to this Story
Narrated by Anjan Prakash
Aranya didn’t just wake up this morning. She was smiling as she woke up. There was also a beat and a groove to her feet, like feet become, when they are ready to go out. When her ears too woke up right after, she heard frogs croaking. So it wasn’t that much morning yet. Outside was still dark. She also couldn’t hear any other groovy footsteps and flushing of toilet, sounds from the neighbouring room where her parents slept. Which meant there was some time left to wonder.
Looking out of her window and into her garden, she wondered if the frogs she heard were the same her mother had mentioned a few days ago after returning from a rainy early morning walk.
That was that day. Today was Saturday. Mom had announced to her on Thursday at dinner, she had a plan for Saturday. She had looked into Aranya’s eyes and asked her, `Aran, I think you are now ready to wake up early and join me on nature explorations. Would you like to learn how to have a conversation with trees in this new park I wish to take you to, and hear their stories?’
Now Aranya wasn’t named Aranya just like that. The Sanskrit name meant jungle or forest. She had been told that one of the significant characteristics of an Aranya in the wild, are the trees. Plenty of trees, plenty of different kinds of trees, plenty of different sizes of trees, plenty of such trees living as one big community, supporting many kinds of flora and fauna.
And so trees were Aranya’s favourite. Whenever they travelled, walked, wandered, if there were trees around, she felt very safe, like in a family. Now that she was six, her mom had officially declared that she was ready for a Tree Walk, and to have a conversation with trees. `Yippie!’ was Aranya’s response to her Mom’s question, as she bounced around the whole house.
Now that it was Saturday, the previous night Papa had slept late after an online workshop he had attended. So in the wee hours of the morning as Aranya stepped out of her wondering and waited for Mom to wake up, she glanced Mom tip-toeing into her room, and ran and hugged her.
Next unfolded a series of excitement, as her Mom got her ready. `Amma, I have been up ever since the frogs began croaking, I am so excited’. Potty done. `And Amma, how many trees did you say we will be meeting today?’ Teeth brushed. `Amma, can I tell them stories too?’ Face washed. `I have imagined trees talking to me and me talking to them Amma, so they will today really want to talk to me, right?’ Clothes changed. `Also, do you think I should carry my binoculars?’ Shoes worn.
`Aran, now you go down and keep the house keys and car keys on the dining table and I will follow you right behind’, Mom whispered. Aranya zipped out, half her foot floating on trees, and half speeding down the stairs. In the background the frogs had now become quiet, the dawn had turned to day reveal some more light, and the early rising birds were creating a small ruckus in her garden. Soon Mom was down. Together they each ate a banana, and mom grilled two sandwiches, packing it in foil paper, and into a box. A bottle of water went into the side pocket of the bag. 2 hats, one small notebook with a pen, and the sandwich box went inside the bag. And Aranya held in her hand the neatly folded printout of the list of trees in the park, that mom’s friend had shared with her late last night.
If you are on such a drive, can you guess what you see wherever you look? Yes, Trees. Aranya felt more trees had sprung up in her neighbourhood than even just yesterday. More trees on the main road too. The trees seemed to appear extra lush, extra green, extra vibrant, extra joyful that day. More birds were chirping around the trees, and there was so much chatter and sounds in the air. And double the chatter inside the car. Aranya’s mouth decided not to close at all during the drive, for what a waste of all her thinking and imagination if mom didn’t hear about it. It was saying things, making up things, asking things, thinking aloud about things. While the drive to the school was always very long, mom who had said this park was 45mins away, double the distance to the school, had already pulled the car into a parking lot. `Come on sweetie’, her mom said, ‘We are here, this park is all yours now’.
Aranya felt a different kind of excitement this time entering a park.
She had been to several parks in her life so far, and would go running into it as soon as she saw the gate. But not today. She had even played hide and seek behind tall trees, picnicked under trees, climbed trees for fun, drawn trees on sheets and sheets of paper at home, told her friends the meaning of her name and how much she loved trees because of that, and even made up stories about trees. Today, she felt a different purpose with trees and so waited for Mom. Almost like she was going to be initiated into them in a new way.
Even as Mom wore the backpack, locked the car doors, and walked towards Aranya, she was busy noticing how it already felt like a magical day. The whole park had a glow like in her imaginary conversations with trees. But today, she could also sense the morning air gently kiss her face, she could see the sun behaving like her on her school mornings – not fully up and awake, and above all the trees in the park appeared like they were equally excited and it felt like they hadn’t slept the night too, probably up since the frogs had been croaking.
`Sweetheart, come let us sit down here’, her Mom said pointing to a bench, a little into the gate. ‘I shall share with you briefly how to ask questions, and to listen to the trees. It is much easier for children to listen, than it is for us adults. So, all I need to tell you are a few tiny things’.
No school teacher had held Aranya’s attention like how her mother just did.
Mom continued, `First, introduce yourself to them. Then whether you are addressing one tree or many trees at a time, share with them your interest in knowing them, like you would with a human friend. You are anyway so good at it. Remember they look forward to talking to us too, just like they talk to birds, insects, and other creatures, all day long. And, one more thing – their language and way of communicating can be in many ways, so keep your eyes, ears, nose, everything alert, as they might tell their stories and converse in more than just words. Whatever way you hear, see or feel the listening, trust it…do not ever doubt it. Your heart will always know. Also darling, don’t tire them too much. We can always keep coming back to speak to them and to play with them. When you feel satisfied, do thank them for their company, and say bye, just like you would with your friends. Now off you go. I will continue sitting on this bench. I can see you, and you will be able to see me too. But this is your bonding time with them, and I don’t wish to be there. Any doubts or questions?’. Mom paused, and Aranya gave her mom a big happy kiss on the cheek.
‘Ah Yes, See I almost forgot!’, Mom interrupted. ‘Let me just read you the names of some of the trees that are here on the list you are holding. Do not stress about recalling their names for now. I will just read aloud the different types of trees you will be speaking to. There are two kinds of Pine Trees from Australia, a Tulip Tree from Africa, a Traveller’s Tree from Madagascar, a Christmas tree from Pacific Islands, a Queen Palm tree from South America, an Oak Tree from Australia, a Pine and a Buddha’s Coconut Tree from India, and a Swiss Cheese Plant from Mexico. Why Aranya, you are soon going to have friends from various parts of the world, even different continents? Lucky you’.
`Really Amma? What fun. Ok, bye, I am going’, and Aranya ran.
She went and stood at a point where she could see most of the trees, some were just a wee bit closer than the others. There was a lady gardener doing some cleaning work in one of the corners. Other than that the park felt like it was indeed all hers, and the trees had made time for her. She looked up at them with her admiring eyes, and a huge smile. Some branches and leaves swayed, and some nodded. She remembered Mom had told her that they communicate in all ways, and she sensed they were saying hello to her.
`Hello, I am Aranya, and since you are all from different countries, here is what my name means – a jungle or forest. So, to get to know you all, and become your friend would make me happy. I live in Goa, and this is my first time in this park’, she joyfully announced.
Hardly had she completed her sentence, she heard one of them say, `Aranya, we are so happy you have come by this morning. The wind, our dear friend, carried this message to us yesterday that we are going to have a very young visitor, and we have been looking forward to meeting you. I am known as the Traveller’s Tree and I am from Madagascar. Most of us in this park, known as the Bhagwan Mahavir Children’s park, have been brought from various parts of the world.’
Aranya felt a strong surge of vibrant energy fill her as the Traveller’s Tree spoke, and understood the rest of the trees were also welcoming her, and was thrilled.
`So nice to meet you Traveller’s Tree. I have been waiting to ask, do you miss your friends back home? And now, have you all become friends?’, Aranya couldn’t hold back these two questions.
The Traveller’s Tree continued, `By now you would have guessed, I am more talkative than the others, and so I will start to answer your questions, and then the rest of the trees can add or share anything what they wish to’.
Aranya noticed how beautifully the shape and structure of the Traveller Tree’s leaves grew from East to West. The other trees seemed to give their approval to him, with their nods and sways and shaking of leaves.
So continued the Traveller’s Tree further, `When the French established their colonial power in Madagascar in the early 17th century, and saw us, we became a collector’s item, and from then on my species of plants were taken to be planted in several countries. Traditionally in Malagasy our leaves were used to bless boats that were sailing out to ensure a safe return, and isn’t it really funny, that we actually set sail and never returned. Yes, we each miss our friends from our native land. I especially miss my black and white ruffed lemurs with whom I co-evolved for generations, and they are my pollinators. The shape of my flowers and the shape of their body and their snout, evolved and adapted so their snouts could reach out to my nectar, and I could be pollinated by them. I now hear that these lemurs are critically endangered in my native land, and it breaks my heart…
Also, back in my country, I am a mini ecosystem by myself – frogs, crabs, geckos, they all hangout either at the base, or on my trunk, for shelter. I miss that too. Humans have given me the English name of Traveller’s Palm, though I am not a palm, but my trunk grows like palm trees. Maybe they call me so because my leaves can store up to a litre of water and can quench the thirst of travellers. You can call me anything you want. When we get planted in other countries, we do not have pollinators, or friends visiting us regularly as you can see. This park is rather quiet for a park full of trees. And yes, we have all become friends and keep each other company.’
Aranya’s eyes moistened as she asked, ‘I would love to call you Lemur’s Buddy Tree hereon, can I?’,. At this point the Traveller’s Tree caught a beautiful streak of sunlight, as though glowing with this new name which mentioned his native friend. Aranya took a step forward and hugged Lemur’s Buddy Tree tightly.
Just then she heard another voice, ‘Hey Aranya, I am the African Tulip Tree. So what actually happened was largely between 16th and 18th century, when Europeans invaded and colonised many islands or countries. If there were any trees or plants that they wanted to collect or desired for their countries, they carried the seeds or saplings and planted them wherever they travelled, and that’s how we ended up in so many places outside of our native countries. Now in some countries like Hawaii, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, I am even labelled a pest or a weed. By the way, we who come from other countries, are called by certain names – foreign, introduced, invasive, non-native, naturalised, alien, or immigrant species. In some countries we have adapted well and have many bird pollinators, in some we have been labelled as flowers that kill stingless bees. If we adapt well, we are naturalised. If we adapt too well, we are invasive or a pest and come in the way of native trees flourishing. If we do not adapt at all, we are alien or exotic species. Isn’t it amusing that as trees we cannot migrate or travel such distances, unless humans carry us, and intentionally plant us? Once planted it is natural for any species on this earth that if the conditions are really suitable, to grow and spread. Unlike the Traveller’s Tree, I have managed to get plenty of bird pollinators, and my winged seeds disperse very well, but that doesn’t make me a pest. It is up to the humans to decide where they plant and how much they plant, and learn how I reproduce in different environments, isn’t it?’. And so the African Tulip Tree concluded, as though a huge burden was off her chest.
Aranya was now sitting under the African Tulip Tree. She could feel the emotions of many of these trees who had come from different parts of the world. They were here not by choice. Human invaders of countries had brought them into many parts of the world. Certainly they had done so out of love, out of wanting to appreciate their beauty, but without knowing the consequences. Some trees had survived, some had thrived, some had contributed to our food, and some had over thrived.
Sitting here, Aranya recalled how her Papa always made her go through a process, when she blamed someone else after a fight or an argument or called some classmates by names when she was hurt or angry. It kind of started with him asking, `Aran, can we sit down and talk how you could have been responsible for what happened? We tend to blame or point to the outside often, because we want to avoid how we might have caused it, or added to it’.
He would then sit her down and help her break down what had occurred step by step. Even as she did this, most of the times she realised it was either something she said, or had assumed, or did, believed, expected, or made up as a story in her head, that had caused the tension. Her father would add, `Aran, this is just one perspective, one story, yours. Now let us look at it from Kaira’s perspective, or Rishabh’s perspective’. These were some of her schoolmates she might have had an issue with. Soon, there were multiple stories, all sounding right too.
At that point Aranya had been able to see, none of the stories were right or wrong. Each of them could have stemmed from the fear of being wrong, of being rejected, of being shamed, of having to accept a mistake made, or out of truly not knowing. Papa would then tell her that she was now ready to make the decision she wanted, ‘Aran, now you can go apologise, or forgive, or have a discussion with your friends about it, or learn what you did not know till now. There are many ways to move ahead Aran, in a nourishing way. And if you still feel uncomfortable around someone, you can also decide to stop interacting with the person or set a healthy boundary. That is fine too’, he would reassure her.
`What are you thinking about Aranya?’, the Christmas Tree called out seeing Aranya lost in deep thoughts. Aranya, returned from her reflective thoughts, and recognised the Christmas tree. Mom had mentioned during one of the story reading nights, that they originated from the Pacific Islands.
Aranya answered, `I am just so happy to have come here to see you all. Until now, I had never paid much attention to your stories, and now I can see how what it must be like to come from such far off lands, and adapt to a new country, to a new soil, just so you can entertain us with your shape, or flowers, or beauty, or food, or more. Thank you so much for that. My Papa says, there are many sides to a story and to never blame or point fingers without breaking down and seeing where I am responsible for it. We brought you from other countries, we plant you wherever we wish to, and then we praise you if you adapt well, blame you if you adapt too well, and call you names when you do not let other native trees flourish. Maybe we are scared to acknowledge our role in all of this. Maybe we fear being shamed. Maybe it is easier to give you names, and point fingers at you. Thanks for showing our responsibility in this.’
Somehow at this very moment, the whole park became silent. The trees and she felt a deep sense of interconnection and oneness. They seem to be touched by her understanding and sharing.
`Ho, Ho, Ho to Aranya’s wise words, thanks dear one’, said the Christmas Tree which always had a very celebratory vibe to her. Aranya smiled. Soon all trees smiled. Now she recalled how decorated and decked up the Christmas Tree becomes in so many homes during the Christmas season in Goa. Aranya felt like she now knew a glamorous model, who this morning was just in her daily wear without make-up.
At this point she heard a sweet chorus voice call out, `We are Chir Pine, and Mad Tree, native to India, and we take good care of our friends in this park, don’t we?’. At this a loud laughter burst out around her with an echo, `Yes, yes, very much’, responded the other trees.
Aranya looked at these two trees and quickly asked, `Where are you both from in India, and tell me, tell me, why are you called Mad Tree?’.
The Mad Tree took over and shared, ‘Chir Pine is from Himalayas and poor thing has to bear the heat of Goa. But she is such a sport. As for me being called Mad or Pagla Gachh by the Bengalis, it is that no two leaves of mine look identical. I take different shapes for different leaves. So humans call me Mad Tree, but I consider myself highly innovative and creative’.
Aranya ran to this tree to check the leaves, and said `True, and how cool is that’. And the Mad Tree added, `and you know I am also called Buddha’s Coconut Tree, because my fruits look like coconut. Buddha, maybe because I am one with all my differences and creations’.
Just then the Cocos Palm Tree from South America, that bears clusters of lovely yellow orange fruit, said, `Aranya, come on now, let us do some fun stuff. Do you dance? I am from South America and we are all about dance and music. I was identified as this palm during the first Russian circumnavigation of the globe commissioned by the then foreign minister, Nikolay Rumyantsev. And then I was planted as an ornamental tree in many parts of the world. Anyway now, it’s time for some dance.’
Now another lovely voice greeted, `Hey, I too love to dance, I am the Swiss Cheese Plant from Mexico. In our culture, dancing and eating is something we love. Aranya, don’t look at me like that. I am called Swiss Cheese Plant, because if you look at my leaves with these holes, it resembles the Swiss Gruyere cheese that traditionally had holes like this. But I am also called the Fruit Salad Tree, because my fruit that takes a year to ripe, has a strong smell and is utterly delicious, similar to your jackfruit or pineapple’.
The African Tulip added, `Oh, don’t talk to me about dance. I haven’t grooved in a while’.
Hearing the word `dance’, the sunlight woke up and added some strobe lights onto the trees. An Oriental Magpie Robin flew in and started to sing. A few yellow butterflies started to flutter and add more colour. And Aranya danced around Cocos Palm, then around the Swiss Cheese plant and finally around the African Tulip. They all swayed, and the wind blew, and each of them found their beat and groove, and spent a few minutes like this, while the rest of the trees cheered them on. After all, to be dancing on a morning such as this, is indeed a treat.
Aranya, saw three other trees during her dance, who looked like they were eager to share, but just needed to be prodded a bit. They were like her friends Riya, Mahika and Sam, when asked would gladly talk.
When she went close to the first of these trees, the tree introduced himself with few words `I am Silver Oak from Australia, please come see me when I am flowering, you will love it.’ Aranya responded, `I certainly will, glad to know you Silver Oak’.
The second was the Australian Pine or Casuarina, and there were quite a few of them. `I am a she-oak species’ she said in her wispy and breezy voice. Aranya recalled seeing them during her other beach visits as well. ‘They do call me equisetifolia referring to horse hair, as my drooping branchlets look like that. Mostly I am planted in the shore area because I am good at preventing soil erosion and can break the wind’.
`Ah, no wonder you have a very wind-like voice, and thanks so much for the work you do’, declared Aranya’s delightful voice.
Finally she walked to the third shy tree, the Kauri Pine, and he spoke slowly but clearly, `I am a large evergreen coniferous tree from Australia, and do check my leaves, they have no midrib. No idea why I am called Pine, as I have leaves, and not needles’. Aranya picked up the leaf and examined it, and how interesting, no midrib. And just oozing with love, Aranya gave the flaky bark of this tree a kiss, as if concluding her own exploration with this.
Her heart was now full. She noticed a couple more trees, but she sensed that this morning they preferred to be listeners, and maybe share about themselves another day. They certainly had nodded, swayed and remained part of the conversation. But much like her friend Parvath, they didn’t wish to talk that day. He too was like that in class on some days, but his warmth and presence was felt nevertheless.
At this point, Aranya felt very satisfied and she remembered her Mom saying, `When you are satisfied, say goodbye and don’t tire them. You can always come back later’.
With this, Aranya announced in her ever joyful voice to the community of trees, `Thank you, thank you, my new friends. To me, you now belong here and I shall come to see you as regularly as I can, and whenever I want to send you a message I shall use our wind friend, and you do the same thing. I want to bring my other friends too, to meet you all. And yes, I shall speak to Papa and take responsibility for bringing you all into our country, and write about it in our quarterly school magazine as well.’
Now the sun shone brightly on her and the entire park. The wind gave a long loud brush, and the leaves and branches swayed with delight.
She heard warm goodbyes.
Aranya, now ran to her Mom who sensed her energy and looked up from the book she was reading, with a wide smile.
It is better to stop the story here, because we now know our Aranya. From the time they walked to the parking lot, into the car, through the roads, into her home, and many days after, her mouth and mind were fully animated, just like how many of us are, when we return from such walks.
Would it be right to say, that through her conversation with the trees, we can learn to take responsibility for our actions and think of the words we use for such trees, who are brought by us from their native lands?
And maybe like Aranya’s Papa, we too can break it down step by step and find the stories and perspectives we have missed listening to. By doing so, we can together find new words, and a more nourishing language to talk about their presence in our country, and understand how to manage them better. Another thing, also going forward, maybe we can admire them in their own habitats when we travel, and stop bringing them here, removing them from the relationships they share back home?
For now, let us hope Aranya’s Aranya in Bhagwan Mahavir Children’s Park continues to nourish everyone with fresh clean air, interesting stories from far off habitats, conversations and friendships, just by their sheer beauty, love and presence.
With this, our Tree Walk and the story ends, or maybe just begins.
Thank you for listening to Aranya’s Aranya.
I look forward to hearing – where do you find yourself in this story? Which character do you feel closer to? What thoughts came up?
Please do share, for this is a conversation we can all have, now that you have been on this Tree Walk too.