City Season – Leaf-dropping in Delhi
The Capital’s fall.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Leaves are falling. As summers get closer, trees across Delhi have started shedding their leaves. If it’s windy, the yellowed leaves drop continuously in a gentle shower. By noon, roads are carpeted with a golden-coloured layer. Many leaves find their way onto the subway stairs, into ATM cabins and even into the open kettles of roadside tea vendors. In the evening, when office-goers reach the parking stands, they first must wipe the dry leaves from their cars’ windshields.
“It’s basant, a happy time,” says Hindi poet Ashok Vajpayee referring to the season. “This is our last chance to enjoy a cool weather in the open skies before the oppressive heat takes over.” It is a sensibility not shared by all.
“I associate falling leaves with melancholy,” says Michaela Kreuterová, a Czech citizen who has lived in Delhi for six years. “In my Europe, leaves fall in autumn, which is a kind of sad season because it heralds the coming of the cold, harsh winters.”
In Delhi, it’s the opposite. The autumn, or patjhad, arrives after a short spell of spring, heralding the coming of hot, harsh summers. Soon the water will be scarce and sandstorms from Rajasthan will be a daily torment. “For a tree to survive in prolonged drought, it needs to shut down,” says Pradip Krishen, the author of the magisterial book, Trees of Delhi. “The best way for it to do that is to drop its leaves and stop transpiring water.”
Watching the leaves fall brings mixed emotions. “I feel bad for those poor leaves,” says Parveen, a sex worker in GB Road. “They fall to the ground to be trampled upon by people’s feet.” Thumri singer Vidya Rao whose apartment windows in Mehrauli looks onto the shrubby archaeological park compares the phenomenon to the cycle of life. “Things are returning to earth,” she says. “New leaves will come. This is life.”
Not all Delhiites are lucky to live within an eye-view of gardens or tree-lined avenues. “I don’t see any trees from here,” says Pushpa Singh, who lives in an apartment in Vasundhra, a suburb beyond the last metro stop of east Delhi. “But my tulsi plant in the terrace has shed its leaves.”
What is lovelier still is that some trees that have gone leafless are now in full blossom. The branches of semal trees, for instance, are decked with thick pulpy red flowers. “The strategy of trees in this eco system is to put out flowers first before the new leaves appear,” says Mr Krishen. “This makes the flowers more conspicuous for pollinators.” Birds are bad in smelling things but their powerful visual sense attracts them to semal flowers, which they help pollinate.
The leaf lovers, however, need not wait till the monsoons to see the next growth. Most trees cultivate new leaves many weeks before the rains. And that dazzle of naked branches suddenly clothing themselves in green is as beautiful a sight as the current season’s leaf shower.
Green auto, yellow leaves
Sweeping them off
That’s Peepal tree
Here they go