The passing of an era.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In a world that appears to be striving for a race to the bottom, it was the epitome of stateliness and dignity. Now, it has left this world.
The great tree that stood at the forefront of Alliance Française de Delhi was removed on 7 October 2016. “It was dead, its roots had died,” said a security guard to The Delhi Walla.
The tree stood in front of the French cultural center’s ML Bhartia Auditorium. It is not clear what tree it was though the people of Alliance Française knew it as ‘Tribal Tree’. During cocktail evenings and book launches, guests stood around it with their wine glasses. During the afternoons, students of French language would be heard practicing their pronunciations of ‘je m’appelle’ and ‘je t’aime’ around this tree, although since 2014 students were not allowed to sit under it because of the fears that the tree could fall anytime, according to Ekta Talwar, who studied French in this institute.
The tree was also sighted in the Bollywood film Love Aaj Kal; actor Deepika Padukone was seen sitting under it.
“Yes, we are all still mourning the loss of our beloved tree,” says Rachit Dhawan, the center’s chef de l’accueil (head of information, if you please), who took a memorable photograph of the tree the day it was cut down–see picture 1 below. In a long email, he told me that the arborist who was studying the tree ever since it started to weaken a few years ago had estimated it to be about 150 years old.
Over the years, this graceful landmark made intimate bonds with many people, including Mr Dhawan. “The tree was a special place for all of us,” he says, “We knew everything we had here was centered around this tree… You can never really replace some things. What is lost is lost.
On its official website, the cultural center says: “The building [of Alliance Française] was awarded the silver medal of the French Academy of Architecture in 2005 and has the distinctive feature to integrate two immense trees and therefore harmoniously fitting into its immediate environment, few dozens meters away from the famous botanical Lodi Gardens.”
Just a month before this immense tree was uprooted, Mr Dhawan took its photograph (see photo 6 below) and mailed it to his mother, Roselyne, in Canada with the following message:
“I arrived in the sensation of a big city life, I rush, I jaywalk, I run, I catch; and within all this madness; before I could go blue, my dearest, you stand tall and make me green, for I am just a leaf, a leaf holding on to you.”
The spot where the tree stood has been paved. Its perimeter is bordered with flower pots but you can walk right across the empty space. It’s like as if the tree never existed.
Gone for ever
1. (photo by Rachit Dhawan)
6. (photo by Rachit Dhawan)