City Season – Leaf Fall, Around Town
Autumn in March.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There is a particularly friendly tree in Jacobpura in old Gurgaon, under whose shade the area’s cart pullers would sit for a few minutes of repose. But today the place is empty. The shade too is missing.
The verdant tree is bared of leaves, its spindly branches are looking like a giant’s unclipped fingernails attempting to scratch the sky.
Isn’t this supposed to be spring?
In the West, new leaves are appearing on trees that were bare in winter. In Delhi region, it is the opposite. Our trees are letting go of their leaves as they prepare for summers. Author Pradip Krishen explains that “for a tree to survive in prolonged drought, it needs to shut down — the best way for it to do that is to drop its leaves and stop transpiring water.”
The annual shedding is a grand and tragic spectacle. This afternoon, in Connaught Place, the escalators in the N Block subway are littered with fallen leaves; some are cruelly stuck between the metal teeth. In the privileged Pandara Road, the service lane is entirely covered with these leaves — walking on them feels like stepping on a mattress. In Bhogal, the leaf-covered roadsides are in fact doubling up as mattresses for the community dogs. On the lane outside Modern School in Barakhamba, a masked man is wading through gold dust, which are actually crumbled yellow leaves.
On Second Avenue Road, the blue plastic awning hung over vendor Raju’s coconut water stall is weighed down with ‘dead birds’. They are actually the leaves of the adjacent balamkheera tree.
A brief walk away, at a conclave in India Habitat Centre, literature student Manasha Sharma recalls that otherwise ordinary day when falling leaves waft onto her table at a Saket café, prompting her to keep two of those as keepsakes in her mobile phone cover.
At the Lodhi Road traffic light, beggar Shenas is sitting quietly in her wheelchair, watching the leaves fall. “It feels good to see them come down like a bird’s broken feathers,” she says. Nearby, a tall, lanky grey-haired man is walking thoughtfully on a pavement that looks more like a rivulet of leaves. The brooding man turns out to be poet Arif Dehlvi.
One wonders, while standing under the aforementioned bare tree in Jacobpura, just where do those absent cart pullers go these days for shade.