The Know Your Trees campaign is our endeavour to endear children to trees as part of our awareness campaigns, beginning with some growing in their own backyard. Every year, Know Your Trees walks are organized in various communities in and around Gurgaon. One such is the Close North, a high rise condominium within Nirvana Country, Gurgaon. Seldom is there a greater pleasure than to see these little children, on whose able shoulders the future of the country will one day depend, chortle and chuckle as they recognize trees in their neighbourhood.
Why love for trees is best taught from childhood itself
Wide eyed, marvelling at this pretty bloom or that delicate frond, their pure hearts are much more sensitive to what goes on around them. They are like earthen pots, easily moulded, but what you teach them today will become the robust vessel of imagination which will brim with ideas that change the world tomorrow. There is no better age than this to inculcate a deep respect, for the species with which they share the planet.
Such were the thoughts bubbling in my head when we reached the gates of the Close on a breezy late April evening. We had already done a tour of the area, being helped by a friendly resident, Mrs Punam. With a smile forever blooming on her face, she had led us around to show us the trees within. Thus having become confident of which species we would encounter where, we returned on the day of the walk.
And so it began
We came to the small open air amphitheatre which was to be our meeting point for briefing and registrations. There were already some ten or twelve fidgety children with their weary mothers sitting nonchalantly at the steps. Others were trickling in when we arrived. Tables were arranged and we stuck our leaf charts on them. These charts showed the leaves from the species of trees we were going to encounter in our walk. As Punam shouted out a loud ‘Hi!” the children came alive, replying with a shrill chorus. Namrita broke the ice by playing a game of Simon Says with the kids, and she would do it later in the walk too.
Nidhi began the proceedings, asking some of the kids what use trees are to them. “It gives us ooooxeeegeeeen!” piped a plump little boy, who was obviously curious and yet to settle into the whole situation. How adorable! Yet others chimed in, variously replying with ‘they give us medicine’, ‘they are good for health’, ‘their flowers are beautiful’ and so on. Namrita would speak to them from time to time to bring their flagging attention back to us.
Lastly, it was my turn to brief them on a brief history of how the Earth Day came to be. It seemed some of the children had already heard about it during the Earth Day celebrations in their respective schools. Considering their miniscule attention span, we herded them towards the tables to distribute tree shaped name tags and have their mothers write their contact details on a chart. They were then encouraged to pick a leaf each from the leaf charts, and write down its name on a leaf tag, which each of them would pin on the tree to which the leaf belonged, once they reached that tree during the walk.
Showing them around
Once the registrations and the distribution of name and leaf tags were done, what we saw in front of us was a very diverse group. The youngest was a boy, just two and a half years old, barely able to mumble a sentence; while the oldest was a tall bespectacled girl, who knew more about trees than her humble demeanour suggested. We later came to know that she is Punam’s daughter! We were also joined by Manjulika, a discerning lady who has just joined our team as a volunteer, as she too stays in one of the condominiums in Nirvana Country.
Nidhi ‘Aunty’ then called out for her attention, and Namrita and I instructed the group to follow her around. The first tree we came to was growing towards the south of the central park where the amphitheatre was situated – it was a Champa, or Frangipani tree. Nidhi told the children to notice its oblong, oar shaped leaves and its white flowers that were a gorgeous deep yellow at the centre. When asked as to who had the leaf tags for the frangipani, a boy and girl tore through the crowd and rushed to coronate the tree with their tags. They were absolutely thrilled to be the first to tag any tree!
We moved on to an African Tulip and a Chikrasi (Chukrassia) standing side by side in a small patch of garden between two of the residential towers. Some of the kids were happy to know they had an African tree growing right next to their homes. Just adjoining the two trees was an amusing specimen, a firebush. A girl got curious about its name and was told it was called so because of its bright red clusters of flowers peeking through the foliage. On the other side was a bamboo cluster that had been pruned to look like a bush. It was inspiring to see Namrita’s enthusiasm, as she kept calling out the kids to keep them charged up!
Our next area was a small avenue that led to the back road within the Close, which was used by cars to exit the precincts. A few kids heard us pointing out a middle sized Harsinghar to Punam. To draw them away, Nidhi took them to an earpod wattle growing across it. They all yelled ‘Harsinghar!’ when they came to the wattle, little knowing that they had been fooled. It was our turn to smile! They were pointed out the fruit pods of the tree, with their unmistakable resemblance to our earlobes, hence the name.
Having been brought back to the Harsinghar, they were asked again what it was. Two of them guessed wildly- ‘Sunflaaaawerrrr, Auntieeee!’ That caused an incredulous look to bloom on Nidhi’s face, after which she asked them – “Arey where are the flowers?” Chuckling with laughter, she told them that this was the Harsinghar indeed. I asked the kids to touch its leaves, which were used in earlier times to polish wood owing to their rough texture.
The back road of the Close was a treasure house of floral diversity. We were able to see a Calliandra (we did not know its correct name, it was pointed out by Punam’s daughter), a yellow oleander or Kaner, a flowering Neem and a Subabool, one after the other in a line. Across the road to our left, we came to a couple of trees that we expected the children to know. Had they been fruiting, the children could have guessed better. They were Guava trees. A little girl tagged one of them while I took pictures, making her mother feel very proud.
Scarcely ahead was a sight that makes us remember a cleaning object. It was a weeping bottlebrush, with its drooping branches and flowers that resemble the bottle brush used to clean narrow bottles. That got a little sardar very excited as he had been hoping to chance upon this tree, for which he carried the leaf tag.
A little ahead to our right, the kids were shown a tree often mentioned in Hindu mythology, a tree that is dear to Lord Krishna. The Kadamba tree is endemic to Bengal and has these perfectly round flower clusters that look like little tufts sticking out of a small ball.
We turned around the bend ahead and came to the front entrance of tower 5, which had a Jamun tree and a Kachnar or camel’s foot tree nearby. The latter was a treat to the eyes for Nidhi, because its leaves would appeal to the children, shaped like camel’s hooves. Across the road, right next to the boundary wall, were a Jasmine bush and a red oleander, which is shorter than its yellow cousin.
By this time it was getting dark, and we were on the final leg of our little walk. We crossed through a small alley between two towers and Nidhi thought at this point to introduce a small twist in the game. The kids were asked to search out an Amaltash tree, an Ashok tree and a Gulmohur and tag it on their own. It was not much of a task as the trees were just on the way back to the amphitheatre. Here too, Namrita did her bit to pump up the kids, who by now were getting a bit tired.
The true reward
After finishing the walk, the kids milled around us happily as they were distributed certificates and given a cupcake each to eat. Thereafter they signed our customary pledge to use their own bags. 30 children had joined us for the walk, and we hope that each of them have now inculcated a sense of admiration for these wonderful friends of ours, the trees. Our true reward came to us in the form of a mail sent by Punam a few days later. In it she mentioned that the kids feel proud about the trees they have tagged and go with their parents to check upon them every day.
If you wish your children and your neighbour’s children to learn about our natural heritage, yoy can start from your own backyard.