|Ripening fruit on a fig tree|
I have seen a number of fig trees in and around Mysore, but the one that most inhabits my memory is the huge tree near my village in Karukutty, Ernakulam district, Kerala. That tree is believed to be 500 years old and hosts a sarppakkavu -- a shrine dedicated to serpent spirits. My grandfather told me that it was an atthi-maram -- Malayalam for fig tree, though I never saw it in fruit in the days I spent with my grandparents.
It was nevertheless an amazing tree. Its branches and roots were barely distinguishable from each other. Long strands hung down from the boughs, slowly growing towards the ground. On touching the ground they turned into pillar-like struts supporting the superstructure of the tree. And in this way the tree would branch out and occupy a fair acreage of land.
|The Ficus tree at Karukutty|
|A Chestnut-tailed Starling eyes its next morsel|
One morning when we arrived, it simply wasn't there -- all that remained was a stump. For no reason that was apparent, the tree had been cut down and the plot where it stood remains empty even today. I have seen shoots emerge from the still-standing trunk but it will take years for it to regain its past glory -- perhaps more than my lifetime, and that is if it is allowed to stand for that long.
Some trees, like the one on the shore of Lingambudhi Lake, has been spared the axe since it stands in the compound of a temple.
|A Coppersmith Barbet attempts the seemingly impossible|
|A contented Golden Oriole in a fig tree laden with fruit|
With the widening of the Ring Road in Mysore two fig trees beside the road have been felled. As the city grows, many more are likely to fall prey to development. And the birds that depend on these trees for food will be driven further and further away. And then, sadly, we shall refer to them all in past tense.
Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan