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The Felling of the Banyan Tree

My father told the tenants to leave


Who lived on the houses surrounding our house on the hill
One by one the structures were demolished
Only our own house remained and the trees
Trees are sacred my grandmother used to say
Felling them is a crime but he massacred them all
The sheoga, the oudumber, the neem were all cut down
But the huge banyan tree stood like a problem
Whose roots lay deeper than all our lives
My father ordered it to be removed

The banyan tree was three times as tall as our house


Its trunk had a circumference of fifty feet
Its scraggy aerial roots fell to the ground
From thirty feet or more so first they cut the branches
Sawing them off for seven days and the heap was huge
Insects and birds began to leave the tree
And then they came to its massive trunk
Fifty men with axes chopped and chopped
The great tree revealed its rings of two hundred years
We watched in terror and fascination this slaughter
As a raw mythology revealed to us its age
Soon afterwards we left Baroda for Bombay
Where there are no trees except the one
Which grows and seethes in one’s dreams, its aerial roots
Looking for the ground to strike.

The Felling of The Banyan Tree as a poem is symbolical, mythical and eco-centric as it hides in many a
shred of thought and thinking from different points of view, rampant urbanization, flat construction,
road making, renovation of older housing complex, money making and supply of wooden logs to saw
mills. From the natural points of view, the older sturdy trees with their mighty growth not only give cool
shade but add to greenery and oxygen level.

The Felling of The Banyan Tree is one of the famous poems written by Dilip Chitre who is but a Marathi
writer of repute and a poet of English too as has written quite a few in English and has rendered into too
apart from being a little magazine man and a translator and an anthologist. A Marathi critic and poet,
he is well up in English as English is his subject of study and has taught it too. To talk about him is to talk
about his An anthology of Marathi Poems: 1945-65 (1967), Ambulance Ride (1972), Travelling in a Cage
(1980); to talk about him is to talk about his Tukaram. To talk about him is to talk about Father Travelling
Home and The Felling of A Banyan Tree. Such is the impact of his poetry. So social, so amicable and
reflective is he in his poetry.
My father told the tenants to leave
Who lived on the houses surrounding our house on the hill
One by one the structures were demolished
Only our own house remained and the trees

In a tell-tale manner the poet starts the poem telling about the ancestral home and the tenants and the
trees around and the construction to be renovated or constructed afresh. The poet’s father asks the
tenants to leave their houses on rent as for the construction work to be done at the same site and so to
keep it up the adjacent houses were demolished, the trees were felled around for making a room. The
main house was spared, the older home connected with memory and growing up, refreshing the
patriarchal link and settlement, the ancestral labour and continuance in all sweats dripping from the
eyebrows and the face. The sheoga, the oudumber and the neem all were cut down. Only the banyan
remained it lastly for sometime more and the old house with old memories. But had it been the case of
the grandmother she would have objected to as trees were dearer to her and she considered cutting as
to be a crime.
The banyan tree was so big with the mighty growth and sturdy branching that it was not easy to cut it
down so easily. Longer than life and family, the history of settlement and dwelling it told of an age gone
by, a century past and it in evidence to standing as a witness to all that it happened, took place
underneath or in the suburb. The woodcutters came they with the tools and ropes to plan and execute it
for cutting the mighty tree with the aerial roots hanging all around. More and more men engaged in
felling it and chopping and cutting and piling them up to be deported. The poet together with other
family members saw it all in horror and excitement, bearing a testimony of some two hundred years
sped by. What a man did not, the tree saw it all.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow


To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

-----The Brook, Alfred Lord Tennyson

If this belief from heaven be sent,


If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
----- Lines Written in Early Spring, William Wordsworth

When we read the poem, there conjure up several images upon the mind’s plane of thinking. Even the
older shirish trees too take a similar look when it grows centuries old. When the highway builders keep
working for road construction, they fell the trees in a similar way for the quadrilateral projects. The land
sharks while doing the business for the highest turnover, get the trees cut and sold to flat-makers for
making L-shaped, V-shaped multi-lateral flats. Under the banyan tree perhaps one day lay it Satyavan on
the lap of Savitri and under the peepul tree got it enlightenment Prince Siddharth to be Gautam Buddha.
The final four lines of the poem tell of the leaving of Chitre for Bombay where the trees are difficult to
be found except a few ones and those too cramming for space in the congested place. There is
something of the poem I Remember, I Remember of Thomas Hood in it were the poet remembers his
brother planting a laburnum tree on his birthday, the tree is , but his brother is not. The poem in a
nostalgic way makes us remind the scenery and landscape of Tintern Abbey and Lines written In Early
Spring.

Soon afterwards we left Baroda for Bombay


Where there are no trees except the one
Which grows and seethes in one’s dreams, its aerial roots
Looking for the ground to strike.
---- The Felling Of A Banyan Tree, Dilip Chitre

I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi'lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,—
The tree is living yet!
----I Remember, I Remember, Thomas Hood

Five years have past; five summers, with the length


Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
---- Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a
Tour. July 13, 1798, William Wordsworth

The neem tree which the author mentions has a value of own for its blood refining capacity, medicinal
value working as germicide and is used while burning the pyre. The slaughter of the tree refreshes the
bad memories of the abattoir with the birds of prey sitting over the rooftops of the tin shades. From the
Jainistic point of view, they too have a life of their own and the poet seems to be referring to here.
Baroda is the locale of the poem where he has composed about and from Baroda closing the chapter of
it he moves out to Bombay and its beyond.

The Felling Of A Banyan Tree is very scenic and landscapic too and with it there conjures upon different
images, as such The Felling Of A Peepul Tree. How do the woodcutters cut them, hew and saw, axe and
fell and pull down, chop and shear off? It is really painful to see the tree being uprooted. Leave the
things of cyclonic wrath twisting and turning in the violent gusts of the wind. It is but man-made crisis
and this deforestation will take over human existence of ours from which perhaps there is no escape at
all.