There is one particular tree, which became the centre of local news many years ago, when the old bungalow in the compound began experiencing strange and disturbing happenings. Stones began falling inside rooms from nowhere and clothes inside the closets caught fire. When all 'logical' investigations produced nothing, the occupants decided to employ other means. The result of this counter activity was the revelation that this tree was, perhaps, the 'residence' of unseen supernatural entities that had been inflamed because the area around their 'house' had been defiled by the residents.
I have it on authority that disturbing activity inside the house ceased after the family living there cleaned up the tree premises and even began burning joss sticks there. Interest drew me to the spot a few years ago and I found that the story had not been forgotten, as I could smell the aroma of burning joss sticks from across the high wall of the compound.
Driving around the country on tours, I was much intrigued by the number of flags that adorned tall and very old trees. My curiosity was further fuelled when I saw a young man risking life and limb by scaling the topmost branches of a banyan tree almost 40 feet above the ground, so that he could tie a green flag at its very pinnacle. I waited till the man descended and then asked him as to what was he up to. It appeared that this tree was reputed to be blessed and the flag tying was resorted to whenever someone’s prayer was granted. Retrospection to find an answer led me to the conclusion that, perhaps, this ritual was a legacy of the multi-faith social environment that existed before independence and had been carried on mindlessly for generations.
Mercifully, not all trees are haunted or revered as deities. While all of them lend beauty to our planet, are instrumental in inducing precipitation and provide much needed shade for the weary pedestrian, many carry medicinal and food value. While numbers in this category may run into thousands, here are some specimens that have personal memories attached to them.
One side of our old compound in Lahore was lined with very tall Eucalyptus trees, whose large trunks glowed white as their old cardboard thin bark peeled off. My grandfather would often crush handfuls of Eucalyptus leaves and inhale their aroma saying that this was good for the sinuses. Another part of our garden was lined with Amaltaas or Cassia Fistula. This tree produced a magnificent display of yellow flowers that turned into long, ugly dark brown seed pods, which were in great demand by hakims as an effective laxative.
One corner of our compound had a large Suhanjna tree, which sported dense clusters of white flowers, followed by foot long snake-like green beans. Our dining table was often adorned with mouthwatering delicacies made from these flowers and the beans that were stir-fried by our cook into a spicy meal.
The king of all trees was the Goolar that grew in a remote part of our rear lawn. Its fruit resembled oversized berries, which when ripe were a marvel of nature. As each berry was sliced open, it released a mass of tiny winged insects that had bred inside it, in spite of the fact that there was not even the tiniest entry point on the surface. It was believed that eating this ripened fruit complete with insects worked wonders for one's eyes and sight.
It was often that my grandmother would ask one of the domestic help to harvest Goolars in their green unripe state. These were then mashed and mixed with spices to produce shami kebabs that tasted even better than ones made from meat. No wonder that my dining table continues to boast kebabs made from this fruit (obtained from the forest on Margalla Hills), to the great astonishments of guests, who are told after consuming repeated helpings that the kebabs have not been made from prime meat.
n The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.