Kerala village offers unique farewell to 200-year-old tree axed for road widening

Residents of Chempakamangalam in Thonnakkal gathered around the grandmother tree, shared memories, read poems and lighted lamps to bid adieu to it in a memorable way.
People in a Kerala village bid adieu to a 100 year-old mango tree
People in a Kerala village bid adieu to a 100 year-old mango tree
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Goodbyes are hard, especially to someone who has been around for about two centuries. Residents of Chempakamangalam near Thonnakkal in Thiruvananthapuram learned it the hard way when it was time to cut a huge mango tree that stood by the side of National Highway for over 200 years giving shade and fruits, as part of road widening. Thonnakkal is the birthplace of poet Kumaran Asan and houses a memorial in his name.

On Tuesday evening the residents decided to make the farewell a memorable event. They gathered around the tree, read poems and lighted lamps to bid adieu to the tree, the shade under which many generations met to exchange pleasantries and share stories. Residents of Chempakamangalam say there is no one in the locality who hasn't tasted the mangoes from the tree and it's heartbreaking for them that the tree will no longer be a part of them. “It was scheduled to be cut on Tuesday but we requested the contractor to postpone so that we could arrange a farewell,” said Babuji, one of the organisers and a resident of Chempakamangalam, says. 

They decorated the tree with string lights and flowers. During the farewell ceremony it was also honoured by a ponnada, a shawl with gold zari work. People who gathered for the function shared their memories about the tree. A poetry session with Prof Madusoodanan Nair was also organised as part of the event. 

“We washed the tree as part of the ceremony. The mango tree was a part and parcel of our lives for a long time. We wanted to enjoy its shade for one last time,” Babuji said. 

Close to the mango tree there stands a Chumaduthaangi (a stone platform constructed to keep the goods carried by headload workers when they rest). Steps are being taken to shift the Chumaduthangi, which is also more than a century old, to another place nearby, as it's a historical monument.

Across Kerala there have been complaints over felling huge trees for national highway widening. Also environmentalists had pointed out that this is the nesting season of many birds and that work should be postponed until the season is over. Recently a video from Randathani of Malappuram district showed numerous birds taking off, as an earthmover pushed down the tree they had nested in, near a National Highway development site, inviting huge criticism.

Birders say that most birds, including migratory varieties, nest and lay eggs around the monsoon. It takes around four to five months for the hatchlings to start flying. When a nesting tree is felled, the adult birds escape, while unhatched eggs and hatchlings fall to the ground and die.

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