A man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest.
– Paul Simon.
A 125 year old banyan tree stands tall with her 265 feet wide body and 75 aerial prop roots hanging around her trunk that stabilizes her on the ground. She had seen more than four generations of mankind and innumerable wear and tears of her own body. She is a mother for many species of birds, insects, millions of microbes, small mammals and surrogate mother for banyan wasps. She stands as a strong one that had escaped several demolishing attempts. She was planned to be knocked down for road extension at wee hours to avoid public protests. Can she survive one more attempt? Every life has the right to live here in this world or in the parallel world. Does the parallel world really exists to save her?!
It was a cold night in November, when the supervisor sighed a relief as he checked his watch that showed the time as half-past 1 a.m. and looked at the bulldozer driver with a victory smile. Before him and the driver lies a banyan tree on the ground which was living until ten minutes before on the roadside. The tree was cut down during this wee hours to avoid public uproar in order to make way for the road extension.
Existence or extinction is what we perceive in this physical world. But, Existence is the only phenomenon that truly exists. What we perceive as absence is, in fact, existing in the parallel world. That is the universal law. Every creation has the right to live in this world! Or in the parallel world.
On November 24th, the dawn was breaking with the feast of bird songs. Birds were actively moving and feeding. A grey-breasted prinia was hopping from the tip of a reed to the next taller reed. A common tailorbird was preening her body on the ground close to the road and slowly hopped towards her partner who was chewing vigorously. They both flew instantly between the reeds few meters and took a vertical upward flight and landed on a branch of a mango tree. She started feeding the insects in the newly bloomed mango inflorescence, with short calls in between and with a swift vigilant look towards her partner to make sure his company. They both flew at once after seeing the arrival of an Indian palm squirrel which made alarm calls on seeing a cat under the tree. The earsplitting blabbers of the yellow-billed babblers shooed away the cat and the squirrel came down to forage on the ground together with the babblers. It’s breakfast time indeed. A purple sunbird was chasing another individual in flight and they flew close to the flame of the forest tree which was buzzing with many pairs of purple sunbirds and flowerpeckers.
The sun has risen and simultaneously vehicles started moving on the road. The blaring sound of vehicle horns made the birds move little away from the road across the fresh reeds and found solace in trees few meters away. The green reeds had partitioned so well, that had marvelously opposing scenario on the either sides – one side the road with raucous noise of vehicles and the other side, the patch of green trees and shrubs that remains the home of many birds, squirrels, insects, beetles and millions of invisible microbes.
Not only the present moment, this place is a very busy one, round the clock, round the year. There is one particular banyan tree of 125 years old. During the course of her growth, she has seen more than four generations of mankind. She is a natural asset, a living treasure. Her wisdom grew overtime, as she grew enormously huge with about 75 aerial prop roots which had grown parallel to the trunk and reached the ground in order to give support to her 265 feet extended body. Among them, two prop roots are the favourites among the small boys which was happily situated so appropriately, as a naturally made swing that attracted kids and several times even elderly people.
After their morning vocal warming up, mynas, crows, sunbirds, flowerpeckers, bulbuls, kick-starts from the perch to face the hectic day ahead. During hot sunny noon, neighborhood people rest at the shadow of this tree which gives shelter easily for about 50 people at a time with its thick canopy cover. At evenings, she would become the playground for kids and chatting spot for friends and relatives of the neighborhood. During the sunsets, there would be hullabaloo of mynas, crows, babblers, parakeets, coppersmith barbets, hornbills, and other birds who tries to secure a safe perch as their roosting site under this safe haven. She herself is a mini-sanctuary, with crows occupying the top portion of the canopy, mynas in the middle region and babblers, bulbuls at the bottom perches of the banyan. This is the daily scenario in her life, which never vexes her with the monotony, as each day is a victorious day for each of her occupants, an yet another day of their triumph from their predators and rivals who finds solace during the nights under her.
If we quickly flip through few pages of her life, i.e., approximately 7 months before from now, we would land on a spring day in the month of March, where she was blooming with female flowers that lie inside the fruit covered by fruit flesh. Yes, her flowers never see the sunlight, and nobody in the world would have ever seen her flowers, except her symbiotic friend banyan wasp (Eupristina masoni). She is not only mother for birds and a beloved friend of mankind, she is also a surrogate mother for thousands of wasps who spends only a little time outside her and in return helps in perpetuating her gene through pollination. Inside her male fruits, there sleep hundreds of female and male wasps that are about to emerge. A few weeks back, the mother wasp had laid her eggs inside the fruit in the care of mother banyan. These wasps had fully grown by the nourishment from banyan fruit. During the time of emergence, the male wasps’ emerges few hours before the females, for successful mating. The male wasps’ evolutionarily developed intuitive instinct helps in finding the female inside her pouch and by making a small hole impregnates the female wasps. The emerging female wasps have short life span. The individual male fruit is a microcosmic world in itself, that is an arena for survival and perpetuation of life.
Now, it is the time for this newly emerged pregnant female wasp to pay back her gratitude to her 125 years old surrogate mother. Likewise, thousands of female wasps that were hibernating inside, gets ready to face the outside world to find a receptive female fruit. These female wasps’ carries millions of anthers to pollinate banyan female fruits. The final act of male wasps are to open the banyan fruit for females to make their prestigious race to find a suitable recipient banyan, whereas the males die out inside the fruit.
Two elders who are sitting under the shadow of this tree, for past 20 minutes, are neither aware of this breathtaking process of female wasps gathering the anthers in her thorax, nor the death of thousands of male wasps inside the fruits. They only felt happy about escaping the scorching sun at that hot noon. One among them looked at the fruits and is very sure that the tree would fruit after 2 weeks from today, after keenly observing the fruits, unaware of the hectic process that had just happened inside those little hanging balls of life.
Man only sees what he wants to see…
After few hours, there was a swarm of female wasps carrying anthers from male flowers of banyan trees few kilometers away, made their race against time and wind. The female fruits of this tree oozes out a volatile substance that attracts these female wasps. A single female wasp sits on the receptive female fruit and drills a hole using her ovipositor. Only the single female who first enters was the luckiest of all, a standing evidence for Darwinian ‘the survival of the fittest’ phenomenon. This pollen laden female wasp negotiates through the ostiole made by her and squeezes inside the fruit. During this herculean procedure, she loses her wings and antennae and gets exhausted. After the entry, she then seals the entrance.
Before she dies, she must perform her duty, she glides down the style of floret and deposits the pollen on stigma with her forelegs. After that, her final act is to perpetuate her own species by laying eggs on the bed of fruit. It takes several weeks for the development of her offspring. Until then, this banyan fruits surrogates them, gives nourishment. In eggs, she not only transfers her genes, but also the virtue of commitment towards their surrogate mother – the banyan tree. This event happens simultaneously in hundreds of female flowers of this tree. This is a very busy day for the banyan tree indeed.
This co-evolutionary relationship was here for thousands of years, an association nurtured between banyan trees and symbiont wasps through sincere commitment and loyalty. This is just a single evidence of the purpose of this banyan tree’s existence. Besides, she produces sweet juice as food for ants, honeybees. She develops a kind of wax that oozes from fruits and barks, as an act of recovery from injuries, that attracts hundreds of honeybees and were used for constructing their honeycomb. The purpose of her life is to perpetuate her offspring and helps the fellow species and she performs her duties quite impeccably.
After few weeks, she would be full of ripened fruits that attracts hundreds of frugivorous (fruit eating) birds – red-vented bulbuls, green pigeons, jungle crows, leafbirds, rose-ringed parakeets and indian palm squirrels, that fills the tree with their cacophony. They aid in banyan fruit dispersal during their forthcoming visits in their next flights to nearby or faraway places.
November 24th was a busy day, as the activists, environmentalists, nature lovers and students have planned to have a rally cum hunger strike from 6.30 am for saving the patch of greenery which had escaped several attempts of demolitions. Even during previous March, the tree was planned to cull for road extension which attracted hundreds of neighborhood people, activists, students and her life was once again saved. Attempts to kill her, that is followed by protests by nature lovers was almost a usual scene seen at least once in every five months. This time, as it is a Diwali day, a national holiday, the activists were sure that this issue would reach a larger mass of people through media and social network. They were very particular about saving the gigantic banyan tree with enormous aerial roots that is been existing in the very same place and had become a part of their life. She provides a motherly care by her shelter for many birds, small mammals, insects, and several times for humans.
Kumar was driving the car after a busy day in office to catch a flight the next morning to his hometown. The following day (November 24th) is Diwali and he was very much particular in spending his Diwali at home along with his family and friends. It is 12.45 A.M. and as there is no traffic, he increased the speed of the car and took a left turn and entered in our famous banyan tree road. Just only a few yards after entering this road, he lost control of the car and it moved haphazardly and stopped only after hitting on one of the prop roots of the banyan tree. Coincidentally, the supervisor arrived at the spot and impulsively contacted the ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived, the few passersby and supervisor attempted to take out Kumar from the jammed car. The ambulance and emergency team made instinctive action and took Kumar from the car and gave the first aid. They took him into the ambulance. One among the public told that the banyan tree would have saved Kumar, or else his car would have had a messy end, while the other responded quickly that he had once heard that this old tree is more like a god and never allowed any mishappenings in this road. The tension raised among the public to know the health status of Kumar. The doctor turned towards the small gathering and showed thumps up sign and the public jumped in joy. The supervisor sighed a relief as he checked his watch that showed the time as half-past 1 A.M.
The parallel world (for banyan tree) truly exists…