Watching the Royals Die

Watching the Royals Die

We have lost 6,250,000 years of Chinar growth; Six million years of loss! Yes, make the calculations. Can we ever make up for that?

This clan of royals has had a strong omnipresence throughout the state for over six centuries. They are huge, gigantic, magnificent and monumental – power exuding through their towering being. Standing tall with intimidating might that just cannot be neglected. Er, but, have they not ironically met just the same fate? The one of neglect and loss. The power of the mighty today stands in shambles. It is begging for attention; silently and yet very loud, struggling for survival. They are dying and we watch them die. 

These royals and the mighty I address are the Chinar, the booyn, of our land. Their plight is eating on my conscience because I, like any other common person, did not care to notice what this very important part of the place I live in is going through. As a lover of trees, the Chinar has been of a great importance to me. My book started with the Chinar in the first sentence, yet I was ignorant about the struggle of every other Chinar tree that exists. We have seen the misery of people in the past many years, and forgot to see the misery of the things that cannot speak, but share our own habitat. The Chinar is the biggest example.  

The Chinar was named the Royal Tree of Kashmir by the Mughals when they invaded the place. The Chinars existed in the valley much before the coming of the Mughals and the Mughals went on a further Chinar planting spree in the valley. The oldest Chinar that exists today in Kashmir is believed to have been planted back in the year 1374. It is believed to be the oldest in Asia and stands in Chattergam area of Chadoora, Budgam. 

This Chinar, Platanus orientalis, as it is called scientifically, has spent a magnificent time of over six centuries and in splendid numbers in the state, but now, the number is dwindling and very drastically at that. Almost every tree is struggling hard for survival and is under threat. Studies show that in the year 1970, we had over 40,000 Chinars in the valley and as of now, about as many as 25,000 of them are lost. It is more than half of the number in 1970s. 

The irony is that we have failed to notice it all along, even as common people. What is heart wrenching to know is that the loss of a single tree is so big a loss that one could hardly imagine. It takes a Chinar 150 years to grow to its full size and if we take the average age of each Chinar lost in the past 30 years as 250 years, it means that we have lost 6,250,000 years of Chinar growth. Six million years of loss! Yes, make the calculations. Can we ever make up for that?

This data was recorded back in 2004 and we all know that by looking around us that we have lost many more Chinars over the past decade. And maybe, more ruthlessly. So, what has been going wrong exactly? 

Chinars have been dying due to multiple reasons. Many trees today are under huge pressure and stress. It is sometimes said that as much of the tree that there is above the ground, there is as much of it below. If we see that we have not done any apparent harm to the upper half, we automatically think that the one below is fine. We ignore that the root is, if not as big, but much more important for the survival of the Chinar tree than the rest of it. 

When you see a tree dying for no apparent reason, well, the major cause lies here.  It is because we have suffocated its roots. We hampered the availability of water and air to the roots of the tree. We tend to think that the Chinar is a tree mighty enough to take care of itself. Do we even think how much water it would need for that mighty body? But we make sure we get a good road, just metalling it to the bark of the tree perfectly. How is the root supposed to get water, for god’s sake? No wonder it would die. 

Another interesting and so called conservation attempt that is done is to put dykes and parapets  (at times, ridiculously, even benches) around the Chinars. These are filled up with soil – to raise solid levels – and supposedly saving its roots from damage or some similar flapdoodle. But, take a moment and imagine yourself with half of your body buried under the soil up to the torso and only your arms and head up free. Would that be protection? Can you thrive well? Well then, how is the Chinar supposed to be well after you unnecessarily bury half of it? 

Apart from it, the Chinars are also dying because of pressures from the environment. Constructions, buildings, damage to the bark or parts of the tree, stress due to storage of goods against it, pollution, diseases and pests. Above all, it is the illegal felling of the Chinar that is reducing the number at a torrential rate. While only dead or drying up Chinars are allowed to be cut down, many green and living Chinars are being felled. 

Most importantly, there is a dire need of replanting. Hardly any new Chinars are being planted. But, what if we at least start with planting a new Chinar for every tree year lost? If a tree is 200 years old, we should plant 200 saplings. Hard to do? Well then, think before you cut a tree down. 

The royal Chinar is a major part of the heritage, and it is animate unlike the rest. Heritage does not just have to be something abstract or inanimate. To a great extent, the state is defined by the Chinar and it has a great symbolic value. We should be open to learn from countries where old and veteran trees are taken proper care of and preserved as heritage. They are proud to have trees that have witnessed ages and ages and make sure they witness more.  It is high time we start to take pains for it. If it does not galvanize us to take a step to save the Chinar after knowing its plight, then nothing can. 

If we keep on losing the trees at this rate, in twenty years from now, the ancient and royal Chinar would only be known to the generations in legends and stories that we would be passing on to them. It would be history and nothing more. Are we ready for that?