Branch office

Published: Sunday 31 May 2009

Branch office

Cheek-by-jowl with swanky offices and multiplexes, exists an economy that lives by the tree. SALIL CHATURVEDI zooms in on Delhi's working trees to find they touch lives far away

"Jeete ped, marte ped, yeh ajab tamashaa ped ka," said Ombir Singh, a kabaadi-wallah. He operates his ramshackle shop from under a young peepul tree.Not sure about my ability to understand Hindi--long hair and a Ferrari-red Santro don't help much either--he translates with touching indulgence "When alive one needs trees, when one is dead one needs the assistance of a tree for the onward journey; this then is the strange spectacle of a tree."

Like a giant swiss-knife, the tree in Delhi, is used variously as a billboard, advertising anything from homeopathic medicines, soft drinks, car insurance, fashion boutiques, veterinary services to real estate and bank loans; as a closet from which to hang clothes and tools; a display window; a bus-stop. In fact, a tree can magically morph into a garage, godown, shoe-shop, caf or a temple.

On one of my drives back from taking photographs I had a vision of these trees stretching their roots for hundreds, even thousands of kilometres, touching lives of families left behind in Malda, Meerut, Jhansi--as the earning member toils under their shade. I can't help but wonder to whom do these tree belong? To the government that plants them? To the citizen? Or to the tinker who sets up shop under it? Shakeel, a keymaker, who spends his entire day under a neem tree had an answer "Ped to sarkari hai, par ise paala humne hai." (The tree is of the government, but we have brought it up.)

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