Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Ignorance is Bliss

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My neighbour in the upstart residential society where we built our home several years ago is a seventy-three year old man. His initials are NAT, but we can safely call him Nut – an entirely apt title as will be seen presently. Last year when he was building his house during the summer, he would park his Suzuki in the shade of the shisham we had planted back in 2000 and which today stands well over eight metres tall.

Full of himself, the man was forever blowing his own trumpet, but one day he paused in his spree of self-praise to tell me how much he appreciated the trees and creepers in our one-kanal (500 yards) home. Knowing well enough what people like him generally thought of trees in Pakistan, I half jokingly said, ‘See that you don’t plant any in your own garden.’ That was cue enough for him. ‘When I worked for Anjuman Himayat e Islam,’ he trumpeted, ‘I had all those hundred year-old trees chopped down.’ Before he could finish his sentence I completed it for him, ‘And you had them replaced with shrubbery.’

That was exactly what he had done and he admitted as much. Here was a man who had no sense a quarter century ago and here he was still completely ignorant crowing about his imbecility. I tried to tell him how a tree with a large bio-mass (such as an old peepal or banyan or any other) acts as a carbon sink and keeps global warming in check: the larger the bio-mass, the greater carbon it sequesters. I tried also to tell him that we need trees and not just shrubbery because trees (and indigenous species, please) also harbour bird life. He found it hard to let me finish and would again and again cut in with a breathless, ‘Yes, yes, I know.’

I did say to him that if he really knew he would, one, not have cut down those magnificent trees that once crowded the Anjuman compound in downtown Lahore where they were hard at work clearing the city’s deadly smog. And, secondly, if he knew, he would not still be flaunting his criminal act. But there are people who can only get sense in their heads if you break open the skull and stuff it in. Nut, sadly, is another one of this teeming multitude. So full is this little man of himself that there is no room for anything else to get in.

Early this year, the society decided to turn the few open spaces into parks. Nut being the only one with time on his hands, the responsibility devolved upon him. And so it came to pass that one day in February I saw the one-acre spread near my home planted with, wait for it, araucaria, ashoka, bottle palm and some shrubbery – all imported species. Not one of these was either a shade tree nor was it indigenous.

The fool who had parked his car in the shade of our shisham was seeing to it that no other human should ever avail the shade of a tree, nor too should birds of the wing find a place to nest. If he was incapable of recognising the importance of trees as carbon sinks, he was singularly heedless of the need to recreate habitat that had been destroyed when this part of rural Lahore went residential. The notion that shade was essential in the blistering heat of Lahore was the farthest from his blighted mind.

I say ‘destroyed’ because thirty-five years ago this area was a pretty forest of largely acacia together with other indigenous species that harboured a vast population of birds. Indeed, this was the only part of Lahore that revelled to the mellifluous trill of the pied myna whose habitat extends in a narrow corridor from south Lahore to Kasur and on into India. So far as I know this bird does not nest anywhere else in Lahore.

When the forest was destroyed, these birds, strictly arboreal in nesting habits, moved away, save some that took to nesting in electricity pylons. This area was home also to the pied hornbill, golden oriole, weaver bird, munia, red avadavat and a few dozen others. Of these the last two are no longer met with in Lahore while the hornbill is restricted to Model Town, Aitchison College and Lawrence Gardens. The oriole now visits the linear plantation along the canal in the quieter parts of town. For my part, I had always thought that establishing the parks would be our chance to restore a habitat we had mindlessly destroyed, but here was an ignorant fool intent upon doing exactly the opposite. And so I one day waylaid Nut to advise him on the illogic of the virtual monoculture of araucaria saying that these trees would be dead in a few years. His response: until they die, they will be there. Here was a criminal who had destroyed hundred year-old trees and was foolish enough to boast of that wanton act who was simply incapable of seeing good sense.

I made a good deal of noise and got to plant some shisham, mulberry, peepal and amaltas saplings as well. If I had thought Nut would take a cue from this and mend his foolish ways, I was sadly mistaken. One who has wasted seventy-three years in blissful ignorance is not likely to learn anything at this stage.

In a way, I suppose, one can scarcely fault Nut. This man is merely another sheep in the vast herd of ignorant Pakistanis: he sees others do something and he mindlessly follows. He is as uninformed as everyone else, including those bureaucrats who headed in the past and do now the Parks and Horticulture Authority of Lahore. They are guilty of planting medians and open spaces with nothing but date palm, ashoka and some other useless exotic species.

These people have lost good sense because they have cut the umbilical that tied past generations to the dharti. Their blighted vision sees no beauty in a spreading peepal or a neem; to them the kulfi-shaped ashoka is the tree for they do not know that it does not belong to the Punjab – the same way as many people do not realise that the eucalyptus is an alien species.

If the State of Pakistan does not wake up now and place a moratorium on this mindless activity of replacing indigenous trees with imported species, future generations may never know what an acacia or an amaltas looked like. When these trees have all been replaced with ashoka and araucaria, those generations will be deprived of the beautiful trill of the pied myna and the honeyed song of the golden oriole. And without birdsong, a great loneliness of the spirit will overtake them.

Postscript October 2013. This piece was published in June 2008. Recently I met the old fool Nut. He crowed about his successful efforts at planting some indigenous trees in the so-called park. I did not argue that the few local species that still survive there are only the remnants of one hundred and ten saplings of shisham, kikar, mulberry, peepal, amaltas, neem and sohanjna that I had planted with my own hands. I did not argue also that this old idiot had many of them removed to be replaced with useless exotic species.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 26 October 2013 at 09:34, Anonymous From Facebook said...

Nadine Zubair: Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying that!!!

~ People like you and Sadaf Hamid can make some little difference. Please rubbish with indigenous trees in your local parks. Contact the Forest Department's nursery in Ravi Road for saplings.

Saweela Anees Khan: It's not America but Saudi Arabia replicated . Besides what else is being saved ? Our language is dying along with the trees and the songs. Loneliness of souls is the fate of nations who sell their souls. We all do in different ways.

Manshur Jumah Mariwa : ) I say it's all economics ppl!! Someone decides on a project to make a hefty commission from taxpayers / nations money ... Then they implement . Fat cheque in the pocket ... It's not the style nor the birds or trees

~ Jabbar Shaheen planted a few 100 ficus crap on the road outside Wapda Town. Purchased over-priced from a relative's Pattoki nursery!
Imran Bhatti We want to be like UAE in due course. We think we can be as affluent just by looking like them. This is a start. Thobe is the next big thing in Pakistan.

Ahmed Sadozai: Also I feel that planting all those date palm trees has something to do with our recently invented Arab lineage complex. Like my recent encounter with a guy of "Arain" background claiming his clan has descended from Hazrat Omer. Hence the local Indian trees must be cut down & replaced with almost useless middle eastern looking trees.

~The Arains are sometimes from Saleem Al Raee and now from Omar??!

Ali Sadozai: Totally agree. But on a different tangent, at the rate that we are making babies there won't be any place left to plant any tree of any origin

Rai Saleh Azam: The most damage has been done by the Eucalyptus imported by the British from Australia during the British Raj. A mature tree can consume up to 7 litres of underground water in a day.

~Correction, sir. A mature tree takes 100 litres. Not 7. 100 litres per day! Auth: NIAB, Faisalabad.

Sadaf Hamid: Thank you :)) a subject close to my hear....

~As long as Mullah the Destoryer of Pakistan lives to tell us making babies is a religious duty, this will not stop.

Sobia Mubarak: This is also Hollywood style,I think they are trying to emulate Americans, rather than tracing their lineage back!An endeavour to turn Lahore into California.

A Mudassir Khan: Even birds don't like the new "fashionable" replacements... They dont sit, nest on the new ones....Parrots and many others are gone.

Shahzad Aslam Shaikh: And what is that horrible shrub which has now replaced and almost totally wiped out the old foliage in Karachi parks and along its streets? And what will we do without the bright yellow of the amaltas in May?

At 26 October 2013 at 10:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The destroyers are all nuts.

At 26 October 2013 at 10:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems precondition to turn Lahore into Paris ;-)

At 27 October 2013 at 10:30, Anonymous Nafesa said...

Such ignorance is not a bliss. It is a collective curse.

At 27 October 2013 at 18:13, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Trees are the Oldest living things on earth.Older the better.We need to love them and not cut them.

At 31 October 2013 at 23:52, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God,or Nature, if u will, has made us as different as the people, flora and fauna from other lands. Growing apples or pines here is a useless activity while Keekar(acacia) and other varieties Salman Rashid mentions r far more valuable. If u must experiment with shrubs, try them within your residences for aesthetic purposes. Good work Salman!


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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