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The foliage man

Chandan Kumar Tiwary’s life was transformed after he started communing with trees. He calls trees ‘healer’ and shares his passion on social media platforms

Chandan Kumar Tiwary, 40, ‘deals in law’(he is a law officer in a government undertaking), and has been living in Delhi for the last 15 years. Less than a year ago, something significant happened to him — not all of a sudden but gradually. Something that would change his life forever.

Although all of us have seen trees all our lives, we hardly give them a passing glance, unless they bear pretty flowers or we need their shade or leaves. Tiwary was like us, until was ‘introduced’ to trees by a friend in the true meaning of the word. This is when he started developing an association — if not a relationship — with trees.

The association is strongest in the olfactory sense. “Everything smells,” he says a couple of times with emphasis, “and each tree has a smell of its own.” It’s like their identity, or perhaps their way to deal with the world, to propagate and proliferate. When he walks in a garden or woods, he is confronted by a plethora of smells. Like walking into an aromatherapy  room in a health spa. And he gets a conversation going effortlessly.

Leaves, fruits, fallen leaves and fruits, dry leaves dancing in the breeze, bark, stem, all seem to be telling a story.

We took a walk in the 200-acre park behind Nehru Place. He doesn’t like vilayati kikar (Prosopis juliflora), a tree of the family Fabacea, not native to Delhi, despite its dominance of the landscape. “A serious pest it is, a veritable thug amongst trees,” explains Chandan.

He’s particularly fond of leafless trees. “They look so different when they denude themselves,” he says, pointing to a leafless tree ,a red kite is sitting on the top branch. “The same tree would be unrecognisable with the leaves,” he says pointing to another tree which is fairly green with new leaves but stood barren a month ago.

Trees are a mute witness to the passage of time, in the case of Chandan they seem to have found an utterance. To the extent that Chandan says, “You’re never alone in a forest.”

He belongs to eastern Uttar Pradesh and each member of his family has strong views about the world. He’s well read, an existentialist and a man with acute curiosity. The best way to know a thing is to experience it.

The fact is that though blessed with a rational faculty, he’s open to occult. He has a guru who guides him in the project of life. And his most immediate preoccupation is to train himself to hold his breath as long as possible. He claims, thanks to practice, he can do it for a couple of minutes.

The last few years were challenging. He was under severe pain for two years, out of which was bedridden for seven months.  A wound got infected and infection percolated to his bones. Now, he’s fine. But this long association with pain has had a profound impact on him. In hindsight, he says, “Pain, like pleasure, is a memory. I was not ready to die (when I was bedridden) and now that I’m fine, I’m ready to die.”

He got married a couple of years ago, a family decision. He has a way with words when it comes to describing life situations. “My desire not to marry was the reason why my family felt deeply hurt. After marriage, the same set of people, and my wife, were still hurt, even more intensely,” he quips and smiles. The marriage was not working out, wasn’t a smooth ride.

Around this time, he made friends with trees. It was a holistic experience: tree, twitter of birds, smell of earth, aroma emanated by leaves and flowers, their inherent qualities — could be medicinal and poisonous as well. This newfound friendship has had a reformative influence on him, calmed his agitated self. He spends hours, before and after work, roaming around in the woods, and started liking the city of Delhi because of its green cover.

A strong curiosity to know and understand trees gripped him. He’s a fast learner. He talks about trees while walking in a park like we gossip about friends in drunken banter. He and his wife Sarita, walk together for hours talking about trees. “What’s this tree?” is how they enter into a dialogue. Woods and parks are the venue for their trysts. They both are strong individuals but in the company of trees they become a couple. No surprise, Chandan calls trees “healers.”

There was so much to learn, complains Chandan, but there’s no comprehensive source of information on the Internet or elsewhere which is easily accessible.  So he decided to created one: Delhitrees on Instagram and Twitter. Armed with a phone-camera, he clicks and shares pictures and descriptions on social networking sites on a daily basis. He’s a big hit with more than a thousand serious followers. He gets many queries about trees, which he attends to with pleasure. “I would do it even if I had no followers,” he says.

Sita-Ashok (Saraca asoca), a sacred tree with beautiful red flowers and medicinal qualities, is said to have come from Madagascar. Tamarind is of Arabic origin. If you rub hands on the smooth bark of White Siris, it leaves white dust like talcum powder. Babul is one his favourites, he likes the smell it emanates. “I’m not important. They are. It’s about them,” he says.

Delhi with its extensive green cover — which accounts for one-fifth of the city — and diversity of flora, can transport you to a different world if you can make trees your friend. Chandan is the one significant beneficiary who wants to pass the benefits to others. If only the busy denizens of this city spared the time to ‘stand and stare’.

There was a time he’d escape Delhi every weekend to commune with Nature. But now there is no need.