Tree Walk for School Children, at IISC

February 12, 2017 / Gitika Saksena

The sprawling campus of Indian Institute of Science was just waking up to a sunny weekend morning. The wind gently ruffled the leaves as it passed by. Outside the main gates, a group of tiny tots from Advika Montessori had quietly assembled for the Neralu tree walk. They were unusually quiet, tightly clutching on to their teachers and parents.

But the moment Anusha and Rajeev handed over the Neralu tree walk activity sheets, the lull was gone. Eyes wide open, fidgety feet scampering, a few squeals in between, the kids were catching on to every word. A treasure bounty was for the taking now. Leaves – simple and serrated, yellow and green, huge canopy trees, seeds and pods scattered on the ground, fruits hanging from the branches – it all lay in and around the magical world inside. The kids marched on past the gates, tramping down the undulating road that cut through the overarching canopies of the rain trees ahead.

“See this tree”, Anusha said as she paused a few metres down, “What do the leaves look like?”. Bingo, this was a serrated Gulmohar leaf, it was time to tick off the first item on the activity sheet. A few gulmohar pods were promptly picked up and stuffed inside tiny carry bags. Up next, was a fig tree down an alley of successive stone gates. Anusha opened up a fig fruit to explain how flying wasps enter a tiny opening at the apex and pollinate the fruit.

Over the next hour or so, the kids hopped on from one nature’s wonder to another – pink flowers used to make anti-cancer medicines, gossamery ant homes stuck up on a tree, sticky leaves of paper mulberry, fallen twigs that produced a musical rattle when shaken, mighty jackfruits sticking out from the trunk, scaly branches of the silk cotton tree, stiff column like white Eucalyptus trunks, the red bottlebrushes, and a lone leafless tree – the excitement was nearing its crescendo, that came soon after.

“Do you know who Mowgli is?” Rajeev tried to catch the attention of the children circling around him. “Yes” they chimed in unison. “See this tree, and its branches, remember how Mogwli dangled on these branches and jumped across trees”. The floodgates had opened, they ran shrieking to the calling card tree – climbing on, twirling across, hugging its curly long branches.

Moving ahead, just as one was dreaming of a hot South Indian breakfast, the tamarind tree popped up as if on a cue. “You eat this every day, its put in your sambar and rasam” Rajeev added as the children bent over to pick and peel off the tamarind fruit. “And that is a fruit the elephants enjoy eating, and so it’s called elephant’s apple ” Anusha smiled as she pointed at the tree ahead. She handed over a fruit, which promptly passed across the tiny hands. “Smells bad, no?” she said. “Ugh, reminds me of Durian” a parent exclaimed. And the tamarind induced appetite promptly vanished.

The red and green leaves of the Badam tree lent a spectacular contrast to the canopy of the eponymous Badam marg, our final destination. The reverential banyan tree was a fitting finale. It stood majestic, its roots spread out and wizened through the many years. It was time to go, and the kids soon departed with a bagful of leaves, twigs and memories fondly gathered this morning.