A Green Outing!

A Green Outing!

Friday afternoon. Mrs.Ramya, the class teacher of eighth standard made a surprise announcement. “We have an outing tomorrow”. There waspin-drop silence for a second, before the whole class began cheering.

“Where are we going?”

someone asked. Mrs. Ramya just held her hands over her ears and said, “You must report here by six in the morning. Yes I know it is early, stop groaning. Just bring water and light snacks. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Remember to wear comfortable sandals and carry caps. We will be back by five in the evening”. Mrs.Ramya left the room.

The next morning, by 6.15, they set out in a large van. Since they had been told it would take an hour to reach their destination, they quickly became engrossed in playing games – dumb charades and antakshari… Soon they realized that they had left the main road and were now on a mud track between fields.

A small hillock appeared in the distance and they could see a few whitewashed buildingsclustered around. The children’s attention wasdiverted as the van slowed down. Many wailed. “Are we going there? There appears to be nothing, looks like a boring village. What are we going to do?

”Mrs. Ramya laughed. “Wait and see”, was all she would say.

The van came to a halt in front of a long white building: Lotus Middle School. It was absolutely quiet outside with just birds chirping and anoccasional moo from a cow. A man in a white dhoti and a lady in a green sari came out through a doorway and welcomed them. The students went in and found themselves in an open courtyard where a few local children were waiting. Thegentleman was introduced to the children as Mr Veeramani, headman of the village. The lady was Mrs Shanta, the headmistress of the school. The teachers gathered together in front of the students and Mrs. Bhuvana, their biology teacher, began to speak.

“As you all know, every year, on April 22nd, people around the world unite to appreciate and respect earth’s environment as ‘earth day’. One activity is to plant trees. But, within the city, near our school, we really don’t have much space for trees. So we thought we would team up with the Lotus School and plant trees in their village.”

Mr Veeramani now took over and said, “Come with me. Yesterday your school van made a trip with the saplings and we have stored them here. You will also find some garden implements. Please bring them to the open area behind the buildings.” 

It was still cool outside. When they reached the open area, they were shown how to use ropes to mark a cross every few feet, dampen the ground and dig holes for the saplings. Next they had to build a moat - like structure so that water would be retained once the sapling was planted. Once they were done with all this, theyassembled to take the plants.

“How many of you can recognize these plants?” asked Mrs Shanta.

“Neem?” said Meena pointing at one lot.

“Correct. Any of the others?

”There was a minute’s silence before someone softly said, ‘mango’? Seeing the hesitation among the city kids, the local children quickly answered pointing to the different saplings and saying – tamarind, mango, guava,pungai, lemon, navaa... The children from the city school were quite taken aback. Maybe one could recognize a neem ormango sapling, but the others?

The local children realized this and quickly showed the others how to recognize the different plants. The tamarind’s leaves gave a mildly sour smell. The lemon had shiny leaves and was thorny, navaa or jamun had big bluish leaves and soon. But there were a couple of plants that even they did not recognize – Mr Veeramani got quiteexcited pointing to one as iluppai. A nearby village was called illupa-thopu. Once it had had a grove of these trees, though there were none left now.

Mrs Bhuvana explained that iluppai was known as south Indian Mahua and pointed to another and said, ‘This is marudai, or Arjuna tree which grows near river beds. The famous writer Kalki describes river banks lined with a variety of trees in hisfamous historical novel  ‘PonniyinSelvan’.

After a quick discussion on which sapling should be planted where in the grid that they had drawn, the saplings were distributed. Nearby was a paddy field with a water channel alongside. The children hauled buckets of water and carefully poured some around each plant they had planted. ThenMr.Veeramani and Mrs.Bhuvana showed them how to collect leaves and put a layer around the plants so that the water would not evaporate easily.

It was quite warm now and they were also feeling quite hungry. They put the implements back, washed up and collected leaf plates full of piping hot pongal and chutney. By now, the local children lost their shyness and began to mingle with the city kids. To eager questions from the city kids, they described life in a village... How the villagers grow vegetables that are sent to the city every other day... how they composted all wastes and avoided plastics. The children sang songs and games. Time just flew by and lunch was served.

After lunch, there was a quiz and a drawing session – charts were filled with imaginativesketches with environment-related messages. Then, Mrs Shanta and Mrs Bhuvana talked to them about the importance of trees and told them stories about sthala-vrikshas – trees associated with temples.

“Our culture is that almost every temple has a tree associated with it and almost every tree has a story linked with it, like the neem in some famous temples”, said Mrs Shanta. “The neem tree is known for its medicinal value and its amazing curative properties. Does anyone know the botanical name of neem?”

I know the name is Azzz something, not Azkaban, but…”, said Madhuri. Everyone laughed – imagine Azkaban as the name of a tree!

“Close enough. It is Azadi- rachta indica. Amusical mouthful,  isn’t it! What about tamarind?”“

I remember learning about Arabian travellers calling it Indian date ” said Divya, one of the local children.

“Yes,tamar-e-ind” said Kishore, supporting his classmate.

“Very good” said Mrs Bhuvana. The most important thing about the trees we planted today is that they are all mostly native to our land. This means that they can be pollinated naturally by insects and birds. Thus,local wildlife is also supported. Such plants need relatively less looking-after. Divya, Kishore and friends, you will take care of the plants so that they grow well, won’t you children?

”“We will. You must visit us again in a couple of months to see how they have grown”, they said. With this, they said their goodbyes and got into the van. It had been an interesting day after all, they had learnt so much and had fun too! 

Keep the earth clean and green! Happy Earth Day!

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