The Neem Tree

Alka Jain
Alka Jain
The Neem Tree !
The Neem Tree !

To be fair, today, the neem tree writes for me! Trees, woods, rivers, and hills have chiseled countless authors, poets, singers, painters, and sculptors. I happened to visit the world-renowned architect Antoni Gaudi's masterpieces on a trip to Spain. His architecture and buildings were inspired in design, texture, structure, and soul by mushrooms, corn, snails, oysters, and endless glories of creation. The most sophisticated engineering tools borrow the mechanism from nature. So, nature deserts none.

Then why raise your eyebrows, friends, when the 'Neem Tree' decides to chisel me out one fine day? For once, the influx of threateningly scientific, 'alien' names made me shudder and turn back! But then the neem tree pulled me towards itself and looked daringly. I held on to it, looking beyond the science. Focussing on this ancient tree's spiritual, philosophical, religious, and humanitarian persona. 

The life of Indian society and people is deeply entwined with the neem tree. Neem is a part of every household, remembered and held lovingly early in the morning in most rural households as the gentle and wonderful datun or toothbrush. Considered an elixir of life with profound medicinal powers, it is the tree of wellness, healing, peace, and piousness. The Neem leaves act as a balm for aches and soothes itching bodies. The young, gentle, soft leaves are dried and put in grains to protect them. People in India worship the neem tree, and several chaupals throb with life under the vast expanse of the neem tree.

If life can be lived with a conviction that our world needs to embrace eco-consciousness, it is worth a try. I have loved nature all my life, but I learned through brutal ways that loving nature without attempting to heal it is a myth. We heal and lessen the pain of those whom we love. Else what is love?

Drowsing the senses in nature poetry is meaningless. How long can the daffodils entice humankind, and what can a skylark's endless call mean? Adulations for their outer façade is another name for worldly pleasure, fun for the five senses. If the literature of the contemporary world can become voices of nature, especially that which is dead and decaying, then perhaps they can radiate true love and be heralded as ambassadors of pure bliss. Several artists and wordsmiths have borne their love for nature, but very few chose to consummate with the scarred woods, winds, and waters and heal them in the process.

In the poem, the Neem Tree says it grows hurriedly, sprouting from the muddy cracks to meet sunshine. It loves the oriental sun, and it loves rain. With time, the tree's bark develops deep fissures and is soon covered in soft leaves. Because of human greed, the Neem often worries for its life, despite having a life span of more than 200 years. All its parts want to be beneficial to humanity, and hence it pleads for life. The mighty axe is enough to kill Neem and all other native species, but the neem tree is hopeful that the birds and winds will carry the seeds and sprinkle them on earth so that several neem trees may spring back again to life for the benefit of humanity. 

Literary and creative writing can be used in canvassing for and laying the foundation of eco-consciousness and environmental sensibility as the mantra in every human heart at a very tender age. I am often told that ecology, environment, and climate change are vast and diverse subjects to deal with and extremely challenging to elaborate upon. For the heightened consciousness, merely glancing at a rain-washed shrub is all it takes to create an everlasting bond. Once the bond is made, science starts making sense, and the pieces of nature's puzzle start falling into their place. What is challenging becomes captivating!

In the modern chaotic world, poetry is the act of love and care. Nature is an integral part of human folklore. Trees, rivers, or mountains cannot be treated as wallpapers and backdrops. They are the characters and heroes, more prominent, poignant, and purposeful than anything man-made. So, Neem, the protagonist, holds centre stage in the verse that follows:


With a reputation for growing too fast,

sprouting from everywhere, unobtrusively,

I stretch and grow to seek my share of sunshine.

This bark is too young and tender now,

Just bestow upon me a few more years,

To see the exquisite, deep fissures- all mine.

I love the rain as it pours down in humility,

sans envy, sans pride,

to assure me of the dignity- called leaves. 

Green, tender, moist, and cool,

a foliage promising wonder, 

before the future grieves.

Sheltered within a hard and woody sheath,  

I have a heart that bleeds to heal-

the wounds, inflicted on man.

I was born to be an elixir of life,

And for that I plead to live,  

Some two hundred years. If I can.  


Don't wink and look surprised!

All it takes, is an AXE.  

To snuff me out and end an era of green.   

My fruits hold sweetness in their womb,

And fragrant white flowers, wait with bated breath,

For Verdict. Will we perish unseen?

Like all natives, my land too stands invaded.

Tortured by floods, exploited, eroded.

"Hang on, O once invincible roots!

Birds have sprinkled us afar for once,  

And we may sprout again in other folklores, 

When man and nature end all disputes.


Alka Jain (environment enthusiast and writer) 

Assistant Professor, English,

Rani Lakshmi Bai Central Agricultural University, Jhansi

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