On a tree trail

Author: admin

Mumbai-based nature enthusiasts Usha Desai and Renee Vyas conduct walks to raise awareness about trees

In the urban milieu of Mumbai, on a Sunday morning stroll amid its greener pastures, you are sure to spot them—two silver women having animated discussions with a group of people paying rapt attention. They are tree chroniclers Usha Desai, 80, and Renee Vyas, 62. Their mission: ‘to respect, love, care and protect trees’.

It’s been eight years since this Mumbai-based duo has been organising tree appreciation walks— imparting information about the green treasures and sharing the ecological significance of some rare and, sometimes, anonymous species. The walks are conducted on the third Sunday of every month. “Our walks comprise a leisurely two to three-hour stroll in parks,” says Vyas. “We reveal their botanical names, origin, medicinal and commercial properties and, in some cases, the historical and mythological stories about them. For instance, we explain why Banyan trees are sacred for Hindus.”

The silvers developed their ‘soulful’ connection with trees at different periods of their life. Desai had retired as a physician and Vyas had hit 50 when their love for botany brought them together in 2006 at the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), where they studied various courses in botany (biodiversity, herpetology, entomology, etc). Inspired by expert botanist Dr Marselin Almeida, who has worked extensively with BNHS, they volunteered for tree appreciation walks. Their first tree appreciation walk took place in April 2010 at Rani Baug in Mumbai with the aim to bring people closer to nature and help them gain knowledge about trees.

Before every walk, the duo does a recce of the park to study the route and collect crucial information about the trees that are rooting or flowering that season. To illustrate further, they equip themselves with charts, papers, seeds and flowers during the walks. Conducted free of cost, the walks are followed by interactive sessions and sometimes planting of saplings.

“Every tree is unique in its characteristics and significance,” shares Vyas. “The amla tree is called a one-fruit pharmacy [as its fruit is rich in medicinal properties]; the drumstick is a one-tree pharmacy [every part of the tree is useful] and the neem is a one-village pharmacy [it’s good for the entire surroundings].”

Over the years, the duo has conducted the walks at various green spots of Mumbai, such as Jijamata Udyan, Sagar Lake, Colaba Woods, Hanging Gardens, Mahim Nature’s Park, Hiranandani Gardens and Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and has gained popularity through just word of mouth. “It’s interesting to see how people from different age groups and backgrounds—including students, professionals, nature lovers, housewives and the retired—attend our walks. Though we prefer 35 to 40 participants per walk, many a time, a large number of people come over and it gets difficult to turn them back. We just concluded our 100th walk on 13 January at Veer Jijamata Bhosle Udyan, where 100 people turned up,” they declare with pride. “We are happy to have initiated something that not just keeps us engaged at this age but brings a huge family of nature lovers together, making them care for trees.”

– Rachna Virdi

January 2019