The poetic and literary references to tree engravings are perhaps as old as language, but that does not justify damage to public property, especially when the tree cover has shrunk so much in the last few years in Lahore
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
— Chris Maser
Public parks in Lahore have two kinds of crowds: mommy groups, with oodles of children who throng the kiddie’s section with loosely hanging swings, broken slides and rusty benches. The children take a go at the creaking merry-go-rounds while the mothers swing away to their heart’s content before settling down with the picnic baskets they have trudged along.
The other crowd comprises couples, sometimes holding hands, at times talking or angrily venting about the world that would never understand their hearts. While the talk between them can be heard from a distance, what one misses seeing are the sharp pen knives they carry in their pockets or bags to use later on, in an attempt to engrave their names on a tree trunk.
Asked what makes them commit this act that inflicts pain on a living being, one romantic Saad giggles sheepishly, partly for being caught for vandalising the trees and partly for being recognised as a Romeo. He says, “It is what I have grown up reading in poetry, and listening to lyrical ballads.” He quotes “tumhara aur mera naam” and “kabhi kitaabon mien phool rakhna, kabhi darakhton pe naam likhna.”
Responding to a question about damaging public property, Saad and his lady shrug indifferently, pointing towards all the damaged goods, including trees saying, hurting one tree would not make a difference.
It is very disturbing to see most trees in Model Town Park, Jinnah Park and other such public places having been vandalised, with engravings that uselessly and needlessly bear the names of some lovers or kids who wish to have their names writ on trees. The same pattern of behaviour is extended to the wooden benches placed in public spaces as well as the vandalism seen at historical places such as the tombs of Nadira Begum, Nur Jehan, Budhu ka Aawa et cetera, where every wall has been imprinted with names, hearts crossed with Cupid’s arrows and the likes.
“Although vandalism is the correct term here, in essence, the trees get cut and bruised. For anyone who is one percent of a tree-hugger, it is painful to see the wounds which heal in time,” speaks an exasperated Rafia Shujaat, a fruit gardener. “The trees bear the scars forever.
“Even if it is for some theory about eternalising teenage love, or self-love, for that matter, the better way to connect one’s feelings with such romanticism would be to plant a tree in your beloved’s name and water it every day to nurture it instead of ruining a fully grown one.”
When asked about the biological damage the public emotional outpourings cause to the trees, environmental lawyer and climate change activist Ahmad Rafay Alam says, “Those star-crossed lovers don’t permanently damage the tree, but their handiwork is unpleasant to look at.”
The sight of, for instance, this much-famed 400-year old tree to the Lahore Zoo makes one cringe. It used to be such a star tree, in front of whom the people would pose solo or in groups for photographs. It is now a victim of such irresponsible behaviour of the public that has not spared this centuries-old trunk from their sharp knives.
Mercifully, the officials are waking up to this kind of vandalism. “Now it is impossible for anyone to bring a sharp object, let alone a knife, to the place because every entrance is scanned and everyone is checked thoroughly before being allowed to enter the premises,” says an official guard at the Lahore Zoo.
“All this is thanks to our past misdoings,” he rants. “Although we man such a large expanse of the place, kids are smart enough to spot an area not being watched over and act out as they wish.”
What kind of pleasure does the act give you? Erum, who admits to have engraved her name and that of her friends on a tree back in her college garden, calls it “a one-time thing,” much like a pagan’s signing of a sisterhood pact just before they all graduated. “We did go back to see whether the names were still there, but the tree had, thankfully, healed.” Years on, she says, it was for fun, maybe out of some fleeting sentiment that passed and has not returned.
‘Arborglyph’ is the technical term used for the carvings of shapes and symbols into the barks of the trees, while ‘liber’ (the origin of the words ‘library’ and ‘books’) literally means ‘tree-bark’ in Latin. The poetic and literary references to tree engravings are perhaps as old as language, but that does not justify damage to public property, especially when the tree cover has shrunk so much, in the last few years in Lahore.
Nadia Tufail, the media spokesperson for the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA), says that these are usually children who are ignorant of the damage they are causing to the trees in public spots. “The PHA has placed female and male guardians at every public park who watch out for any act of vandalism to the tress. If they spot someone doing something like that, they rebuke the culprit and confiscate the sharp object(s) they may be carrying.”
Tufail is also of the opinion that not every act can be watched, and some sense of responsibility is also expected from the people who visit the parks. “The people need to own their city, like they would own their homes and other property. Littering, vandalising, and irresponsible behaviour are all part of the same package which can only be rectified with self-restraint.”
Zeba Ahmed, a botanist, puts it once and for all: “It can be observed that the patterns on the bark of a tree are often complementary to the pattern the branches weave as they crisscross one another. The trunk expands in diameter every year, and adds a ring to its circumference. Trees dry up every fall and turn green every spring. They breathe, they reproduce and some of them are lined with babies on the ground around them. Every jab of a knife that pokes, then prods and cuts through the bark is nothing but a sad infliction of pain.”