Neralu: Bengaluru’s tree festival

There is a common problem around Bangalore neighbourhoods and it’s this:


People staple flyers to trees and it not only creates a lot of garbage when they inevitably fall off and mix with the muck in the street, they also cause real harm to the trees. I have been trying to take down the flyers on the trees just on my street alone, but it’s quite a Herculean task. The moment you take them down, new ones go back up.

Perhaps it is apropos that I’m writing about this problem this week because I spent last weekend at Bengaluru’s Neralu tree festival. The first day began with a lovely morning tree walk in my area (there were around 17 such walks around the city with different experts guiding you on this journey). And one thing that my guide commented on was that the more staples and nails that enter into the tree, the more damage it can do–he compared it to a human spine which would no longer sustain human life if it kept getting such sharp instruments pushed into it. (See Michael Pollan’s article that is a survey of the scientific response to the 1970s classic The Secret Life of Plants about the feelings plant life exhibit.) My walk through Cook Town was wonderful and I learned quite a lot about trees in my city. I was also happy to see that none of the trees we explored had a single flyer on them!

The second day of the festival began with a brilliant workshop conducted by two people–Prashant Dhawan and Seema Anand–from Biomimicry India who blew my mind. I didn’t know what to expect with a workshop entitled “Tree as Teacher”, but I knew it would be engaging. For those who, like me, had never heard of the term biomimicry before, it is one of the most fascinating subjects that has implications for all that we do in this world–especially if we want to do it in a healthier, more sustainable way. In essence, biomimicry is about learning from nature and designing products that can be in harmony with nature rather than harm it. A lot of times it seems manufacturers have also just designed products that literally mimic nature without thinking of the consequences to the planet (velcro is one famous example), but most of the projects that seem to be done via the organisation itself are centred upon an environmentally friendly premise. For example, every year they do a Design Challenge, which is very much linked to creating solutions to minimise climate change. They also run a terrific website called Ask Nature, which is a kind of Google for questions people have about the natural world. I was so inspired by this workshop that I ran out and got a copy of the book that started it all–Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus and it’s just fantastic.

The rest of the day I spent watching the children enjoy their various games and workshops, reading under some of the fabulous trees at NGMA (the National Gallery of Modern Art–the single most beautiful place in Bangalore). I went on a wonderful audio tour of some of the trees there. Some young people created a terrific little programme that you put on your phone and listen to it as you walk from tree to tree. Each one would tell you its story and interspersed were some wonderful poems in Sanskrit and Kannada. I learned about a wonderful programme that some other young folks  are engaged in mapping the trees around the city called Open Tree Map. I also went to a terrific talk by Harini Nagendra who wrote the book Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present, and Future. The talk gave the audience a snapshot of her book, but I highly recommend reading the entire thing. It’s a wonderful natural-cultural-historical examination of the role that nature has played and is playing in a city that is not able to sustain itself. The final lecture by Pranay Lal I had been really wanting to see, but he was unable to make it. His new book Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent looks amazing and I cannot wait to read it!

The only thing missing from the event was a discussion about how one can compost leaves from the trees in their yard.


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