Of Laburnums and Kikars...
The tree, which was my inspirational source for these panels, grew at the roadside next to Simla Pahari. For years the tree had been happily bearing its golden burden for our enrichment. The extent and the number of blooms it shouldered were incredible. Why the tree was cut down and removed I will never comprehend. But I can never forget the shock I had when I visited the spot one spring and found it gone
There are people who spend hours trying to amuse plants imported from abroad but would not allow one of their own species in their sight. A few years ago at the Lahore Golf Club when a member protested why a large number of old trees had been cut down, the chairman of the club replied that they had to be cleared in order to make way for the new driving range. After a casual pause, without any sense of remorse, he added that the trees that had been cleared were in any way of no consequence as most of them grew only in graveyards. Which unfortunately is true. Most of our native trees, some of them hundreds of years old, have in fact only survived in the graveyards, where it is considered taboo to cut them down.
Kikar is the least desirable tree people would like to have around. But do have a close look at a mature specimen, which has weathered storms. Don’t you find its lissom trunk as it rises twisting and turning from its base dramatically exhilarating? Luckily there are a number of Kikars which still survive on the old road to Sheikhupura. While passing, these acacias strike us by their sadness as well as for their powerful-tortured forms.
In Lahore, Kikars are either steadily dying or are being callously cut down, giving way to the pet varieties which the horticulturist finds more befitting. There are now only a few, which stand at the Lahore Golf Course and a small row on the Mall adjacent to the Freemason’s Hall. A few are atop the mounds in Jinnah Gardens. There is also an acacia grove on the slope facing the rhino and the elephantine closures.
But let me not forget to mention that there were two magnificent ones growing on the rise facing the Edwardian structure built for the lions by the Nawab of Bahawalpur. Unfortunately these were also cut down to provide additional room for the Royal Bengal tigers and their cousins from farther east, including a pair of albinos. A more sensitive architect could surely have saved these glorious specimens. I find the sad, agonised appearance of the Kikar at one level symbolic of our trials, and at another level expressive of our common nascent strength. Not being a member of any horticulture society I may not have proper knowledge of the prevailing social hierarchy in the botanical world, but I have no hesitation in confessing that I find our common trees rather precious, as precious as our common rivers, our common mountains and plains, our common flowers and our common people. Whenever I paint a tree, a plant, or a shrub, they enable me to identify myself with them, thereby helping me, in whatever small way, to endorse and justify my own existence. Above all, it enables me to pay homage to my land and nature of which, as a poet said, I am a mere weed aspiring to blossom one day.
Talking of blossoms, I recall an Amaltas growing in the backyard of a hut at the turning of Zafar Ali Road, which leads to the Mall. It was quite a magnificent specimen. One day late in spring while driving down my usual route, I was startled to observe that it was denuded of all its foliage and wore a grim expression. It looked charred seemingly without any sap in its limbs. Even the tender branches appeared dead and brittle as though all life fluids had dried up. Everyday when I would take the usual turn towards the Mall, I would feel deeply touched at the sight expecting that any day it would be cut down and cleared. Days passed but nothing happened. Then one day I noticed that it had awakened and evidence of life had quietly burst out in lemon from innumerable parts of its seemingly dead sapless branches. Soon these flecks of yellow grew into golden showers, which continued to grow till the spectacle of death was transformed into a dazzling spectacle of life. The metamorphosis from death to life was so miraculously unexpected and real that it was not difficult to make an analogy between the doleful sight of the Laburnum tree and our people pining away in the ‘backyards’, awaiting their season.
On another occasion in the heat of May, I was driving along the Lahore Canal when I saw a Laburnum in full bloom. It was laden with rich golden tassels dangling by tender light green threads. If there had been a breeze they would have swayed like paper lanterns. But it was dry and the heat was suffocating. I thought to myself, ‘look at this tree, in total harmony with itself and its habitat and here I am born of the same earth, at odds with myself as well as the land to which I belong.’ This simple aside gave my imagination enough courage to celebrate the sight in one of my paintings of Laburnums, poised on the West Bank of the canal under the Mian Mir Railway Bridge.
I have ever since done a few other works on Laburnums but mostly for the subject’s inherent visual beauty and gracefulness. What attract me to a Laburnum tree in bloom are not merely the sumptuous richness of its swaying blooms delicately held aloft, but also a sense of great abundance that is overwhelming. There are three panels, which I employed later to share the abundant bounties of nature with others.
The tree, which was my inspirational source for these panels, grew at the roadside next to Simla Pahari. For years the tree had been happily bearing its golden burden for our enrichment. The extent and the number of blooms it shouldered were incredible. Why the tree was cut down and removed I will never comprehend. But I can never forget the shock I had when I visited the spot one spring and found it gone. How callous and insensitive have we become to beauty and the suffering of others. Its death was no one’s loss. The world moves on and the traffic goes around the Simla Pahari with people pursuing their individual goals and needs. But each coming spring the Laburnum will not be there to greet them with its smiling face, to fill their emptiness with its dazzling spectacle of colour and scent. What a loss for us all.
Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is Pakistan’s leading painter. He is a teacher, art critic and political activist. He was awarded the “President’s Pride of Performance” in 1992. He is currently the president of the PPP Punjab’s Policy Planning Committee and Chairman of the party’s Manifesto Committee