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If you ever take a flight to my city, and having alighted and collected your luggage, take a cab (Or maybe a friend is picking you up?) and ride to your destination along the road that borders the beach – though you cannot do it anymore, what with the sea having encroached the beach, and in a fit of fury broken off huge chunks, leaving behind a battered and bruised road, forcing you to take the other, less scenic route to the city; but for now we’ll pretend you do take it – you will eventually come to a right turn in the road. That’s where you’ll see the first one of them: a Rain Tree.

The rain tree or Albizia saman,  is not a native, but was introduced to the tropical countries around the world from Central America and/or northern South America. I for one am glad it was! Well proportioned and symmetrical (a symmetry that it maintains in spite of prevailing winds), with a thick trunk and sturdy branches spread out in all directions, reaching out far, very far, providing shade to whosoever needs it, the rain tree is an impressive sight to behold.

My first memory of the rain tree is of the magnificent specimen that grew behind our house in Kasargode. Many a happy hour was spent beneath its imposing canopy, reading, playing with the cat Pippy or simply daydreaming.  Of course, back then I didn’t know it was called a rain tree. I was still in school and was not yet into trees or reading up on them. All that knowledge would come later. Sure enough, a few years down the line, I learnt its name and also that it is called Chakkarakaay maram (sweet fruit tree) in Malayalam. It appears the pods of the tree are sweet and relished by birds, squirrels and animals alike. The monkeys especially are fond of feasting on the pods, perhaps the reason why it is called a Monkey Pod tree in some parts of the world.

I don’t know when or how I started noticing the many rain trees dotting the landscape of this city that I have made my home.  By the way, it’s perfect umbrella-like canopy of feathery green leaves – which leaves close at night and when the skies are cloudy – and the lovely puffs of pink flowers makes it easily recognizable. The first ones I noticed were the two (or three?) veterans standing in silent benevolence in the yard of the Thycaud Women & Children’s Hospital. What wonderful specimens! Every  time we drove past I feasted my eyes on their majestic presence and marveled at their size and spread. If you drive up the flyover from there, then take a right turn down to the circle in front of the railway station, you’ll have seen two more trees. Take a right again at the circle and you will find one in front of the Kairali and Sree movie halls

That to me was just the beginning.

Soon, whenever I went out, I made it a point to keep an eye out for rain trees. To my amazement I started finding so many of them in most every road! There’s the one at  the busy Edappazhanji junction, a young tree yet to reach its full potential. Much older trees can be found along the road from Thycaud to Vazhuthacaud. Other places are, behind the Women’s College, near the Model School, next to the Pettah, and also Chakka, bridges, at Pallimukku (a huge one!), near the PMG junction, University office, Palayam as also in and around many old office buildings. In fact, the older the buildings, the better are the chances of seeing a majestic and solid looking rain tree in its premises.

These days our outings are filled with, ‘There! There’s another rain tree!” I am sure the L&M is pretty bored by now of my rain tree spotting prowess. On top of it all, the other day I threw him this: “I wonder if anyone knows how many rain trees there are in Thiruvananthapuram? Does the Muncipal Corporation have a count? I am sure they have. If not… hmm…Maybe I should start counting them myself?!” He didn’t answer thinking perhaps that I was joking. But seriously, I AM curious and WANT TO KNOW.

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On the one-way to Maruthamkuzhi

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An excellent specimen at Kazhakootam near the highway. Notice the perfect umbrella shape of the canopy.

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Kazhakottam again, branches creating a green tunnel

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Pettah? Notice the classic umbrella-shaped canopy

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At Palayam, near the University Office.

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Somewhere near Nalumukku, not sure.

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Near Maruthamkuzhi bridge

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Annie Mascarene Square, Vazhuthacaud

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A closer look at Annie Mascarene and the rain tree behind her.

All the pictures above have been taken from a moving vehicle using a cell phone. So forgive the quality, please.

©Shail Mohan 2018

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