I always used to think that the drive across a four kilometre stretch from my house to the main road was a pain. Actually, not all of it was a pain. The car bounced up and down a few bumpy patches the first kilometer, then zoomed across a smooth 2.5 kilometre slope before struggling in a three-legged hurdle race at the final half kilometre. Reason: there was a traffic signal there and almost everyone in the world seemed to want to go somewhere at the same time. And exactly at the moment when our car inched towards the front, the lights would turn red again. It was a clear five minute wait there.

And there was not a single happy face to be found at that traffic signal. After some time, I lost all pleasure even in the early part of the drive, because as soon as I sat in the car the traffic signals burst into life in my mind signalling – you guessed it – RED!

Summer music of the trees
Summer music of the trees [Illustrations by Damini Jaiman]

Then one day something magical happened, and I can’t pretend that I was intelligent enough to think of it. The fact is my neck was a bit stiff that morning. In my dream the previous night I had battled weird guys with red traffic lights for eyes. So at the dreaded traffic signal, I moved my neck to and fro to ease the stiffness. As I moved my head to the left I saw it for the first time. Beyond the pavement a gulmohar tree with a vivid crown of bright red and orange blossoms in bunches. The small leaves were equally beautiful. I racked my head for expressions to describe them. Fern-like? Delicate like the filigree patterns jewellers make with gold or silver wires? Looking at the gulmohar the stiffness in my neck disappeared.

In the light breeze the branches of the gulmohar were swaying. The leaves were rustling and shimmering, as if brimming with happiness. It seemed…yes…it seemed like the gulmohar was listening to some private music. The gulmohar was music conductor and listener at the same time. I was enchanted.

Gulmohar (Delonix regia) is also know as Peacock Flower, Flame of the Forest, and Flame Tree.
Gulmohar (Delonix regia) is also know as Peacock Flower, Flame of the Forest, and Flame Tree.

The gulmohar’s small neighbour was more sober. I recognised it as an Ashoka tree. It stood ramrod straight, at attention like a scout. The tapering leaves huddled close, forming a dense and conical crown. I could have been mistaken but I felt that the Ashoka did not have a private music collection of its own like the gulmohar. This tree liked to spend its time in serious thought. Living close to the gulmohar had not changed it. My gaze shifted to its neighbour.

Now this one was a beauty in its own way. In the first week of May, the amaltas was going through its annual fancy dress. The branches were bare. Long, dark brown rods hung everywhere – these were pods of the previous year. In complete contrast to the bare look of the tree were these sunlight yellow clusters of flowers. Like long, soft feathers hanging from the branches. I felt like getting out of the car and rubbing the yellow blossoms gently across my face. The amaltas and gulmohar seemed to be friends. Rather, they seemed like two young girls, or boys if you will, planning a happy outing. The Ashoka looked like their parent or guardian content to be in its own world.

Suddenly the trees seemed to be moving away from me. Had they set out on their outing already? Then I realised what it was. The traffic lights had turned green and we were on our way. For the first time I felt the traffic signal was not such a bad sort. It had got me new friends. Though I must take some credit for it too; after all I had used my eyes to really see something after a long time. Did that feel good!