The nice thing about Van Mahotsav is that it is open to interpretation. In fact, it is guided by the monsoon. So, Van Mahotsav is more about celebrating trees than commemorating an occasion. In fact, as the monsoon progresses across the Gangetic plains, Van Mahotsav is celebrated in some parts in early July, in some others, in August, and still further west, even in September. But young trees do not like frost, so the earlier you plant, the better.
Van Mahotsav, in its current avatar, began in 1950. K.M. Munshi, then Union minister for agriculture and food, hit upon this idea to bring people together to celebrate trees. One of my happiest memories is of a forest outside Dehra Dun, where one of the local schools, in collaboration with the forest department, would give each child a sapling to plant. My daughter chose teak. As she planted the sapling, someone tied a tag with her name to the stem and memories were sealed for life. New Delhi’s schools may want to take a leaf out of that book, or tree if you wish, and do something about the Ridge.
But Van Mahotsav is not just about going off into the forests to plant saplings. It is also about our immediate surroundings. At a time when trees are being chopped down, it is heartening to see a group of people huddled under umbrellas, planting a sapling outside their colony while a drippy banner proclaims, Residents Welfare Association celebrates Van Mahotsav.
You can celebrate Van Mahotsav on your balcony. Saplings are distributed free by government nurseries. In the monsoon, fluorescent green seedlings begin to sprout on the ground beneath neem and several other trees. Tease them out carefully and plant them in a sand-soil combination. Too much soil will stifle the young roots. Scoop out the seedling with a good amount of soil around it. Notice that most of these seeds take root in soil that is not too packed, often in sediments of rainwater drains. They need shelter from too much sun, since they have been under the shade of the parent tree all this while.
These trees can be grown in pots for several years. Priyajyoti Mukherjee, assistant manager, horticulture, environment management department, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd, Raigarh, tells me that 10 trees that are great to have around are peepal, peltophorum, gulmohur, karanj, kaneer, acacia, asoka, eucalyptus, bauhinia or kachnar, neem and jamun.
“These can withstand water-stress conditions, can be grown around mines and steel plants and can take environmental stress,” he says. Most of these are known pollution-busters, so they clear the air around the house. One word of caution: Trees are fast growers, and their roots can slip out of the tub and spread on the ground below. Keep a regular check on that. Once the roots pop out of the bottom, the tree is ready for terra firma.
By the time the trees have outgrown their tubs and you are ready to plant them in the ground a few years down the line, they are strong enough to survive outdoors. Benita Sen