My grandmother’s home had a shelf in the living room with a tray of pine cones. Grandchildren or visitors who had trekked or gone for a walk in the hills would get back a cone or two and they would be placed in the tray standing upright – like a trophy or artefact from someone’s travels. An aunt of mine once painted on them, giving them a glazed golden glow which soon wore off but for most part my memory of the pile of cones is a brown,rough , chipped at the edges collection.
Summer holidays that were spent walking in the hills under a dense collection of pines were mostly about looking for the perfect pine cone, good enough to carry home. That meant picking out a specimen from where it lay hidden under a pile of leaves and pine needles, examining it from all angles and then probably discarding it later upon the discovery of a better , larger cone. All the while we would walk among the fallen pine needles,our chatter punctuated by the whispering of the breeze in the trees and the crunch of leaves under our summer sandals. Above us the pines stood tall and resplendent stretching away into the light blue skies and wispy clouds.
There was a collection of pine trees a stone’s throw from our home in Dehradun. More popularly known as ” chir bagh” it lay at the edge of the cantonment a collection of pine trees on a hill, thick and tall. In the evenings the silhouettes of the pines against the Mussoorie hills were visible from the terrace of my home. My mind would conjure up many tales about creatures imagined that probably lived in that thick woods. It stood constant and a bunch of us had spent some days exploring the area, slipping on the pine needles, laughing at the strange messages that had been scraped onto the barks “Pinky loves Rahul” and the misshapen hearts that had been carved into the wood. It was a good summer and our fingers bore the evidence of sticky gum from the tree trunks. I am told that recently some wise official has converted the chir bagh into a park,complete with a concrete walking track and signboards to educate the public as they take their morning walks here and do their breathing exercises everyday belching and clearing their gut. There are no pine needles to slip on, the undergrowth is religiously swept everyday to carry away the leaves and zarda packets left behind by visitors.
My mother had a huge fascination for pine trees. During holidays and visits to Poonch and other places in Kashmir she would pointedly ask my father to ensure that all the photographs being clicked had the pines behind her in focus. Not being one to disobey his wife’s directions (and being the family photographer in the pre-digital camera era) my father would keep the pines in focus. As a result we now have a collection of photographs in the family album that just have my mother’s head and lush green pines towering behind her. Thankfully my mother is rather tall.
I have always had an attachment for trees wherever I have lived, but pines, pines are special. They remind me of my childhood and of stability and of being able to stand tall in all adversity. The pines are all about home, the pines-they know me.