Medicos at the Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital and their alumni are a jubilant lot, after their ‘Tree of Life’ banyan has risen from the dead. The over-a-century-old tree that had been completely uprooted by the storm on September 4, was transplanted in the ground again and now, has developed new shoots and leaves. “It will be a long time before we can sit under it again, but at least it is alive. Perhaps it will only be a banyan again for future KMC students,” said Mohan Raj, a student.
Situated in the middle of the college courtyard till cyclone Nilam came along last year, the tree is a favoured lunch spot and hang out for KMC medicos. “When Nilam hit, a portion of the main trunk was uprooted and the alumni were pushing for it to be restored. When last months storm hit, the entire tree was uprooted and we knew something had to be done,” said Dr Priya Senthilkumar, Associate Professor of Community Medicine.
KMC Dean Dr Ramakrishnan said he had asked the students and staff to mobilise support to restore the tree, but even he was surprised by the quick action that followed. “We did not know CMRL chief Rajaram, but we put through a call to him. He immediately agreed to help. Metro Rail’s environmental protection wing immediately came and assessed the situation,” she added. With students watering the tree through the day to ensure it stayed alive, CMRL officials said they might be able to transplant it.
Within the next few days, they brought two 50-tonne cranes and an excavator and quickly dug a 5-metre-deep hole that was over 15-metre-wide, the tree’s new resting spot. “We had to cut off the aerial roots and trim the extremities. Medicines and hormones were sprayed to keep the plant alive,” said the professor, who is an alumnus of the college. They planted the 20 tonne tree and filled in the earth, hoping that the trick would work. Besides CMRL, the TN Fire and Rescue Service and Metro Water also pitched in to keep the tree alive — the former helped pump rainwater out of the pit and the latter provided a tanker of water.
Three and a half weeks later, there was proof of life in the form of green shoots on an otherwise brown giant. “We consulted a horticulturist who said that we need to construct a 2.5 feet wall around it, like we see in the village panchayats, to ensure that it forms strong roots again. The Tiruvallur collector has agreed to give us the soil necessary and the alumni has been very supportive in raising the Rs 3.5 lakh or more that is needed,” said Dr Priya.