When you are a young university student, every evening spent at the university has a charm, but my evenings at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, are unforgettable for a special reason.
I can never forget the way the flowers of Alstonia would fill the air with a magical fragrance. Just as Bano Qudsia’s “Raja Gidh” would go ecstatic on full moon nights, the fragrance of these flowers in the late summers would refresh us everyday.
The university is still there, and the Alstonia plants on its U-Road are there too. In just 2-3 months, the nights will once again be filled with fragrance. The only thing needed now to enjoy these nights is time.
As I read the news of the heat-induced deaths of at least 1000 people in Karachi, I recalled the University’s 'thandi sarrak', a street dubbed so for the cool breeze that was peculiar to it. The thandi sarrak was lined with trees on both sides, and countless bird nests embedded inside.
When, in the summers, our hostel rooms felt like ovens, we would find solace in the refreshing shade of the trees on this street. We’d recount stories from the day, all the while saving ourselves from bird droppings.
People residing near the university, too, would reach out to the gardens here. It was perceptible that the temperature within the university was usually a degree or two lesser than the rest of the city, thanks to the infinite number of trees and shrubs.
Also see: Deforestation a threat to agriculture
We have heard that folklore several times, in which a king asks an elderly man why he's planting trees, and the man responds saying the trees planted by his forefathers benefited him, and the trees planted by him would benefit his offspring.
It was in this same spirit, that two years ago, my friends and I launched a project, “Fruit for Life”, under which we are now planting fruit trees in Pakistan.
Our aim is to bring back these fruit-bearing trees back to their habitat, where they had lived since forever until recently. In Punjab, the fields and farms were lined with trees of mulberry, plum, guava, blackberries, pomegranates and oranges. All of the locals had rights over the fruit of these trees.
I remember, there was a pomegranate tree in our courtyard. And as soon as its season arrived, we would distribute all of the fruit among our friends and family. That memory was the inspiration behind this project.
Our method is simple. We ask people if they can take the responsibility of one plant, and we provide them with a free plant if they are willing. They regularly inform us of its growth, and we try to assist them in whatever way possible.
Under this project, we have planted over 3,000 fruit plants through the students and teachers of the Bahauddin Zakaria University in Multan, the Government College University and the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad. This year in March, I have personally planted 90 orange trees in different schools in my hometown Chicha Watni, Punjab.
Several organisations work for plantation in Pakistan. In Sindh, there is the Rafiq Soomro Trust, and in Punjab, Dr Shahzad Basra’s 'Moringa for Life' projects are both doing great service to the cause. The Forest Department often launches plantation drives too.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government’s resolve to plant a billion trees is a welcome sign, but, and strictly speaking from personal experience, without public initiative, these projects will not work. For this, we all need to work together.
Just a few days ago, my friend Muhammad Asad Aslam proposed that if the approximately 15 million Facebook users of Pakistan resolved to plant just one tree, we would be able to bring a significant change in the environment.
Ahmed Faraz had said,
Shikwah-e-zulmat-e-shab se to kahin behtar tha,
Apne hissey ki koi shamma jalaate jaate.
[Rather than lamenting the darkness of night,
It’d have been better had you lit a candle yourself.]
Also read: Where have the fruit trees gone?
Today, we blame the timber mafia and the builder mafia for the ruthless deforestation. But are we personally willing to act against the negative effects of tree-cutting?
Are we lighting up candles, or just whining about the darkness? Are we giving something back to the environment?
We may not be able to effect large-scale changes, but taking one small step towards a greater cause is always possible. So get up, come forward, and plant one tree to save countless lives.
Click here to support Fruit for Life.
—Photos by author.
Translated by Bilal Karim Mughal from the original in Urdu here.