A Day of Death

It’s All Soul’s Day today – for Roman Catholics, at least; not for my cook, Mary, who’s evangelical. I drove past the Quibble Island Cemetery today (which was an island in the Adyar river delta once, but is so no more, thanks to all the development in recent years) and saw that the gates had been thrown open, and that flower vendors had lined up on either side, selling garlands of yellow marigolds. A steady stream of people walked through the gate, garlands in hand, to visit their dead. A loudspeaker is blaring out hymns.

When it rains heavily in Chennai, as it did last week, and the soil becomes soft and loose with water, big roadside trees topple over. In our own garden, three eucalyptus trees – twenty years old and at least 55 feet tall - began to lean over our neighbour’s wall, breaking it in one place and threatening to crash down on their roof.

Today we brought seven men in to cut the trees down. We feel terrible about it; R and I both cried when the first tree fell. (Mary was practical: she said, "Such big, thick trees -- we'll get good money for them.")

The men worked so hard all day long – small men all muscle and bone, wearing tucked up plaid lungis, shirtless, barefooted; and with only a long rope, a two-man handsaw and some machetes for equipment. In between feeling unhappy and worrying about whether the job could be done with no damage to the neighbour’s property or ours (ten clay tiles smashed on our side, and a number of smaller plants and branches of remaining trees crushed and broken), I was full of admiration for their industry and skill. But it feels like a day of death, all right.

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