This blog is about the human habit of wanting to control nature. I wrote this blog before the pandemic. It seemed very relevant then, and even more so today when we, humans, are living with the consequencing of our abusive actions.

Just as there are communities that live formally and informally in our cities, there are plants that live formally and informally. The plants that live informally are too often classified as weeds and unwanted.

My son and i explored how in some places, like Khanpur, space is there for spontaneous vegetation and cared for by some and even worship by others!  We looked at the ‘informal’ Peepal trees of Khanpur.

Khanpur is an innercity neighbourhood of Ahmedabad where we stayed for some months with relatives. Khanpur is a neighbourhood in the old city of Ahmedabad. A  formal and informality neighbourhood. It is a loud and polluted place where many come to fix their two-wheelers or cars in the many small scale mechanics. The very few breathing places are the many mosques and graves of holy men known as ‘dargahs’. It is densely populated and housing is not always of a good standard but prices are high. This is because the neighbourhood is crammed with the Muslim population largely ghettoized here according to the perpetuating racial tension.

greenery is a privilege

We formalize plants into ‘our’ cities with the overarching aim; our own benefit. We design, plant and tend to green spaces;  gardens, parks, green roofs and walls are some of the urban elements we have developed to this end.  But as many people – and children – living in cities know; being among greenery is a privilege!

In Ahmedabad in general and Khanpur in particular open green areas where children could play are across a crazily trafficked multilane road. Here children can only play outside on Sundays when the traffic is less and the streets become somehow accessible. Here the trees that the municipality planted, although in sturdy cages, struggle among all human endeavour. And there are certainly no cafes with green courtyard instead the chai place is by a magnificent peepal tree! 

… aaah the Peepal tree!

Peepal trees 

Peepal trees are considered sacred in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddism. It was under a Peepal tree (more commonly referred to Bodhi tree in this context) that Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. They are one of the largest oxygen providers releasing oxygen even at night and taking up carbon dioxide during the night as well.  And because they can root themselves anywhere, we also classified as an invasive weed!

letting go and inviting in? 

But what about letting this controlling habit go – a little at least? and see where the seeds land and instead to nurture what lives? In other words,  inviting in the natural forces? As mentioned above, it is above all our human habit of controlling and using nature that got us into this corona situation …

I wonder, now that our cities are a manifestation of many forces, then it is maybe high time, that we make some genuine room for the magnificence that are the natural forces?

” Yet a growing body of research suggests that despite their unseemly appearance, spontaneous urban vegetation is actively involved in a range of beneficial services that impact our health and well-being as urban inhabitants.

Not just a weed

Many of the very same plants that we currently malign or disregard as unwanted “weeds” are playing an important role in processes like pollination, microclimate regulation, building soil, cleaning pollutants and cycling excess nutrients from the surrounding environment.

In other cases, spontaneous urban plants may act as functional surrogates for the native plants which were destroyed by human disturbances. We might be tempted to think of these plants as nature’s first-responders, providing a range of basic treatment to the most damaged and degraded parts of our planet and priming them for further healing. ”

Extract from article It’s a flower, it’s a weed – it’s an ecosystem! by Daniel Phillips in www.citizenmatters.in

nurture and worship 

It gives me hope that these trees are able to encroach the city. These trees tirelessly carve out spaces for themselves and eventually for everyone, people and the animals alike! It is under a tree that birds are born, insects live, businesses are set up, meetings are held, rest is taken, …

Quoting from Daniel Phillips article again:  “Ever since humans began the curious cultural practice of mapping and demarcating the planet with boundaries, fences and gardens, these “plants in the wrong place” have mocked our rigid systems of control.”

Maybe in these corona times, we can find a moment to reflect on our ways?

Getting to know Peepal trees in Khanpur i reflect with my 3 years old son as my guide!


‘Our’ peepal tree lives a formal life. It started its life in the municipal nursery that gave it to us. We placed it in a pot on my mother-in-laws balcony. We care for the tree the best we can .. but couldn’t stop a passing monkey from nipping at it. photo by Björn Khusroo Modan, 3 years old 


Then, just around the neighbourhood, there are countless of ‘informal’ peepal trees. They grow in the most remarkable places, with to me, minimal resources like crevices in the concrete.


We discussed how we easiest would get a tree in front of the building. Convince the shop keeper to care for one? Ask the municipality? Then on closer inspection, there were already a bunch of tree seedlings growing exactly where we had thought of planting a tree. So according to local practice, we placed some rubble around to the seedlings and Björn – our son –  started watering it on his way back from school.


Some trees receive protection.  Someone strategically places pieces of rubble, that litter the streets, by the seedling, “just as the energy in a spontaneous settlement can be harnassed” i reflect as i take the photo


A peepal tree found growth, when these two houses in the old city crumbled with the earthquake nearly 20 years ago. The tree is worshipped ensuring that there is and will be open green sacred space here.














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