Ficus Religiosa or Sacred Fig is a species of fig native to the Sub-Continent, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Indochina. It is also known as the Bo-Tree (from the Sanskrit word Bodhi or Wisdom). The tree is deciduous, growing up to 30 metres and developing a girth of up to 3 metres. It produces small figs 1 to 1.5 cm in diameter, which change colour from green to purple as they ripen. The Pipal is venerated by Hindus, Jains and followers of Buddhism. The latter believe that Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment or Bodhi, while meditating underneath such a tree.

Our house in Lahore was home to two of these giants. One grew very close to the residential structure and therefore had to be constantly trimmed, while its twin grew some distance away next to the compost pit, displaying its full magnificence. This tree was unique as it was like a mini world - the scene of countless stories, both happy and sad. Its huge trunk was the main highway which branched off into scores of branches that acted as roads and avenues. These roads were lined with homes – nests built by a large variety of feathered creatures.

The top most reaches boasted two large structures, where successive families of kites raised their young. Having heard our grandmother say that kite nests contained gold ornaments, we would often ask our domestics to clamber up nature’s high rise and see if this was true. Fortunately, our demand was always resisted, for such an operation entailed grave bodily harm.

One storey below the kites were a trio of untidy nests made of haphazardly interwoven twigs. These were our resident crows, whose coexistence with the larger predator was a bit of an enigma. I now believe that the smaller bird’s larger intelligence had led it to rear its young below a food source – scraps of meat that dropped as the kites fed their young.

In the summer, the tree became a staging point for hundreds of migratory ‘tiliars’. These birds landed on the middle section of the Pipal to feed on the ripening figs and in the process produced a deafening cacophony of sound. This was also the time when my eldest sibling and his friends had a field day with their air guns and our mother was hard put to cook the victims for the amateur hunters.

Twice a year, my grandfather would inspect the tree and satisfied with his reconnaissance, would summon good old ‘Shah’ and his team of honeycomb harvesters. This three man team would uproot sweet leaf plants that grew wild in one corner of our compound and fashion them into a ‘smoke generator’ by stuffing their hollow interior with burning rags. The thick smoke would force the bees to vacate the comb, while the intruders cut out the choicest pieces of the hive, leaving the rest to be re-occupied by the angry bees. Needless to say, we were confined inside the house during the entire process.

Holes inside the old trunk were home to a cross section of four footed rodents and reptiles. These included a group of grey squirrels that scampered up and down the tree in a day long frenzy of collecting food. Notable amongst the reptiles was a family of large chameleons, which could be seen glued to the trunk changing their colours and bobbing their heads.

Our Pipal also played host to some distinguished and rare visitors. These were the beautiful green pigeons or ‘harials’. These birds would completely merge with the foliage and become invisible – rightly so as their meat was a much sought after delicacy.

While our magnificent giant provided ample shade, it performed one other purpose. It was the official home of our monsoon swing. As dark clouds billowed across the sky, a rope swing would be installed upon what appeared to be a custom made branch, to provide the family with endless hours of fun.

As we grew up, took up careers, had children and then grandchildren, we lost touch with many of our childhood memories except one – our very own Pipal Tree.

The writer is a historian.