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Photo Feature: Working Trees

Documenting the thriving ‘Tree economy’

In the busy and chaotic landscape of Delhi, Salil Chaturvedi zooms in on roadside trees, quiet participants in economy. In this feature, Salil explores how one of the greenest capital cities in the world has juxtaposed with its swanky offices, expensive cars, malls and cineplexes, a thriving treeconomy that sustains thousands of people.

Text and Photos by Salil Chaturvedi


While photographing trees I’ve learnt to drive in the left-most lane at a speed that is well below the prescribed limit, bringing out the best in Delhi’s horn-favouring drivers. And I must surely have set a record for the number of U-turns taken on a single day, just to get a closer look at a Working Tree on the far side of the road.








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Jeete ped, marte ped, yeh ajab tamashaa ped ka, tells me Ombir Singh, a kabaadi-wallah who operates his ramshackle junk shop from under a young peepul tree. He explains with a touching indulgence that while living one needs trees, and when one is dead one needs the help of a tree for the onward journey; this then is the strange spectacle of a tree. Being evidently literarily inclined (I stumbled upon his shop as he was reading the morning newspaper with friends discussing a new train from Delhi to Kanpur in three hours flat), he exhorts me to use the proverb as the title for the piece. It’s befitting that as one of the greenest capital cities in the world, Delhi has, juxtaposed with its swanky offices, expensive cars, trendy pubs, malls and cineplexes, a thriving treeconomy that sustains thousands of people like Ombir. These ‘tree-shops’ give the term ‘branch office’ a completely new dimension. Like a giant swiss-knife, the tree, in an urban area like Delhi, is used variously: as a billboard – advertising anything from homeopathic medicines, soft drinks, car insurance, fashion boutiques, veterinary services to real estate and bank loans – as a closet from which to hang clothes and tools; a display window; a supporting beam; a gigantic umbrella, a bus-stop. In fact, the tree can effortlessly, even magically, morph into a garage, godown, shoe-shop, café, shed, eatery or a temple.

About the author: Salil Chaturvedi writes short fiction and poetry. He is passionate about developing a sense of place which translates to knowing one’s neighbourhood—its stories, its forms, shapes, geology, ecology, bird, grass and butterfly species, cloud patterns, waterways and the myriad ways a place changes through the seasons and the movement of the sun, the moon and people. He lives in Chorao (Goa) with his wife, a cat and a dog. Some of his pictures and writings can be found on

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