The uprooted base of the banyan tree resembles acave on a pavement near the Gariahat crossing. Picture by Pranesh Khan
A banyan as tall as a seven-storey building fell across Rashbehari Avenue during overnight rain, cutting off the thoroughfare for six hours and inviting gasps from many commuters who wondered what might have happened had the giant collapsed at daytime.
The 60-foot tree, with a huge spread of roots sticking out of a pavement barely 100 metres from the Gariahat crossing, blocked both flanks of one of Calcutta's busier roads until at least 9.30am, when traffic usually swells.
Late on Tuesday, a portion of the flank leading to Gariahat was still out of bounds for buses and other large vehicles.
Pranesh Khan, a San Francisco-based musician whose family home is just across the pavement overlapping the base of the banyan, was woken up around 3am by such a loud sound that he immediately rushed to the balcony to find out what it was.
"The fallen tree looked like a giant with its tentacles spread out. There were sparks on the overhead wires above the tramlines," recounted Khan, who is in town to take care of his ailing sister.
Residents of the neighbourhood said the tree was more than six decades old, young by banyan standards but otherwise almost a lifetime.
Calcuttans are used to seeing trees being uprooted by tropical storms, but a 60ft tree sprawled across the 75ft span of Rashbehari Avenue was a spectacle worth a selfie spree.
Amid the click-clicks and "OMGs!" emanating from the sidelines, around 50 workers and supervisors from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation cleared the road from 6am.
Traffic on the Lake Market-bound flank was restored around 9.30am. Debasish Kumar, mayoral council member for parks and gardens, said a bulldozer and a crane had to be requisitioned to remove portions of the fallen banyan. Most of the branches had to be chopped into smaller pieces because it would have been otherwise impossible to remove the tree.
By late afternoon, piles of wood, leaves and other debris were stacked on the side of the road. That portion was cordoned off even after the other flank was partially opened to traffic around 1.30pm.
Gariahat-bound private buses and mini buses were diverted through Deshapriya Park while smaller vehicles were routed through Purna Das Road. Heavy vehicles are unlikely to be allowed on the east-bound flank (towards Gariahat) before Wednesday morning.
Mayoral council member Kumar told Metro that the banyan would be replanted at the exact spot where it had stood, but won't be allowed to grow as big.
Environmental activist Subhas Datta said the success of the replanting plan would depend on the condition of the roots. "Since it is a banyan, whose roots are among the strongest and most adaptable in the world of flora, it might work," Datta said.
The tree could require some form of support until its roots become stronger.
Experts had identified concrete around tree roots and unscientific pruning as the main reasons behind nearly 120 trees toppling over during the 70kmph storm on August 17.