It was already six in the evening. Neema, a student of standard VIII, had not yet returned home from school. Iniyavan, her father, a paediatrician at the city hospital, her mother, Vembu and her grandparents who had come from the village were very much worried. Neema entered just then, with a sapling in her hand.
ALL : What happened to you? Why are you so late from school?
Neema : It was a tearful homage that we paid at our school to the ninety four children who died under the most tragic circumstances in Kumbakonam.
Vembu : It was a terrible accident!
Grandma : Neema, how did your school children pay homage?
Neema : Grandma,we have planted 94 neem saplings in our school campus in memory of the departed souls. We see in the saplings the images of the children whose lives were mercilessly nipped in the bud. I have brought home one sapling to be planted in our garden.
Vembu : That’s a fitting gesture on the part of your school. Iniyavan : Yes, I agree. By the way, Neema, do you know that the neem has a lot of medicinal values
Neema : No, I don’t. I would certainly like to know.
Grandma : I think your grandpa will be the right person to tell you about it. He has lived in the village all his life, and he knows better than anybody else, that it is the ‘village pharmacy.’
Neema : Grandpa, do tell me about the medicinal value of the neem. In fact we have a Science exhibition in our school next week. Maybe our class could prepare something on the ‘Neem.’
Grandpa : It’s true that we villagers call the neem tree our ‘village pharmacy.’ To begin with, look at my teeth. I am eighty. Can you believe? Thanks to the neem twigs that I use to clean my teeth every morning. Look at my skin – still blemishless as a child’s. Thanks
again to the neem paste that I apply regularly. I’m hale and hearty even at eighty. Thanks once again to the neem juice that I drink. It purifies the blood and cures all ailments. Do you know what motivated your father to become a doctor? Well, he used to watch my father preparing medicines from various parts of the neem – its bark, seeds and leaves. That created an interest in ‘medicine’.
Traditionally, in India, the neem has been used widely as a medicine, for many centuries. It can fight inflammation, hypertension and ulcers. It can combat diabetes and malaria. Boils, rashes and wounds disappear in no time. Jaundice, leprosy, chicken pox, measles, cancer, AIDS and what not! You name it and the neem cures it. It cures even your incurable diseases. It is the panacea for all ailments. Even as early as 4000-4500 years ago, various parts of the neem tree were used in cosmetics and medicinal products by the ancient East Indian Harappans.
Evidences of these uses exist in the remains excavated at the Harappan site. These days, even toothpaste, soap and shampoo are made from the neem. And I must tell you something here about Mahatma Gandhi. The prayer meetings at the Sabarmati Ashram were conducted under a Neem tree and neem leaf chutney was a part of his everyday diet. And Neema, if you thought that the Neem had medicinal properties alone, you would be mistaken. The neem is a natural air purifier and helps improve the fertility of the soil.
Thus it is eco-friendly. It is a good insect repellent. In fact research has proved that its chemical makeup is such that it is resistant to more than two hundred different types of insects.
It has also proved to be a good pesticide. Neems are thus agro-friendly too. They protect crops from harmful insects, viruses and bacteria. The litter of its fallen leaves is rich in organic content and hence serves as good manure. The neem is also an ideal source of timber for carpentry, for its wood is termite resistant. You would be surprised to know that during the hot summer months, the temperature under the neem tree is 100 C less than the surrounding temperature. Even 10 of your air conditioners operated together may not match the cooling effect of the neem. A ‘free air-cooler service!’ These evergreen, perennial trees can grow in any type of soil. They grow very fast. They can reach a height of 30 feet in 5 years. And if they escape your axe, they can survive for even 200 to 300 years. Is that all you want to know, or …
Neema : Oh, grandpa! How blessed I am to be named NEEMA!
Vembu : No wonder the neem is known as the ‘wonder tree’! And you’re a wonder girl too!