“Did you hear, Grandpa?” cried Sumeeta. “They’re going to make a bridge right outside our compound! Isn’t that great?”
Their house lay at the bottom of a slope, close to the river bank, and the river flowed about 15 feet below the bank. The street turned at a right angle in front of them and went westward along the river towards a bridge about a kilometer away.
When they went to the market, they had to walk a kilometre up the road, cross over on the old bridge crowded with traffic, then walk down another kilometre to get whatever they needed — and do it all over again on the way home. Now, everyone in the area was excited. The new pedestrian and cycle bridge would give easy access to everything across the river.
“I can get you chilli pakoras in five minutes!” exclaimed Sumeeta. “And run other errands too!”
She led Grandpa out to where surveyors were taking measurements. “What about the tree?” Grandpa asked, pointing to the big tamarind tree that stood where the road turned. One surveyor said, “The tree looks dead and will come down at any moment. So we can set the bridge straight across from here.”
A life saver
Grandpa put his hand on the trunk and sighed, as he looked up at the wilting leaves and bare branches. “Why didn’t I notice that the tree was dying? At one time, it was our meeting place because of its shade. It saved so many lives all those years ago. Mine too.”
“What do you mean, Grandpa?”
The surveyor seemed to have lost interest in his workand listened keenly, as Grandpa spoke, “The river flooded in ... I can’t remember which year it was, but I was about 17 years old. The rains had been devastating and this little trickle of a river became a raging torrent! It overflowed its banks and took everything in its path with it.
“It was the middle of the night. Those who were closest had no time to evacuate to higher ground. Water came swirling across the road and into our home and we climbed the tree for safety.”
Grandpa seemed lost in the past. “The tree was not so tall but it was our only anchor. Dozens of us hung on for dear life.”
“Oh, Grandpa! We can’t let that tree die! We’ve got to do something!”, cried Sumeeta. She dug up the soil around the tree. Her friend Anisha’s father was a keen gardener. With their help, she spread nutrients on the earth and sprayed organic pesticides.
Then she made a small placard and wrote, THANK YOU FOR SAVING MY GRANDPA’S LIFE and hung it from one of the branches of the tree. Anisha hung a placard too: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SHADE ON MY WAY HOME FROM SCHOOL. To their surprise, they found others hung placards and notes too: thanking the tree for the tamarind; for allowing them to play hide and seek in its branches…
“We’re not the only ones who value this tree!” exclaimed Sumeeta.
“Who are all these people?” asked Anisha.
The two of them got to work again. They made a placard asking for phone numbers or house numbers of those who hung messages on the tree. Soon, they were knocking on doors and calling up neighbours and making friends.
While they did this, someone thoughtfully put a low metal guard around the area where Sumeeta had put in soil nutrients. Soon, new leaves sprouted. “It’s like the tree has been waiting to be appreciated!” said Sumeeta to her grandfather.
When the surveyor came next, he was amazed. “Your tree has decided that the bridge should be a little further down the road!” he told Grandpa.
“Yes, the tree seems to be talking, doesn’t it?” Grandpa replied and added to Sumeeta, “I think it wants you to walk that little extra distance to get me chili pakoras!”
Sumeeta didn’t answer. Her smile said it all.