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Life and death for a tree and a friend

openpage mango tree 271216

openpage mango tree 271216  

She stood at the threshold of a new beginning. After coming back from Dubai, getting the children admitted in school, setting into a new pattern of life, she surveyed the newly constructed extension of her home with pride. Next will be a car park and garden in the front yard.

Piles of discarded building materials lay on one side of the well in the corner of the property. Something green jutted out from in between the pile. She bent closer to have a look. A tender green sapling! She called out to the workers to pull it out. They confirmed her worst fear: a mango tree was slowly taking root close to the well, close to the wall and close to the house. “Pull it out,” shouted the old patriarch of the house. The leaves were plucked and some hot soot was thrown over it. Buried and bruised, the little sapling was forgotten. A beautiful garden was set in that area and bright flowers blossomed at the edge.

Six months later at the same spot, a sapling was spotted again. She rushed to pluck it out. Something stopped her. The tender leaves were swaying in the wind. They looked back at her like a fresh-faced baby, saying, ‘Hold me, let me be’!

Years passed and the children went their ways. She was left alone with her mother. Every morning she woke up to the chirping of birds. The dusk brought a silence, a calm, to the place. She would sleep off thinking of the birds and the squirrels, content in the knowledge that tomorrow is another day. The sun will shine, the worms have to be picked at, the nests have to be made and the cuckoo will come to roost.

The tree branched out, the leaves shining in the morning sun trickling through them. The chirping would start with gusto. Life begins, goes on each day, every month. The tree started bearing fruit, luscious green mangoes. Grandma made the maid pick the tender mangoes and every year made mouth-watering pickles. The children romped in every year and would order her to produce the bounty of pickles. With rice and curd they licked off the dishes made by her and grandma.

Every six months she was supposed to go back to Dubai to renew her residence visa. She would leave her mother, her house and join her husband. The days would be spent with house work. But by evening she would dream of the mango tree, her friends the little chirping birds, bulbuls, the squirrels, the cuckoo bird’s nest and the gentle swaying of the leaves in the evening breeze. The mango tree beckoned. She would tell her husband she loved to lie down by the window looking at the mango tree early in the morning. She told him that if ever she got laid down by disease or old age, she should be allowed to lie on the same bed, in the same room, gazing at the same tree.

The mango tree soon posed a spot of bother. The neighbour’s drive would be full of leaves. During the mango season ripe mangoes dropped on to the road, burst and the orange pulp sprayed all over. Boys who stopped by to throw stones at the ripe mangoes were promptly shooed away by grandma. Then came the ‘man of the house’, shouting hot words at the tree, at her and generally complaining of what harm it would do to the building.

It seemed to have understood the time had come to go. The branches bore the brunt of old age and climate change. The branches actually grew grey, to her consternation. It stopped bearing fruit. It stood there gazing at her from its lofty height. Then she decided to cut the branches so the tree would die out.

The tree-cutter was summoned. He promised to cut the branches and gently lower them with the help of a strong rope. He cut a few branches but one branch somehow slipped his hold and touched the live wire going near it.

The cutter was shell-shocked and ran away with his life just in time by dropping the rope. By evening, after the turmoil had subsided, she went to see the tree. It stood there, proud and strong. It seemed to say, ‘Hold me, let me be’! Tears welled up in her eyes. She hugged the trunk and silently told the tree, “I allow you to ‘be’, my friend my joy.”

Now, the fall

The war of words continued between her and her husband. The mango tree stood a silent spectator to her strife. One night she went to bed decisively coming to an answer to the question, “How long can I allow you to be?”

She had a disturbed night. She woke up and opened the window by the bed. She saw an unpleasant sight; the tree stood there sans its branches! The leaves were shrivelled up as though some horrible venom had been spewed all over them!

The birds had disappeared. The squirrel was squeaking and going up and down the trunk as though it had lost its very source of existence.

The cuckoo nest had fallen to the ground. No more sparkle of the early morning rays, just the sun blasting on the house, the cool breeze gone.

An eerie silence prevailed …

kartik.poduval@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 11:35:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Life-and-death-for-a-tree-and-a-friend/article16946727.ece

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