It stood near the pond at the end of the village, just at the intersection between two roads going towards the farms. It has been there for as long as my grandfather remembers. It is the same as it was in his childhood, he says. May be it has lost a branch here and grown another at other end, but it is as permanent as the stars and the moon in the villagers mind. With its branches spreading very wide, it looked like an old lady sitting and guarding the village or may be guiding the wandering travellers which road to take. Often many villagers mid noon or afternoons were spent there. On the way to the pond for taking bath in the summers, it would serve as a temporary shed for many. Some would rest a little to get respite from the sultry heat, others pause here a minute to have a chat with fellow beings. Village folks coming back from the farms would untie their cattle from the cart and feed them. Women after taking a bath would stop to put a little water and flowers near the base as a sign of respect. In the afternoon children would make use of the aerial roots to swing and climb the branches. Or play marbles or gilli danda under the shadow. It provided a natural habitation for many squirrels, crows and a variety of birds. In summer its branches provided a cool resting place.
|(image source: google)|
I was visiting the village after a long time, may be after 20 years. On the way to the farm somehow I decided to stop little under its shadow, rest a bit and absorb the feeling of nostalgia. I cleared an area of the fallen yellow leaves near its roots and sat resting my back on the trunk and closed my eyes.
How are you?
A voice asked me which awake me from my slumber. I looked around, and expected to see any old villager who recognised me. I didn’t find anyone; expect a dog, resting at the far end at the edge of the shades.
May be I dreamed I thought to myself and closed my eyes again.
How are you? The voice asked again. I looked up in the direction of sound; thinking may be someone playing a prank on me.
Don’t worry. It’s me... the banyan tree. The voice declared.
Do you know me? I enquired, sounding a bit perplexed at the thought of a tree talking with a human.
Yes, I know you, since you were a little kid...... said the banyan tree. I also know your father and his father....all three of you have played under my shades....at different times.
Hmm. I mumbled, in acceptance of the fact.
So how did you not forget me?
I remember all. I remember all the kids who have played under me. I also remember everyone who has ever rested under my shades.
Why do you remember all? I asked.
Because I considered them as a part of me. I thought of them as my family. My family also included the crows, the squirrels and the maina who used to stay with me.
Where have you been all these years? Asked the banyan tree.
I left the village to study in the Sundarpur, a town nearby. I replied.
Then, I got a job and working there. I added.
Sundarpur, I have over heard the name of the town from travellers. Must be a big place!!!
Hmm...much bigger than this village. I replied.
Why this place so dirty and empty. I asked. In our childhood, it used to be a happening place.
Times have changed son. The village folks also don’t come here often. The pond’s water is polluted due to the nearby factory. No one takes bath here. Villagers also don’t go to the farms anymore. Everyone work in the factory.
And the children? I enquired.
Children don’t come to play anymore.
They have stopped playing outdoors. Now everyone plays inside their own houses in a hand held machine.
Mobiles...I thought to myself.
Also it’s very hot outside during the afternoons. He added.
You also seem to have lost few branches. I asked.
I did not lose any branches. It was cut to make the road wider. The peepul tree on the banks of the pond and the neem tree just after it also have been cut. Except the old gulmohar on the other side of the pond all trees have been cut.
A light breeze passing through the leaves made a rumbling sound as if to express its sense of displeasure.
The squirrels and the crows are still there. Occasionally the storks stop to eat their catch from the pond. In winter the south bound ones stops for a night halt.
I stood up to o near the trunk. Few places the bark had dried, just waiting to fall. A squirrel hurriedly climbed up the tree. A bird flew away sensing danger from my movement. The do rising from its siesta raised it head, looked around and then made himself comfortable in its original position.
Do you miss the old days? Are you not disappointed? I asked, gently leaning against the trunk.
Yes, sometimes I do. He replied.
We all miss the old times. Don’t you miss your childhood? Have you never been disappointed?
I sighed and replied in the affirmative.
That is part of life. The important thing in life is not to live in the past but in the present. Few branches fall, few are cut but I still row new leaves. I still try to spread my arms with the aerial roots. He flowers still flourish on the tender branches. I still spread my seeds with the help of the squirrels and the birds. Whatever happens, I still do my duty.
So should you.....just like your father does. The tree added.
A small fruit hit me on my chest and I woke up. The sun was setting. The gulmohar was just a silhouette. There was cacophony in the surroundings from the birds returning to their nest. The dog was gone. Then I realized, all along it was a dream. The tree talked to me in my dreams.
I returned home, ruminating the conversation.