Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Someone Is Sitting In the Shade Today Because...

.......Someone Planted A Tree Long Ago.

As I read these lines in last Saturday's Mumbai Mirror, (which I received yesterday here in Nairobi), only one person came to mind: my paternal grandfather. Ironically today, on the first of February, it has been exactly thirty four years since his death. Life had moved on, we have all grown up, he lives on only in our memories now but most of the trees he planted in our garden survive to this day. This is the story of one such tree. A mango tree, but no ordinary one, an Alphonso mango tree, the Queen among Mangoes in my part of the world.
My grandfather had retired and constructed a bungalow in Pune. A handful of years down the line, the grandchildren began being born but he was still in the process of planting saplings which, one day, would be towering trees. We had come for our annual vacation to Pune from MHOW (Military Headquarters Of War!) which is a small cantonment town in Madhya Pradesh in India. I must have been around four years old or maybe even younger, because the only memory I have of that day is of peering at him through the corridor window, able to look out and see him working in the garden, only by virtue of standing on tip toe. My mother says the conversation between by grandfather and me started by me asking him why he had planted so many trees. I wanted to know if he was going to eat all the fruits by himself. (He had recently gifted my sister and me a beautifully illustrated book about fruits and I probably associated fruits with him then, as we read that book everyday with my mother!)  My mother said he laughed and said he would no longer be around by the time these saplings flowered and bore fruit. But all his grand children would definitely enjoy the literal fruits of his labour. He passed away around three years after we had this discussion which, of course, I have no memory of.
For many years our Alphonso tree grew and grew. The stem of what was once a slender sapling thickened into a sturdy trunk, the leaves grew in abundance,turning a deep soothing green, the branches branched out in such a way that they seemed tailor made for all of us to sit on and even accommodated all our friends. Sunlight filtered through the thick foliage, creating a pretty dappled spot right beneath the tree.We were all between eight and ten years old by then so the tree was perfectly able to bear our weight and consecutive summer vacations and many weekends (because my Dad was posted to Pune at that time so we frequently visited our grandmother) were spent feasting, frolicking and fighting on or under that tree. Our grandmother had given us a little washable carpet and we would spread this out under the tree, play cards with our friends and even play 'house house' that eternal, universal game enjoyed by children all over the world.Was this part of the vision my grandfather had seen when he planted the tree on that long ago day?
But no fruit was in sight, though the tree was almost ten years old by then. Somehow the blossom never took hold and my grandmother who had taken over the garden's care after my grandfather's death, began to despair of ever tasting a mango from her own garden! She had begun buying mangoes from her pension money for us during every vacation and these were strictly rationed out to each grand child every day. A couple of years later my father got transferred to Guwahati in Assam, and my grandmother was left alone with the tree.
I think she must have got the tree pruned because suddenly there was news through our frequent letters that a few mangoes were hanging off various branches and it seemed as if finally there would be fruit! She harvested a hundred odd mangoes in the next couple of years and then the tree suddenly had a mango spurt! In subsequent years it yielded five hundred plus mangoes then eight hundred, then the figure crossed a thousand mangoes! It finally peaked at a record one thousand five hundred mangoes during one spectacular year. All from just one tree. It was as if the tree was making up for its late start in life...My grandmother did a quick crash course in canning, and armed with a sealing machine, began bottling mango pulp for us and for my aunt's family, so that all of us could enjoy the taste of home grown mango, no matter in which month of the year we visited our home town. I lived on those mangoes during the summer all through my high school years in Pune. A couple of crows made it their home one hot summer and built a nest and it was a wise choice because they did not have to look far for some delicious fruit for their young ones! That was the year we could not venture near our own mango tree as they attacked us fiercely, as they felt we were a threat to the nestlings!
One bone of contention between my grandmother and me was the issue of the raw mangoes! She was willing to buy me as many raw mangoes as I wanted to eat but did not want me to pluck them from the tree! She kept a very careful record of the tree's final yield every year and obviously mangoes consumed when they were slightly past their embryonic stage meant those many less during the final count...We finally compromised by her allowing me to pluck just a couple of green ones very year. The bliss I experienced every year by eating a raw mango straight off our own tree with red chilly powder and salt from the kitchen, is absolutely unmatched to this day.
Another year, my then to be husband also helped harvest a thousand mangoes from the tree with a contraption my grandmother had specially got made for that very purpose. It was a long bamboo stick with a net and a hook attached to it, which ensured that with a neat flick of the wrist, the mango fell directly into the net as mangoes that fall on the ground do not ripen properly. Since then, I feel the true test of a man is his ability to pull down mangoes from a humongous tree for nearly the whole day, without losing patience or a mango, even once!
 Both my daughter and my son enjoyed mangoes from that tree as did many members of our extended family and our friends.. So my grandfather's prophesy was more than fulfilled. But all good things must come to an end. Our beloved tree was attacked by termites after almost a couple of decades of giving the most amazing mangoes I have ever tasted. Loathe as we are to chop down trees, we let it grow in the garden, though it no longer gave fruit and we could see it was becoming a shadow of its former self as each year went by. But finally a day came when we had to get permission and cut it as it was in danger of collapsing on anyone at anytime, as it had become completely hollow from inside thanks to the termites. So the tree was chopped down, barring a stump with a few leaves growing on it.
My father sent me a picture two years ago when even the stump of the tree was finally removed and the tree no longer existed in our garden at all...It was the end of an era begun by my grandfather. It felt like my childhood had finally, truly, irrevocably come to an end...

     Most of the branches have been chopped off here but you can see how perfect they were for climbing when we were kids.( P C My dad! He sent them at a moment's notice!)

                                                          Imagine this tree in its prime....

                     And they carted off the stump for firewood. This tree gave till its last breath! Like all trees do.....


  1. What a beautiful poignant story, Anupama...

    1. Thank you for reading Queen and for your beautiful comment on FB.


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