The large mango tree which stood proudly in the center of our veranda from the times of my grandmother’s days has filled my life with indelible memories of summer vacations as I couldn’t help but sit under its shady canopy for hours at the break of dawn or dust during childhood. My entire childhood or a major part of it was spent running around that large tree like a rootless and weightless feather, its bright verdant leaves secretly calling me from my room in the evening to play with it or stay nearby, with its mouth watering juicy mangoes prodding me to eat them. Over the years I made a mystifying bond with my tree. Its leaves and the aroma of mangoes in different stages of ripening captivated me like some magician. At my age where my school friends played with toys , robots ,remote cars , for me my summers meant my tree and the mangoes. I would spend my entire day sitting under it reading my comic book or something of the sort while the wind caressed my hair as if I was its only child and my tree gently letting me sit on its laps. I felt that my tree and I were growing together as I was always carried to my world of imagination when I was in its arms. I would think of my life , what I want to grow up and be, what I am, what my future should be like, all the philosophical thoughts came rushing into my little head and every time , I felt more grown up than before and as if the magician had secretly cast the spell as I was left in trance. There was serenity under the tree. As I sat , I could see holes between those leaves with only spots of sky visible , mangoes hanging loose from the stems as if they were whispering in my ears to catch them when they fall. It was always unfathomable how the sky turned orange from blue and another day was spent with my tree while it gave birth to a new artist every day. But like a good friend, it never complained. It never complained to my grandmother for plucking its fruits for making pickles and chutneys , it never unveiled my innumerable dark secrets to anyone, it was a silent observer to the world, a silent listener to its friend that was me, a silent victim to my grandmother, but above all a silent giver. It gave us pickles, chutneys , mango shakes, mango custards and the list was endless. I never cared for the galore of pimples that cropped up on my face after summer vacations and my friends who teased me of chicken pox victim. In the evening, my mother would sit and peel the mangoes while the rats in my stomach made a ruckus inside, and my thirst was quenched with that first sip of mango shake. I would complain to my mother for filling up my sister’s glass up to the brim while some space was left in mine. And if it was in my hands I could possibly extend my tongue to lick every drop of mango shake left in my glass. My tree gave me wisdom I would not have expected from anyone. Like a silent teacher it taught me to be close to nature , to be close to the sole, to find happiness within than outside. The love grew as days passed by.
One such fine day during my last days of vacation, the sun shone brightly and emanated from eastern skies , birds began their chirruping , leaves rustled as the morning breeze blew, I opened my eyes and began to rub them with my little hands so as to get a clear vision, and as it was my daily routine to rush to my tree , climb it up and see the beautiful game nature plays when sun rises from the horizon like a phoenix , I jumped off my bed rubbing my eyes as fast and hard as I could, began to run with stumbling steps , only to behold that idyllic beauty of nature.
As I crossed the drawing room I realized that there was a crowd of old ladies from the neighborhood gathered in my veranda up to the main entrance gate. I saw my grandmother’s best friend sobbing in susurration as if she suffered with a hiccup attack. I felt astonished and utterly strange. I decided to sail through the thick crowd of ladies and see what caused them to cry. I could hear little sobbing create a sense of loud weeping that tore through my ears. My height or my miniature disposition aided me to swim through the sobbing swarm, and there was my grandmother, barefooted , unkempt hair spread over her wrinkled face and sparkling new born tears kissing her age old cheeks. She was hugging our big mango tree as if it was her son who had to return to serve his country.
I turned to my left to see my father standing by the main entrance door and arguing in inaudible screams with a man in stiff white shirt, black pants and mirror-shining shoes leading a group of similarly dressed men. They had loads of papers and files with them; more than I had ever seen in my life; more than all thin comics together. I felt astonished and scared. My little brain, all that I had, and all the intelligence that I could have possible mustered, warned me against an impending danger. Something inside me yelled that my tree was in danger.
It was a difficult thing, but right decisions are the hardest to make.
My wife kept asking me what sheer wisdom prodded me to resign from my job in a multinational company in the most populated and urban area of Bangalore. Cards had piled up from my colleagues bidding me a happy life afterwards. Phone calls kept pouring in.
In the night, my only daughter called from Texas. She somehow did not ask me why I quit.
“You were anyway nearing retirement, daddy”, she said.
It was 1 in the morning. My wife had already slept peacefully.
Somehow I was awake. Maybe I had an extra helping of that new dish my wife made in the dinner.
Clock struck 2.
And the silence of the room, reminded of another serene silence.
After escaping my wife’s questions and also my team manager’s at the office, thinking that they would never understand why I quit, thinking that they were not mature enough to understand my reason, something pierced my heart. When half of the earth wallowed in slumber, it struck me. I asked myself, just like my wife, and all those people, Why did I quit?
And suddenly, I thought of that mango tree, those dark secrets, those dreams, and those comic books, that unpolluted, fresh, inviting, enchanting air; and no sooner it took me to the day my father had decided to move to the city. That day, when they had come to our home in village became a cause to my grandmother’s tears, and her best friend. They said it was a governmental land- our verandah, which was older than me, or my father. They did it to us.
And suddenly I felt claustrophobic. Those papered green walls of my room, the warm lamp, the blanket, the frame of me and my wife, seemed to strangle me. I needed air, I needed air desperately.
And then suddenly I laughed to myself.
I have air. All that I don’t have, will never have, and in fact now, no one will have, is the fresh and inviting air, that my tree gave me.
I switched off the lamp and went to sleep.
Maybe it was the right decision by those governmental officials. Right decisions are the hardest to make.