The rains had failed the village again. Starvation was rampant and extensive. Villagers were walking miles in search of water. Men, women and children were subsisting on roots and plants. There was unbroken weeping and wailing all over the place. Despair was written far and wide. A dreaded epidemic seemed just a breath away. In such a landscape, I was brought to this village.
The tragedy that the village was going through was partially man-made. The green shield that the village had enjoyed for centuries had been destroyed by greedy predators and now the land lay barren. The government thought that if trees are planted, a rain cover could be recreated. The truck carrying us had trees of all shapes and sizes. I, being a mere sapling, was the smallest and weakest of the lot. Looking back it seems fortuitous that I survived at all.
After it was unloaded at the village, I was the only one left behind because I was lying in a neglected corner at the back of the lorry. Luckily, a young girl saw me, quickly climbed into the van, retrieved me and jumped out just as it was about to move.
At night she took me to sleep with her. She wept copiously as she unburdened herself to me. I must have provided some solace to her for I happened to be a very silent and attentive listener. She told me that she was in the final year of her school but because of the drought the school had nearly closed down. However, a fellow classmate, by the name of Ajeet, was helping her with the syllabus study. It became clear to me that she was fond of him. Everything in her talk was in relation to Ajeet and his thinking and opinions. After her long soliloquy, she coolly addressed me, “Chintu, you have been talking for long and, now, please allow me to go to sleep!!!”
Next morning, apparently, I must have appeared withered to her for she very poignantly told me, “Chintu, I think we will all die very soon but let me at least plant you in our courtyard.” With great care she dug a hole just big enough to accept my roots. After placing my roots inside the opening, she packed it firmly with the soil. However, I was so weak that I wilted. She started weeping and in between her sobs said, “Chintu, there is no water for you. I think you will die tonight,” and burst into further tears.
Just then there was a rumble in the sky followed by lightning. The whole village was stunned by this phenomenon. A light drizzle ensued and, thereafter, it rained steadily the whole day and night. Just as I was thinking it was too much water for me, it cleared up and the sun shone strongly. My health improved and I found that I could stand upright. Madhuri, my young friend, thought that this freak rainfall was organised by me and that I was empowered with supernatural powers.
The word spread fast and soon a group of women performed an aarti for me. Only Ajeet was skeptical about all this and said this change may have come about due to the El Nino effect. When he tried to explain that the unusual nature of the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event in an ocean thousands of miles away could have caused the unseasonal rain in their village; most of the villagers just nodded to him out of traditional politeness but preferred to give me the full credit for it.
The next monsoon was bountiful and there was a dramatic change of mood in the village. There was joy and laughter in every household. Madhuri and her friends were now sporting the latest mobile phones and were dancing around me to songs specially composed in my honour. I was also growing fast and was now taller than most of the women in the village. I had a most luxuriant growth of branches springing out of my trunk. Now people from even surrounding areas were coming to have a look at me and clicking my image on their cameras.
One day a poor harassed woman came to me and complained that she was childless although she had been married for fifteen years. She then took out a string, smeared it with her sindoor and tied it to one of my branches. Having full faith in me, she may have relaxed from the worry of not conceiving. Unsurprisingly, after a month, she was expectant. However, the news spread like wildfire that tying a thread on one of my branches was the surest way to get pregnant. The crowds started getting larger everyday. Soon stalls for eateries started sprouting all around to cater to the throngs that were starting to arrive from early morning. It was a mela everyday. The only sad part was that Madhuri was not spending any time with me.
After a couple of years, at about 3 a.m. in the morning, when the crowds had thinned out, I saw a beautiful young lady approaching me. As she came closer to me she said, “Chintu, do you remember me?” It was Madhuri. Oh, how she had grown up. She was accompanied by a young handsome youth. Madhuri, in whisper said, “Chintu, this is Ajeet. He has got admission in a top college in the city. He wants me to accompany him. But my father will not agree to our marriage as I am of higher caste than he is. Chintu, how can an accident of birth determine our choices for the rest of our lives?”
Then she turned around and called out, “Ajeet, come and do pranam to my Chintu and our problem will be solved.” With hesitant footsteps and a most sour attitude, the young Ajeet folded his hands before me. Just then a leaf from one my branches chose to fall on his folded hands. Madhuri thought it was an omen sent by me.
Unfortunately, Madhuri’s family and the gram panchayat, proved recalcitrant about the blending of the castes and no amount of pleading by Madhuri could make them change their minds. After a week, Madhuri was a totally shattered person. She came to me one early morning, carrying a stool with her. She put the stool next to my trunk and stood up on it. There was an eerie silence all around us as she started speaking to me in a soft voice. However, it also had a tone of suppressed anger.
“Ajeet was right. You are just a dumb tree. It was so stupid of me to attribute so much power to you. Now, I am going to hang myself from one of the branches and let me see how you can stop me. Good bye Chintu. In a few moments, I will be gone from this world.” I was dumbstruck as I saw Madhuri pull out a cord which already had a knot at one end. She started tying the other end to a shoot protruding from my trunk. I could only mutely watch her. She then put the knot around her neck, gave me a last look of contempt and kicked the stool out from below her.
And then, I heard a shriek followed by a thud. Thereafter, I saw a surprised Madhuri lying on the ground trying to shoo away the white ants which were all over her. It seems the termites had weakened the shoot and it gave way under her weight before the knot could tighten.
On hearing her scream, Madhuri’s entire family rushed out. Most concerned was her father. After a while, tenderly he asked her, “Beti, are you sure that you want to marry Ajeet.”
Madhuri, with tears in her eyes said, “Yes and no. Yes, I want to marry him. But no, not without your ashirwad.”
Father and daughter hugged each other, as the father said, “There can be no grater happiness for me than your happiness. Madhuri, you have my blessing for your marriage and may you and Ajeet live happily ever after. Love should not be bound by any borders.”
After this event, my reputation had sky-rocketed and the multitude is much larger today than it ever was. VVIP passes, costing a fortune are being issued, to have a priority darshan of me. Only Ajeet is still holding out, saying it is just a matter of coincidences. I humbly say, to each his own.