I was 5 years old when I went to a nursery with my mother. She told me this wasn’t a nursery school like the one I went to, rather a place where you can buy seeds and stem cuttings for your gardens. We had a small garden in the front of our house where my father and uncle would grow fascinating varieties of plants, herbs, and fruits. It had pomegranates, Chinese oranges, roses, aloe Vera, and tomatoes. One summer my uncle had grown fenugreek and in the next, it was coriander for our home-made chutney. There was an empty space near the left corner of the garden. I asked my father to plant a tree there.
“Son, we’ll get some of the seeds. But do you promise to water it and take care of it?”
“Yes yes yes! I’ll do everything. Pakka! Promise!”
The next week my mother took me to the nursery. I got down from the rickshaw and ran towards the lady managing the nursery.
“Auntie, I want… (puffing)… seeds.”
“Seeds of what, my dear?”
“A tree. I want to grow a… a big tree in my garden.”
My mother came in with joyous look. She had a tinge of exhaustion on her face but would smile fervently looking at her son jumping around for a bag of seeds.
“I’m sorry. He is just really excited, aren’t you Sharad? So, do you have seeds of an Asoka tree?”
“Yes, sure I’ll get them right away.”
There wasn’t a day after that when I wouldn’t water the soil. Every few months I would grab the shovel and tilt the soil near the tree. I would come home from school, circle the growing bark. I would look for the deeper layers of a greenish shade beneath the hardening brown of the bark. I never missed watering the whole garden in the evening.
I came into my teenage but I didn’t stop caring for my tree. To me, it had somehow become an extension of whatever I could be. Its branches were the numerous possibilities that I had to shape my life. Its fruits were a result of diligent work and care. I could never see how water would climb up from the roots but I could feel its essence just like the beat of my heart. I had the most comforting of shades in the summers and a warm sense of solitude in winters. The dynamics of change were the least of my concern. Nevertheless, they were inevitable.
I ventured into a more competitive life. It was imperative to score in school and emerge at the top of the deck. Life had changed gears. I wanted to study botany in college as it was the closest to my passions in life. The pursuits of human existence have been talked about for centuries. The beautiful journey of a child growing inside a mother and embracing this world with its soulful cry had been described numerously. For me, it was a deliberation to find a deeper meaning into the silent journey of plants. It was a desire to hear that symphony whose existence is noticed in the rattling of leaves. But it was a ballad that took years to reach a chorus. It was a ballad whose pursuit did not give me any material gains, whose pleasure did not give me tears and whose resolution didn’t make me weep. But I was bound by the choices of the next gear that had struck.
I went to college. I graduated with a handful of skills that would prevent me from starving to death. My new job as a publicist took me to the grey jungles of a city. A city filled with concrete floors, drenched in the screeches of car horns. This was the fifth gear. This was where time lost its glacial pace and transcended into a savage waterfall.
I returned home next fall to my home. The fields had grown tired of their youthful summer. The dullness of the clouds had obscured the shine of the sun. It was an endless array of fallen angels now. They lay still on the brown earth, absorbing the fire to cool its thirst for death. But this wasn’t the gloom in the fields. This was the anguish that I had carried for years. This was the helplessness that a deaf man felt when his daughter sang for him. I had been taken away from the warmth of the earth to the burning heat of the city. Something this beautiful didn’t deserve an existence among those who didn’t embrace it.
My tree had bowed down to the cruelty. It stood as the antithesis of my shallow heart. It stood fragile but full of honour and integrity in front of a broken man. The years of neglect and unfulfilled promises had weakened the roots. The endless branches had fallen off and the roots had given up. The tree was dead. I decided to say goodbye one last time. It was dry and hardened. I grabbed one of the thick branches and lit it on fire. I watched as the fire spread through the wrinkled bark. This was the end that I deserved to witness. This was fire, that should’ve been used to fuel my passion. Rather, this was the fire that turned it into ashes.