Once again it reminds me of my early days. Born in a well-read, highly cultured Hindu family with heritage tehzeebs, I was admitted to the convent school in the neighbourhood.
Back home, I was nurtured with the best value systems based on the traditional family sanskaars. And, as I grew, what echoed in me as a child was to live life based on strict moral values – the do’s and the don’ts, the rights and the wrongs, and the appropriate and the in-appropriate. The elders in my well-knit joint family – my grandfather, my father and his brothers and sisters; bade & chote bhaisahebs as we called, often spoke of the antar-atma, I hardly understood. They had been the pillars of our family heritage.
I loved my school. My friends in the middle school and higher secondary. Some rich and some poor, all from different classes and religions. On looking from the window of class IX was the graveyard on one end and the magnificent church on the other, with a large play ground in the forefront of the church foyer.
Often, I would hear the silent knell during the midst of the class. The mortal remains were put to rest, with the holy water and the wreath made of white lilies and jasmine. With two-minute silence, we prayed for the peace of the departed soul – In the name of the father, and the son, and the holy spirit. Amen.
The class split in the last period. The Christians for the Religion Class and the rest for the Moral Science. And one day, curious as I was, I sneaked with my best friend, Ashley, for the former class. In a single row we entered the church – for it was the “confession day”, I was told.
I stood across the confession box with a curtain separating me from the priest and I murmured as the rest, ahead of me – “Father, I want to confess – I erred. I lied”. “In true repentance, lies the forgiveness. Bless you, my child”, the priest replied from behind the curtain.
I kneeled, prayed briefly and moved out of the church along with my friend. And soon I erred again. The confession I made making little or any impact on me.
I moved cities, made new friends and climbed the corporate ladder with all the thin grey between the black and the white. Each step a challenge, questioning the authenticity of the acts I continued to perform. Crediting myself for every good that happened with my intelligence and acumen acquired. And yet, there were moments when my feet dragged – in the thick of the grey at times, when I missed someone to counsel me, as when I was a child. I cursed and blamed the universe for every wrong that happened.
Three decades later, in the August of 2015, with no family around me, having lost a few friends I thought who were closest to me, and having faced more challenges in life, I paced alone in my New Delhi hotel room. As I found myself all alone and no one to judge, with a couple of drinks down, I looked at the mirror. And as I continued to move across the room, I had anger and resentment, and I now spoke aloud, articulating loudly as my inner self felt, in clear crisp voice without the fear of anyone listening and judging – introspecting myself for the first time. And as words flew out of me, making me even more emotional, I now felt like the child standing across the confession box, with a part of me – my conscience across the curtain as the priest.
It took me over three decades to understand that I always had the priest within me, to hear my confessions, to counsel me, bless me!
I wish I had truly nurtured the me within me. The antar-atma in me!
I can feel.
No, I don’t feel anymore, I can only observe. I could never talk as I have no voice.
It’s been over centuries and I have lived silently amongst the evolution of era.
27 kms north of Mumbai Central, on the bank of the Thane lake, I grew. I germinated.
Withstood quakes and fire, floods and draughts. I aged. Or did I evolve? I could feel, then – the nature, the forest, the birds, the animals and my fellow trees around me. I felt, and I could connect.
I was strong and wild, and sheltered all. And one day, I sheltered men. They build homes and lived with us. They grew in number and they also had ‘brains’. They planned, they build – homes and structures, and now, they called my forest – a city.
I continued to grow amidst the society of humans. Maybe because I was big and strong. I could now see, some of my fellow trees were destroyed. They build roads. A church and a school they named St John the Baptist, A Shiv temple, the Siddhi Vinayak temple, and a graveyard – all around me.
The world around me changed. It shook me, shattered me. But, as time elapsed, I began to adjust to the new surroundings. My new acquaintances. Children of all ages, men and women, young and old. They rested and I sheltered. They discussed and narrated, confessed and I overheard, listened. I started again to feel. Feel, what they felt. They became my part, my family. The Holy mass, the church bells, the shlokas and the aartis in the temple – they all became my daily routines.
The cart men let loose the cart, took a brief nap while the horses rested under my shade. The mother fed the school child, as he opened his text book learning his maths table and the English poems each day, before he rushed for the afternoon class at his school. I felt good, gracious, contended and fulfilled. Years passed. With the passage, I witnessed more – emotions and trauma of all those who rested under my shade. I teared too, silently with them, and sought blessing. And, as though my blessing started to bring results, more started believing and flocked with their woes in life.
Years passed. The young child also grew up. I still remember the last day when he pensively sat under my shade preparing for his final school exams. His books and notes scattered all over. The tiffin lying next to his school bag with a rich cheese and egg sandwich and a bottle of plain water. As he munched his sandwich, which he always loved the way his mother prepared, he ran through all the English poems once again. Futility by Wilfred Owens, Remember by Christina Rossetti, and The Charge of the Light Brigade by Lord Tennyson. Learning the references to context.
The school bell rang. The child closed his books, his bag. Emptied the sandwich wrapper and moved towards his class to write his final examination paper. Oblivious, that it was the last time he sat under my bark.
I cried silently, as he moved. I had seen him grow 10 long years, from tot to a teen. I had seen him joyous, and happy, and naughty. Dribbling his hockey and basking his basketball over my branches.
It was the last time that I had seen him then, as I blessed and prayed for his success.
Many years later, a few men in uniform came and marked with white chalk something around me. I overheard. Overheard that I will be “de-routed”, re-planted elsewhere, in a new modern boulevard in a newer locale of “Bombay”. I didn’t quite understand what that meant and I silently pondered at my destiny at the hands of humans.
They “shaped me”, “polished me” and trans-positioned me “with the roots” as they proudly said, on the pavements of central avenue, off Galleria, amidst sprawling lawns, pathways and high rise dwelling of the rich. They proudly say “with the roots”. I feel, they plugged my heart off my roots, my soil!
Generations changed. Horse carts paved way to smart hatchbacks. Home-made sandwiches to burgers and innocence to worldly intelligence. And I continue to shelter. Now, I also see crime, corruption, sleaze under my shade. And the society of humans claim this to be evolution. With no remorse, no love and no heart. They live, they breathe, and they hit and outsmart each-other. And, they talk of consciousness without a conscience.
I now feel, I am better than the humans as I still have feelings. They don’t anymore.
I have no brains but have a conscience somewhere deep beneath my sap.
On a wintery morning, the sun playing hide and seek, a few rays escaping the laden clouds, cold winds cutting through the window sills of the high rises, forcing the clouds to break with unwarranted occasional drizzle, an old man briskly walks over the pavement. The sudden drizzle makes him stop and he pauses, rests on the concrete bench under my branch. He pondered with a grim face and murmured Chaplin’s famous lines – “I like the rains because no one can see my tears”.
My intense feelings reading his mind. He missed someone not in his life anymore. The void in his life not be filled.
I pained again. I wish I could give him his cheese and egg sandwich.
The rain stopped and he moved on, and I, recollected and modified the lines of The Charge of the Light Brigade, he narrated numerous times as a child – You have not to question why, but to do and die.
I now, have stopped feeling. I only observe and witness silently. And, the life moves on.
Those humans call me The Banyan Tree.