To All the Trees I’ve Loved Before

A long time ago on a bright monsoon morning, as my cousin posed in front of the photographer in her golden-red bridal saree, the sunlight scattered its way through the dew-covered rose plants behind her. When the photographer paused to change his photo reels, I would grab that opportunity to take some pictures of my own. It was supposed to be a long day filled with memorable moments. I had to save my photo reel for later. But it didn’t stop me from running down to the paddy fields, where we played cricket on summer evenings, to capture photos of trees soaking golden rays. 

I remember arriving at my grandmother’s place to the smell of rice in gunny bags, changing to my ‘home’ clothes and running out to climb the Chikoo tree in the front yard. With legs across a sturdy branch, I would wish for a strong breeze. It felt good to sway with the tree. Excited leaves flutter all around. The bright afternoon sun plays hide and seek, makes the light dance across my face. Mother checked in regularly to see if I am awake. 

The cycle carrier clamp made an impression on the cover of books. But that was okay because the books should not fall over while I cycle to the top of the hill. I kept a nervous lookout because I didn’t want an extra interaction with the librarian. Last few meters were always the worst, so I had to push the cycle. I reach the Lone Tree at the top, rest my cycle against the trunk which was etched with declarations of love and hate. On a comfy branch with the book on my lap, chewing Doublemint gum, I read. Beyond the tiny houses and roads, the Arabian sea shined bright. Sherlock Holmes’ case of The Five Orange pips kept my eyes glued to the pages. What is meant by pips? I turn the page to find an illustration of an open palm with five orange seeds. The warm wind turned the pages. After some time, letters become hard to decipher. I look up to find the sun almost drowning. I climb down and cycle back home. I would return on another day with another book.

After a night of heavy rain and wind, we had woken up to find the grand old Neem tree crashed on our front yard. Our view of the Electric Power Station atop a faraway hill was blocked by this giant wet saturated green mass. Intoxicating. I have hugged trees more and people less. 

Trees aren’t supposed to be climbed at night, my Grandmother always told. Snakes or Brahma rakshasas might be hanging around. The tree which looked so welcoming and pleasant in the day feels forlorn in the night. It revealed new features which were invisible during the day. We look at each other under the moonlight like old friends who suddenly turned strangers. 

Years back my mother’s primary school teacher visited our house to conduct the census. When it was done, she wrapped up, put her sandals back on and prepared to leave. But for a brief moment, she paused. She stood there in her faded pink and white floral saree, holding a plastic bag in one hand and a cardboard writing pad in the other, her ancient eyes looking at the arching Mango tree above. “You have a nice place here”, she had said. 

That Mango tree had a mind of its own. It did not flower every year. My Grandmother would take a long look at it during one of her strolls and exclaim, “I guess no mangoes this year!” The grand old tree had lots of tiny plants growing all over its branches. A pink coloured pigeon lived on it. We followed every move of a rat snake which hunted on its branches. It would vanish for some time and appear on a different branch. It is unlucky to see a snake fall from a tree, my mother had cautioned. The snake did fall. I closed my eyes while it was mid-air. The last thing I remember is the image of its long twisted body curved in the shape of a badly drawn circle.

The Lone Tree on the hill and the Chikoo tree doesn’t exist anymore. The Mango tree was cut down recently. Few days after it happened my mother casually mentioned it over the phone. The call which normally lasts for three minutes lasted for ten that day. 

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