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The Tree of Life

A flash fiction by Parnil Yodha

Tashi was padding barefoot with his goat. The sparkling light of the progenitor of life shone on his bald skull. His maroon kasaya robe seemed like the perfect camouflage for him amidst the flaming red grove of Royal Poinciana. He observed a bumble-bee perched on a tricoloured — white, purple and yellow– flower of a wild pansy, lapping its sweet nectar, while being as clueless as the bacteria (the sole life form that inhabited the Earth for the first two billion years) that spawned the tree of life. Rapt in the splendour of that spectacle, Tashi lost control of his grip; his brown threngwa (rosary) comprising one hundred and eight beads slipped from his fingers and plopped down in a muddy puddle. His goat also yanked its leash free from his grasp.

The goat scurried off to a tree that had low hanging boughs full of green chewy leaves. Tashi lay on his back, his head reclining on his arms, in the shade of a tree whose leaves were dappled sunlight — a gas burner facilitating cooking, photo-synthetically speaking – while the goat kept pouncing at its green food. As he lay abstractedly, a rueful yearning for his homeland Tibet arrested his mind.

Tashi used to be yet another shepherd boy with a small herd of Changthangi (Pashmina) goats residing in a village of Tibet, when he came to know about His Holiness Dalai Lama leading the cause of Tibetan people in India. His parents would talk about His Holiness in whispers, wary of the Chinese officials and spies. Tashi had made up his mind to flee. But his ailing grandmother was too attached to him.

Chetu, I love you more than my life,’ his grandmother would say.

So, it was only after his grandmother had passed away that he fled to Lhasa. He joined the caravan of the refugees who were going to India via Nepal. A hundred people including children were led by two guides to Nepal from Lhasa on foot. They walked at night and hid behind the rock-mountains during the day. It was chilly; all they had was a gray sky overhead and the snow-capped mountains around. The harsh wind would bite them without mercy.  One night was so chilly that Tashi thought he would die!

Nevertheless, they would doze off during respite-breaks at night, due to exhaustion. The travellers would lie alone shivering at times, whereas snuggle up to each other to share body heat at other times. The travellers would sometimes quarrel over petty issues with one another, like who would occupy the best spot to rest first. The guides would desperately try to mediate. After about one month of endless walking, the caravan reached the Tibetan Reception Centre in Nepal, from where it was led to Dharamshala, India after the grant of the necessary clearance.

Shortly, Tashi’s eyelids got top heavy and dropped shut like, the magnetic door of a refrigerator. He saw a majestic, semi-arid expanse with steep-sided mountain ranges and two-horned, densely furred Tibetan yaks. A bright yet balmy white light dazzled his eyes. He shrouded his eyes partly with the back of his right hand, and began to peep through the gap between his fingers, looking for the source of the light. He raised his foot to walk towards the light, but as he raised his foot, he felt something tugging at it: a sleek, jet black snake had coiled itself around his leg, like a metallic foot cuff. While he grappled to free his leg, he saw his grandmother’s face – a childlike smile on a sallow face. He yanked his leg free. Soon, everything went black.

When the darkness dissipated, Tashi saw himself sailing in the air, stiff as a log. When he edged closer, he saw a pocket-clock dangling around his neck with its hands moving anticlockwise. With a jolt, his stiff self started up like a car engine, and was soon trundling in reverse gear. As this mid-air journey proceeded, his body began transforming itself into an antelope, then a golden retriever, then a Banyan tree, then a fern and in the end, he became as minuscule as an atom. He ground to a halt. He looked around; it was an eerie landscape, rather a moonscape, with whitish-grey pumice plains and dark greyish-black basalt rocks. There was no sign of life yet. Far ahead, he saw a towering volcano, throwing up sizzling lava and darkening the sky above it, too ready to cool its lava down into crystals by dropping the slimy mass into the lake below formed from a melted glacier.

A rumbling thunder roused Tashi from his marvelled slumber. Tashi scrambled to his feet, got hold of his goat’s leash and ambled backed to the monastery. Tashi was seventy now, and would die soon, he thought, without even setting a foot again on the land of his forefathers. And why, only because some of us cannot fathom the truth of our existence: that the long, long voyage that all our genes travelled to reach where we are today was, a joint enterprise and not a separate one. Then again, he knew that a monk was supposed to be devoid of all desires; so he immediately wiped off the wistful moist from his eyes.

At the monastery, Tashi tethered the goat to a bamboo pole and held the teats of the goat between his thumb and forefinger and massaged the udders downwards. He squirted the milk out into a steel bucket and took a gulp. The energy from the sun – the source of all life — that had flowed to the tree, then, in turn, to the goat had reached the man like a message, the message of interdependence and compassion. He sat bolt upright in dhyana, closed his eyes and accepted all the things that were beyond his control. He breathed in, breathed out, breathed in, and then never breathed out again.

Parnil Yodha is a law graduate and aspiring writer and poet based in New Delhi (India). Her works have been published in literary magazines like Indian periodical and Indus Women Writing.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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