By Devraj Singh Kalsi
The giant tree was pulled away from the bosom of the Earth after an intense struggle that lasted for several hours in the dark. It was razed to the ground much like the vandalized bust of a dictator overthrown in a coup.
The birds in all their wisdom had chosen to build their nests in the sturdy tree that came with the implicit assurance of a safe haven. The tree that listed several encounters of surviving severe cyclones in its resume had caved in this time after four decades of brawny existence.
Birds asleep quite like passengers in long-distance trains that collide in the middle of the night – a big jolt wakes them up to discover their world turned upside down. Something similar must have rattled the birds when they found themselves closer to the ground through the thick foliage of leaves that cushioned their unceremonious fall.
Imagine those moments of confusion and hopelessness when they extricated themselves from the wreckage to fly off to nearby safety. The swaying electric wires clutched their nervous feet as they tried to make sense of the world during the incessant downpour, vigorously shaking their rattled heads to puff up resilience in their wings, waiting patiently and calling out other members of the family to unite.
In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to hear fresh new voices in the garden. As I opened the window of my study, the reality outside and my imagination matched like the blood group of two strangers. The guava tree was the makeshift home where the homeless birds had now gathered and perhaps united with their loved ones. Their chirping was probably their excited conversation to chalk out the future plan of rehabilitation. More birds flew in and sat beside their families, sharing updates of empty spaces available in the mango and jackfruit trees where they could build new nests. Agile and faster than human beings in rebuilding homes, some were already flying around carrying pieces of straw and wires in their beaks as the new foundation for cosy, durable nests to cuddle in.
Quite a few of their flock sat still and gazed at the uprooted tree, perhaps fondly recollecting the good times they enjoyed up there. Like us, they were probably fond of living in grandeur. Maybe they were also proud of having an opulent residence in a giant tree that looked like a mansion. With no other tree of such magnificence around, they would now have to settle down with some modest options.
I joined the birds in observing the uprooted tree. The vacant space was brimming with strange, unfamiliar brightness. What stood hidden behind the tree all these years was now clearly visible. The balcony of the neighbour was in full view. The death of the tree had brought us visually closer. I was not too happy with the new reality and I do not think he would be happy either to reveal the colours of his innerwear left to dry on the balcony railing every day.
I was habituated to look in that direction because of the giant tree. I looked at it whenever I was thinking of ideas. The circle of leafy delight energised my mornings. The sight of the tree stirred and stimulated creativity. Now the neighbour would think I was gazing at him or waiting for the beautiful women of his household to stage an appearance there. He would go further to call it an invasion of privacy – the arousal of voyeuristic tendencies.
I suspect my repeated gaze would make him erect a glass window to cover up the balcony area, to stay safe from my ogling. I would still be looking at the giant tree because it is planted in my mind forever. I would still look at it through my inner eye and seek inspiration. Difficult to make people understand that creative folks often fix their gaze at something but they think of something completely different.
The relief team arrived with a truck – hearse to ferry the mortal remains of the tree. They were more brutal than the cyclone as the dead tree was axed further, chopped into small logs to be sold as timber. Only the tree trunk was left behind and people gathered to click its photos for their social media feeds. Some strangers passing by stood silent to mourn its demise more sincerely than the residents around. The uprooted tree created no signs of emotional distress in the people who lived in its vicinity. Perhaps it is true that the death of a family member does not necessarily cause much agony to the survivors in the family – people who have no blood relationship are also likely to shed more tears.
A fleeting thought of grafting its small branch in my garden – with a concrete slab to perpetuate its memory – did cross my mind. And the epitaph recording the cause of its death: Amphan. Does a tree deserve to be immortalised? Does a tree become evergreen in history? Or it remains just like us ordinary mortals who come and go? Enlightenment makes all the difference. We are all uprooted from time to time, in so many different ways. The uprooted tree left behind a lot for me to dig up within.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.