The Sun shone bright that morning. Its rays scorching the soil, sucking away the last drop of last monsoon with an invisible straw, scathing the skin. Yet, the birds chirped, the squirrels squeaked and the snakes hissed happily beneath the shade of the Banyan Tree.
The stubborn Banyan Tree who was their friend and protector, their shade and shelter, their guide and mentor. And how couldn’t it be? For decades now it had helped them grow, eat , play, cheat the sun, beat the heat, fight the rain, find a place called home, survive… Live.
With the sun going behind the mountains, they would all gather together to discuss their day, weary yet cheery. The sparrows would brag how they spotted their kids soaring higher than the eagles. The squirrels sqeaked how they visited their kids in the nearby hillock, who brought them an exotic fruit available only at those wonder hills. The snakes would swell with pride talking about their children who now marked the biggest territory of the far off jungles, which they wouldn’t dare venture themselves.
But there was a mute spectator too. He wouldn’t speak a word these days, pretending he hadn’t heard any of their fantasy tales. But he would silently shed tears into the moonlight, his heart wondering where did he go wrong…
Can a mighty Banyan ever go wrong? Had his mini refugees been right!?! Impossible!! The little sparrows, can they ever soar. At all? They would fall from the branches, like dried fruits and he would catch them in his vines. The snake hatchlings were timid little things, shivering, even scared to emerge from his bark crevices and see the light. Can they ever mark their own territories in far off forests? The squirrels who knew nothing more than squeaking all day, who borrowed his leftover figs to survive the rainy days… now their kids were discovering exotic fruits! Stories. All chimerical stories, just to mock his sorrow, his fate.
There was a time, when he would advice them how to raise their kids. He would scorn at the squirrels who would let their kids fall from tall branches, thud on the mud, and break their toes. He would chide the snakes who left their scared hatchlings alone to hunt for the day, while the hawks loomed in the sky. Teaching fearlessness or foolishness, teaching self protection or evading responsibility?
He wouldn’t talk to the sparrows, the heartless sparrows, who had pushed away their children from their nests one day. Can a home really be small to fit in family? Selfish!
He had planned it all well ahead. Had mentally marked the spots on the mud, where he would plant his saplings and watch them grow. And he had watched them grow fast- haughty, confident and with the pride of a father who saw his reflection in his children. But they had grown too fast and outgrown his plan. They resembled him in every manner- confidence, competition and conceit.
Their vines entwined, they would strangle each other till death over a beam of sunshine, until their Father pleaded them to stop. Their roots would push and shove the mud to squeeze in the scarce drop of water. They wouldn’t ever speak to each other, let alone remind themselves they were a family.
But time had paced up fast. The Banyan Tree looked at his children, and sulked. He couldn’t be proud of them. How could he? His children fought all through, for the sun, the water, the space, the air. So much so that the play-pals of childhood had now grown into competitors, rather enemies- where one’s comfort certainly meant a pain to the others. Unwillingly, unknowingly, he too had become a party to the competition, as he was the mightiest of them all.
They struggled in his shadow to spread their twigs and waited for his death to grow into their full might. They were like him, his reflections- strong yet stubborn. But were they really his children ever?
He had grown old. The strength had given way to senile sighs now. His branches had stooped low, touching the grounds. Yet the sparrows, ever so grateful, stayed on. His barks had decayed, hollowed, torn apart by the vines of his children. Yet, the snakes couldn’t abandon him. The figs had dwindled and dried. Yet the squirrels said, they were sweet.
These Refugees! Do they need Him? Or does He need them? He had asked his heart this question ever since he thought of shoving those selfish sparrows away…
Once he discussed with the sparrow, elated, how he had wisely marked where to place his sons. But the foolish sparrows! They asked him to reconsider his decision. They even dared to offer him to place his sons in the nearby hills! Atrocious! They had driven away their own kids and now wanted him to do the same! Never!!
But then why wasn’t he happy like the Sparrows? Why wasn’t he a proud father? Why was he a mute spectator, waiting patiently for his death- if only that could give some solace to his children?
Tears streamed down, shining like diamonds in the moonlight. There came the Sparrow. Flapped its wings like a flying kerchief, with futile attempts at wiping dry the tears of a mighty Banyan tree.
The Banyan had known long ago, there were some answers to his own queries that he never wanted to know. But now, his knowing or not knowing made no difference at all. It was too late to even rewind time.
It had spoken a lot, listened too little. Taught too much, learnt too little.
He gaped helplessly into the Sparrow’s tiny eyes, as if asking, “Tell me. Where did I go wrong?”
And with compassion the sparrow spoke.
“ When we meet our children in the skies, see them kissing the clouds, singing songs of success- we feel proud. Had we not thrown them out of our nests, they wouldn’t ever have learnt flying. Now we can breathe our last in peace, that our children have learnt enough to stay back safe and happy, even when we go.
My friend, you never spoke to me for all these years for the offer that I made to you that day. But all that I ever wanted was, never to let you see this day. On the hills they would have grown mightier than you, taller than your plans. You would have been a proud Father. Winds would have brought the fragrance of their woods to you. Birds would have narrated you how your children were as kind as you were- letting them build big nests on their branches. The Sun would have told you, how without your children’s shade on those bald hills, the Earth would have cursed him…
That was Pride my friend. That was Bliss.
Image credits: Quilled banyan tree images from papercrafts.blogspot.in