The sands were windswept. Time had slithered through them in the form of winds and gales. Ground by the unforgiving mills of gods, once mighty rocks were now a glittering mass of mineral sand. Kissed by the sun, fed by the sea – that place was life itself. Part heaven, part hell – all life. As with everything to do with life, chance was the lord. It played a game of dice, inside a game of cards. Of the many players in this casino – few survived. Fewer thrived. But, enough came here to make a thriving forest.
The forest. Where the sunlight and the rain alike had to take permission from the thicket. As much as the plants fought for these two, they also knew they ruled this place. Water had a place – it was beneath their roots. And the sunlight, above their heads. Allow too much of them inside, and it didn’t augur well. In the teeming forest where life and death danced their eternal tango – everything had their place. Small and always contested for, but a place it was. The creepers and shrubs owned the soil. In the center were trees with their cavernous shades. At their feet were barks and branches – a testament to the unstoppable march of time slaying them all in due course. The trees stood shoulder to shoulder – propping up the older ones until their time came. All the fruits and seeds falling not far away helped. There was always one of your own kind to lean on when the time came.
At the edge of the forest, forming a wall between the others and the beach, were the old coconut trees. No one knew when they came, from where they came. They have been part of the forest as much as they have been a part of the memory. Standing tall, taking the lightning – the fence that the forest needed, whether it wanted it or not. Standing at the edge of a forest had its moments. As a Coconut tree at the edge, you got to see the world that wasn’t covered by the forest. Sometimes, in the sunset, you tell stories to the saplings about what the world looks like outside. You tell them stories of the unending waves, the vast vast swathes of the open sea, the azure of the sky, and the balmy summer breeze. You knew you were imparting knowledge, even if they thought it was just a fantastic story! The saplings eventually grew. Some even grew tall enough to get a glimpse of the world you saw. But, how would they pass on an experience?
In this forest, on the edge, there lived a sapling. Like most other young ones in this forest, it was a product of chance. Of the many nuts that fell on soil, it fell in a fortuitous place. Of the many to fall in a fortuitous place, it was not eaten by animals. Of the many that weren’t eaten by animals, it got water in its roots. Of the few that had all of this, by chance, it also had the abundance of sunlight. Looking at its less lucky cousin, the sapling knew – the places could well be swapped by nature by mere chance. And it wouldn’t have mattered a fig for the forest, nor for the trees around it. It knew it was lucky.
Luck only carries one so far and the rest was left to the sapling. It grew roots. It greedily drank in the sunlight and sucked up the water. And it was well poised to become another tree at the rim of the forest, until – again – chance intervened. It was a stormy night. The skies tore apart and poured its heart out. What was moisture under the roots, first turned into a trickle, and then became a deluge. The outpouring cut a path across the forest and flowed right into the sea. And with it – floated all sorts of plants: the dead and decaying, the old and aging, the well-rooted, the unsprouted, and young saplings. When the soil under your feet is just eroded away, you are left at the mercy of the flood. The sapling was taught well by the elders. They had taught it not to panic, taught it to take the twists and turns of the flood in its stride; even though it had never seen one. Is this what it feels like – to be a leaf floating on the water; to be an ant on that leaf? The sapling wondered. And when it was washed away with its leaves and flowers intact, it could hear the elders wish it: “be safe, grow roots, and propagate. May you have a full life”. The elders could be heard sighing wistfully. They knew they won’t have the sapling grow and hold them when they become husk and fiber. When the time comes, would the sapling see them? No matter how tall it grows – it would always be the sapling that was washed by the floods of time.
The wash away was thrilling at the beginning. The familiar rustles of the barks nearby made it mildly tolerable. As time went by, the sapling even made friends. There were trees, other saplings, seeds, and even some flowers that were being washed together. A sense of wonder and newness crept up; a life of discovery opened up. Before they knew it, the waters emptied into the ocean. The unsleeping and immeasurable big blue swallowed them all and dwarfed them. And it scattered them. The sapling experienced separation. This time, there was no thrill. Just sadness.
With sadness came nostalgia. But with isolation came resoluteness. Life had to move on. The sapling floated on. The ocean just took it where it went. As luck would have it, it reached shore. Fertile lands, freshwater, clean air. It almost felt like the land said – “don’t worry, I don’t care where you come from .. take roots here”. And put down roots, the sapling did. Slowly but surely, the crowded forest seemed like a thing of the past. With so much space around, who would want to yearn for the struggle for survival. Yes – the memories of the old trees would come often. But then, when you stood tiptoe on your roots on a clear sunny day, you could almost see them there and wave to them. The elders did wish for the sapling to put down roots and prosper, didn’t they?
Seasons rolled on. The sapling was now a tree. It had a mighty trunk, had strong roots. The land had been bountiful. So happy was it that it was even happy about finding the poisonous creeper near its roots. It thought “my leaves, my flowers, and my seeds are so far ahead of the creeper, that I am not even affected by it. What is wrong with the creeper making itself a home?”. Seasons rolled on – and it had a precious flower. The flower turned into a seed, covered by a tender young nut. The coconut tree was so happy. It cherished it. It truly knew how its own elders felt about it. The memories were so strong that it teared up. It waited for a clear day and waved again to the elders. It showed the nut amidst its palms.
The nut grew. So did the poison vine on the ground. The tree was worried. It remembered its elders tell stories about how to avoid the vines. The stories of how saplings turned crazy upon contact with the vine. How their palms would twist .. how they will never bear nuts. The reality of life: for any good thing that nourishes, there is something uniquely evil that will destroy. And both these grow in the same soil. And not everything is a perspective. That the old men’s stories matter. That your own history is your root!
“Should I tell all those stories to the nut?”, the tree wondered. “My elders told me the stories and then protected me. But, I remember the pain these stories caused. Can I spare my young one the pain?”, it asked. It sighed – if only the elders were around they would tell me what to do! It looked around. All it could see were the sparsely but firmly rooted trees – all of them washed ashore at the same time. In the whispers of their leaves in the wind, the coconut tree could hear the same doubt – “should I spare my young one the pain?”. The coconut tree decided. “My young nut is too precious for me to hurt its heart with stories of reality. Anyway – the vine beneath hasn’t hurt me. Am big enough – and surely, that will protect my young one too”.
Thus the nut grew strong and big on the outside – but soft and mushy on the inside. Quite delicious, but not hardy. The tree showered its love and nourishment. Kept telling the nut that it was special, and it could do anything it wanted. The tree deliberately hid the role that fate had played in its own life. It didn’t want to break a budding dream – so it swallowed the story of how its entire life has been one of a draw of a lucky card and back-breaking hard work. “No! such realities are not for the young ones. They will grow up and learn”, it reasoned.
The nut grew into a beautiful coconut. One day, the trees were swaying — it was a happy time. The coconuts were grown enough to live their own life. The ocean had gentle waves. The sun was warm and encouraging. It was as if it was telling the trees “don’t worry dear. I fed you. I will feed your young ones too”. The wind seemed to play second fiddle. “Let go”, it seemed to say. “Let go, for it is time. Don’t hold on. You have done all that you thought was necessary”. And the Coconut tree shook its strong supple trunk. It was a bittersweet moment. It won’t have the happiness of taking care of and protecting its young ones. But then, it was also proud of itself to have taken care of the coconut for so long, so well. It looked across the shores – some of the elder trees waved back. Some, just weren’t there. C’est la vie! For the coconut, it was a mix of fear and thrill. The tree understood it well. Didn’t it experience the same, on the fateful day? Just like that, the bond severed. The coconut was off to take care of its life and its future. And the coconut fell while the tree watched. Would the wind push it into the waves? Away from the poison vines? Onto more fertile land? Was the wind strong enough? It surely seemed so. In a long long time, the coconut tree prayed!
But then, life had its own plans. The wind stopped and the coconut fell straight down. Into the soft and willing arms of the vine. The tree sighed. “What is the worst that can happen?”, it thought. “Maybe the vine isn’t so bad”, it placated its own fears. After a while, the coconut sprouted. The vine had done justice to its nature. The leaves of the sapling were shriveled; poisoned. The roots were weak and the vine refused to give space to the sapling. And the coconut sapling, not realizing the nature of the vine, was happy to not force down its own roots!
It was a cloudy day. The skies were pregnant with rain. The sun was nowhere to be seen. The winds were picking up. The waves were roiling. The sapling had been fully poisoned. It was at the end of its strength. It couldn’t believe that life can be so unfair to someone who was so special. The sapling, full of anger at the injustice now looked up at the tree. It asked, “why”? The tree said – “this is the reality of life”. The anger boiled over. It asked again – in a loud voice: “WHY”? The tree said with its eyes brimming with tears – “I will pray for a divine intervention, for that is what you need to escape this now”.
The sapling mustered its last ounce of energy, looked up and spat before withering away! “Prayers? It is your privilege speaking” – the words echoed through the gale.
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