My beginnings were humble, a bit shameful and wile. A bird dropped me on a stump. I sprouted from the unsuspecting stump and soon strangled it to rise my head. Today, I am referred to as the Great One. After all, I belong to a tribe under which people have attained enlightenment.
My location is such, it’s both a curse and a boon. It is at a doorway, both to hell and heaven.
At times I feel I have seen everything there is to see. 250 years is a long time.
In my younger days, I was taken good care of. The area around me was filled with greenery too.
I revelled at my capability to grow large, glossy, elliptical leaves. Before I realised I had started growing the beard and touching the ground with them. Little boys and girls who tagged along with their grandfathers, swung on them till their arms grew tired.
The folds appeared on my trunk and a couple of holes too!
The first time I had the wasps visiting me was special. By then I was already a host to the crows, mynahs and sparrows. They created such a racket in the evening, especially mynahs! At times I had colourful guests roosting in the holes too. I felt such an overwhelming tenderness when the hatchlings opened their mouths wide. Of course, I was young.
Then I grew wider, my canopy large enough to hide the young lovers, bless the new brides and shade the tired travellers. A sense of contentment filled me.
I stood close to the Golden Temple.
By now, you should know I carry many secrets too. I will spare you the dark ones. I shall tell you something entertaining. One day, I saw something glittering set with blood-red stones brought in by a jet-black crow. I didn’t pay much attention to it till I saw a few soldiers on the horseback circling me and inspecting my branches closely. That was the first time I feared for my life. They went away after some time. Later I came to know the ruby bracelet that had firmly landed in the deep crevices of my trunk was a priceless gift by a pockmarked Maharaja to his favourite queen.
As time passed, the greenery around me dried up. A compound wall was erected in the area surrounding me and a well. I was part of a park, Jalianwala Bagh to be precise. Some buildings had come up on the other side of the compound wall. I was a little disappointed but I still sheltered the people stoically. After all, I was middle-aged by then.
With age, I had grown to sense things floating in the air, not the regular raindrops or smoke particles but things like happiness, kindness, fear, anger. It was as if I had grown invisible tentacles that could grasp anything.
April 13, 1919. I know, I told you I will spare you from the dark ones. But I was speaking about the secrets then. What happened on that day was public. People had assembled in the Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi and to hold a protest. I could sense what they couldn’t. I could smell hatred and arrogance ready to gush in from the narrow entrance. I could see it take down shocked people, red blood flowing out of them and drenching the soil I stood on. There was never a time I lamented more about my arms that could not shield or my feet that could not flee. Instead, I just soaked the precious red and stored it in the deep crevices of my trunk, right next to the priceless ornament.
Fear, anger and hatred – there was more of it in times to come. There is no home more wrecked than the one that breeds brothers who turn out to be bitter enemies. I learned to feign indifference to the things floating in the air. What difference did it make to anyone what an ageing tree felt?
I don’t want to sound ungrateful or bitter. I have enjoyed my share of affection and reverence. After all, I am the earthly abode of Lord Vishnu. I have been privy to the prayers of over 8 generations of people. I have tried my best to give them solace. If I have to pick my favourites though it would be the children. They don’t ask for much, they just fill the space with energy and laughter.
If there is someone I’m filled with admiration for, it is the colony of light red ants. They build nests with leaves on my branches that are well hidden and they do it within 24 hours! Their tenacity and steadfastness always make me feel more alert. I am not going to lie; they can also be irritating at times. If you are not careful, they may just uproot you one fine day!
Am I boring you? Well then, I don’t want to talk about how people are using parts of me to make medicines. I will talk about something else.
A few years ago, there was a shooting close to me, with cameras. I was bemused to see a tall woman clad in transparent white clothes looking into the camera and mumbling something with tears in her eyes. I think she felt a tremor pass through her when she touched me while walking past me. She must have, as I parted with some blood red hidden in me. I saw her pouring it back into the eye of the camera.
I have seen many other stars trying to retell what I have lived through. None can give a truer account than the real ones that shine in the night sky above me.
In my lifetime I have looked up to see the eagles at first, planes afterward and then warplanes too, spreading, scattering and thundering their way through the sky. But this magnificent view of Saturn getting close to Jupiter, I am watching for the first time! This must be a sign of things to come. The Lord of Karma and justice in conjunction with the Lord of wisdom and power. Though it should be interesting, I think I have seen enough to say-
Now, I have seen everything!