He was born of the earth millennia ago, and in the beginning he had brothers and sisters around him who kept him sheltered and safe. His fingers crept through the soil, clinging to it; pushing aside rocks and boulders and searching for water to make him strong. Time meant little to him as he grew; there was only he and his kind, and days and nights told him nothing yet of the habits of mankind. Deep into the earth he mined, those fingers becoming arms and legs which twisted around his fellows in an underground orgy of limbs exploring the rich soil for miles: unseen, untouched in a secret ecstasy which ought to have lasted forever, but the world is not so kind as that. His body grew tall, and broad, and he bore fruits; they wove around his body and clung to his surface until they turned red and fell, eaten by animals or the holy men who sometimes braved walking among his thick green family. The sun beat down on him, drying him out until he could bear the heat no longer, and then the rain swept in, swirling sheets of it drenching him in cool, glittering water which trickled down his thirsty spine into the gasping roots below. He is filled with energy and only the knowledge of how to grow bigger; grow stronger. He thrives.
The holy men hold him above all his brothers and sisters. They frequent the forest more and more, creeping around his roots and peeling his skin for medicine; picking his fruit and hoarding it. The animals he fed scratch around his base looking for lonely figs left behind, and soon only the monkey comes round anymore, swinging as they do onto his thick limbs, clambering higher until they are out of the reach of the holy men. There they sit and chatter, leaping from a limb bereft of fruit to one heavy with orange-red figs spilling out of his thick skin, rippling over his surface like watercolours. He lives this life quite well; the lower branches scoured of any fruit and his upper branches swaying with monkeys. The holy men lean on him as they sit below, and mix his stolen skin with water until it becomes a paste. He’s still young, and has much more living to do.
While the holy men do stay, others arrive too, and he watches as his family are struck down one by one. Innumerable leaves rain down on him for days, weeks; for years as they slowly remove the traces of the home he knew. Huge boughs thrash on the ground and the earth trembles as they are ripped from the tender soil. Dislodged animals scatter, the more foolhardy ones lingering to scavenge bruised fruit from the fallen, though when several of these animals are captured by the men, the rest scramble to make their home elsewhere. The world looks different now, but he survives. His fingers clutch at lifeless limbs deep under the soil and he is alone. The scars on his belly and those who caused them mark him as special. Elevated. He is left in isolation, and the inert roots of his fellows wither into dust, until he can no longer feel them at all. His home is farmland now, and man slowly turns his forest floor into fields of cotton and pulses. He reaches his fingers out and feels only tiny, frilly roots descending from the crops, and he strangles them all until the farmers move their fields further away from him. The unforgiving sun is hotter now that he’s alone, unsheltered and unsupported. His grasp on the soil around him grows weaker without his fellows to hold tight to, and when high winds come, his whole body twists and thrashes against them. His only company are the monkeys; their constant cycle of chattering and sleeping reminding him that time is still passing; the world is still changing. The farms changed hands, the rainy season came and went, and fresh skin grew over his scars even as new ones were made, for the holy men protected and used him still, praying over his aging roots and whispering to his boughs about medicine and prosperity.
Time moves or stops or becomes irrelevant in his solitude. There is sunshine and darkness; there is heat and coolness; there is loneliness. His boughs undulate with the weight of ever more monkeys, who comb him for figs, plucking them from his trunk until he is quite bare, leaving tiny hanging roots drooping like seaweed from his leafy boughs. When three brothers - sons of the current owner of the farmland - venture close enough to him, still standing at the edge of their land, ageing and scarred and bowed, they are horrified by the ravages of the monkeys. The three boy-men point their long guns at him and shoot, their sun beaten faces twitching as a monkey falls the long distance to the ground in remarkably short time. They are raising their guns again when the holy men, on their way to strip more skin from his belly raise their hands above their heads in protest, yelling stop, stop.
The boy-men laugh; three brown faces inform the men that they are the owners of this small piece of Jabalpur; that this property is their own to do with as they please, and these silly chattering rhesus monkeys, why, they’re ruining this beautiful tree at the edge of their farm. The holy men protest their claims of ownership, and caress him with their calloused hands, rough from sawing at his skin, and whisper to him of spirit and prosperity and consecrated ground.
The boy-men raise their guns anyway. The triggers click, the shell casings scatter at their feet, but no shots ring out. The monkeys continue to chatter, un-phased; the boy-men pull the triggers again and again to no avail; they are powerless against the whispered prayers of the holy men. He survives; the monkeys remain; the boy-men leave him alone and tell stories of the sacred tree at the edge of their farm. The world keeps changing but he survives, visitors trickle to him, lay their cheeks upon his roots, pray upwards into his leafy boughs, and slice away more of his skin to heal themselves of maladies. They whisper to him the troubles of man; the chaos in the world, in India. The farms are deserted as the owners are forced out of India by man’s new laws, but the stories continue, and so does the protection. He is growing weary, and his skin takes longer to heal; his fruit is less abundant. Where he was once covered with swirling expanses of figs bonded to his body; now his harvests are sparse and the fruit is growing bitter. The monkeys relinquish him as the city creeps over the abandoned farms and he is once again surrounded, this time by juveniles newly planted in the tired earth to make a pleasure garden for the new citizens of Jabalpur.
For the first time in centuries, his sleepy fingers feel new life curling round them; a new underground energy which digs deep and explores the dusty soil for water. He is thousands of years old, and he isn’t yet spent. His skin is left alone to heal, and there is nothing but birds sleeping on his verdant branches. He thrives.