Penance for a memory tree

Kashmir 2022

Bags wet and body soaked with snow, that’s how we reached our final stay. The MET had forcasted light showers on the day of our arrival but it seemed nature was in no mood for anything “light”. Somehow we reached our rooms and quickly changed ourselves in some comfortable clothing. It was a while after we had changed that my friends and I began roaming in the courtyard of our stay. Years ago I had visited the place in summers and now for the first time in winters. Same place but different colours. From lush green to a white coat, the place was covered with white velvet which was a sight to behold. After a couple of steps I recognised something. A tree standing in the middle of the prayer ground. It was of the same height since I last saw it but something was amiss. The right side of its shade was missing. Only twigs and barks visible. I recalled that it was the side where small little flowers would sprout and we as kids would sit under the tree and try to catch them. I went near the tree and held its stem. I looked up. Absolute desolation. The leaves had dried beneath the snow. Signs of friction and force. The tree was still alive but it wasn’t the tree of my memory. I closed my eyes. I remembered a similar tree back home.

Jammu 2013

Light blue uniforms and a bulky bag placed next to the metal shutter of a grocery shop, me and my friend were waiting for the school bus. It’s a monday morning and my friend couldn’t fathom why I’m been so eager for the bus. ‘Bhai itna kya utawla ho rha hai school jane mai. Achi bhali summer vacations thee khatam hogyi abh fir se teachers ki shakle dekhni’ he sighed as he uttered his misery but my joy was different, beyond his vacations. We reached school and I rushed to my class. As I ran through the flight of stairs with my bulky school bag bouncing like crazy, the water bottle fell from its side holder. I went down a couple of steps to get it back and continued to scale the Everest. As I reached my class and threw my bag on the last bench, I ran across the class to the windows and fixed my panting gaze over the other side. A small tree with red flowers blooming in its full glory. To this day i can’t recall what tree it was. It had beautiful flowers like the coral tree(pangara) but a shape like an acorn tree. I was mesmerisd with it. How it used to dance when wind would blow, those little flowers would color the grass beneath it and it would all look like a beautiful rangoli. It was a special tree. After each class I would stare at it whilst the other kids would mock me for my obsession. In the heart of child where people say god resides, I found my deity dancing on the melodies of Indra. During recess I would try to go to that area all across the buildings just to be in that trees shade. Sometimes the flowers would fall by the wind in my empty tiffin box and I would keep them as souvenirs, like blessings. I never shook the tree as I believed that when it wants it would gift me the flowers itself. But not everyone waited. As the tree began to grow and its shade expanded so did its beauty, Sadly I was not the only admirer. Other kids would often shake its bark, jump on to its branches and even try to climb it so as to get as many flowers as they can and what did they do with them? Grab them in their hands and crush them mercilessly and throw it in the air or the nearby drain. I saw it all happen in front of my eyes and didn’t do anything. I saw its beauty getting violated and I kept staring at the desolation that continued. From an admirer I became a witness, a witness to a crime. The fateful day finally came. It was the final day of school and was the last lecture. Children were out doing whatever they pleased and I was staring at the tree from my class window when suddenly I saw a guy climbing the tree with a sickle. My heart started to beat faster. I prayed to god that somehow make him stop but what can one do about destiny. He was the same guy from the bunch of kids that would occasionally jump to grab the tiny flowers in large numbers but he would fail in his quest. Apparently today he desired more than just “some” flowers, he had climbed to the right side of the tree where most of the flowers would bud from. As he reached there he took out the sickle he had roped on with his belt and making a huge arc he delivered a swift blow. I cried out but the school’s dismissal bell cried much louder. The huge branch came down crashing and all the flowers fell nearby. I got my bag and ran across the hallway, crashing with a kid or two on the way. As I reached there, I saw the Massacre. The corpse lied there in front of me covered with flowers. The guy had took a handful of his bounty, the flowers being crushed inside his grip as I saw through my teary eyes. He had succeeded. He had destroyed my deity. I closed my eyes as I touched the bark to feel its touch for the last time. Everyone left, So did I, but with a tiny flower bud in my pocket that I buried when I reached home.

Eyes Open

Kashmir, 2022

“The people before you came and took the last remaining flowers from the previous bloom” The caretaker of the stay uttered these words as I was holding up the few dried buds that had fallen nearby. “People don’t admire beauty bhai, they just want to acquire it” he continued. “How painful it is to look at your work being destroyed by people just for a moments pleasure. It took My father 5 years to grow this beautiful tree and in just one season look at it now. See these footsteps in snow”, he pointed his fingers on the trail of footprints that came before me. Five, ten, fifteen, I lost count. “In a couple of evenings under this snow this whole tree would shed itself completely. You should have come a few weeks earlier bhai, tab dekhte aap kitna khoobsoorat tha”. “ I’m not a few weeks late Satish bhai, I’m 9 years late” I spoke to him with a faded smile and a heavy throat.

“Kaafi der kardi maine”

آ چلیں لے کے تجھے

ہیں جہاں سلسلے

تُو ہے وہی ہے تیری کمی

بنا دے، سجا دے، پناہ دے ہمیں

بنا دے، سجا دے، پناہ دے ہمیں



Scribbling sentences which are in solidarity with solitude.

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