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Monday, December 14, 2009

Babul Tree

Tripuraneni Gopichand

Tripuraneni Gopichand of Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, India, is a Telugu short story writer, novelist, editor, essayist, playwright and film director. His writings exhibit an exceptional interplay of values, ideas and ‘isms’—materialism, rationalism, existentialism, realism and humanism. He is well known among Telugu literati for his psychological novelAsamardhuni Jeevayatra (The Incompetent’s Life Journey). He was posthumously presented the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel, Panditha Parameshwara Sastry Veelunama (Will of Panditha Parameshwara Sastry), in 1963. Radical humanist, profound thinker, philosopher, social reformer and an inveterate votary of truth, Gopichand was a versatile genius, which reflects well in his scintillating stories that are told in crisp language. His stories pose many questions that challenge the wit of readers.


Looking at me, you might laugh! You might wonder: “What, reminiscences? For a Babul tree?” You are all youngsters. You can’t but feel that way. Looking at the grandpas, grandchildren think that they were always like what they are today. How will grandchildren know of the grandpas’ experiences? What does the chick-crow know about the power of the sling shot? So, you can’t but grimace looking at me. That too, I am not simply a babul tree, but a black babul tree.

You forget all the past events. I won’t say you should not learn new things. But why forget the old? After all, where from the new came? Isn’t it from the old! Aside of our pondering, the ignorant may not know even the new.         

If you want to know about me, do ask your grandpa and grandma. They know about my greatness. They bought us, selecting the best and planted on the field bunds. Indeed, there was hardly any field in those days without me! Valuation of a field that had a babul tree on its bund was always high. Fields sans us were valued less. Farmers might give off their life even, but not us. In claiming their right over us, they have even fought among themselves bitterly. Such was their attachment to us. What do we mean for you today? We have simply become a useless black stump. So, you could as well casually say, “Cut it off.”  How unfair!

My habits are quite petty. I need neither much water nor fertilizer. If you provide me a little space, I can live on my own. No one need to labor to put any fence around to protect me. I can protect myself from the cattle and others! You are seeing the thorns that I have all over my body. It is these which protect me from many threats. They ensure that nobody dare touch me.   

It’s true that once in a while farmers encounter pain because of my thorns. Why pain? There is no place in their feet that my thorns have not pricked. Yet, they won’t leave me. You know why? ‘cause, they know my value. They know I am their well wisher.

Farmers gain many advantages out of me. Many plants and trees are known to suck nutrients from the soil making the fields less fertile and less productive. I am not of that kind. My soil becomes more fertile and productive. Why do you stare at each other like that? Not able to believe my words? My words are true. If you want to be doubly sure, you may ask the wise. You might have seen many bigger trees than me. Might have seen trees that marvel themselves at their big leaves and large inflorescences. But, farmers are more interested in me than such trees. For, nothing lives under such big trees. Theirs is a highly self-centered life. I am not like that. Mine are pretty small leaves. Intentionally I put forth such small leaves. So, I can be sown anywhere, even on a field bund. No crop suffers because of my shade. You don’t know these things. Your relationship with the land has totally been cut off. Hence, you say in a disgusting tone, “Why do farmers plant these thorny trees on field bunds? These old-fashioned farmers don’t understand!”

You may of course ask me: Are there not less harmful trees than you? Yes, there are. But, I can say with certainty that there are no trees that grow giving least disturbance, and be of immense use to the farmers. You children—you may not know of it. Enquire with your grandpas. There is no single part of mine that is not useful. My timber is used by farmers for making carts. It comes handy as a handle for the sickles that the farmers use. You might have seen the gum that oozes out of me. Would there be anyone who hasn’t heard of ‘arabic gum’. You know it’s useful for pasting things together. But you do not know that my gum is highly useful in making many medicines in a variety of ways. My fruits make a good feed for cattle. They help in strengthening their bodies. You may not know today how the cattle hanker for my fruits. You enquire with the cowherds. Otherwise, you may rear a lamb to know. By the bye, I have forgotten, even my bark is not useless. It highly helps the leather industry. There is no other material better than me to clean the hide and restore its temper.

You may however say that I do not appear pleasing to your eyes. True! Maybe. Mine is pomp-less appearance. Even my habits are such. But, have you ever seen my flowers? Might have seen just like that. Might have not seen them attentively. Your not having love for me might have crept onto my flowers too. If you happen to see me again, forgetting me for a while, look at my flowers. Like the stars, they glow in their yellow shade. They spread a fragrance that enchants your mind.  

It’s based on these flowers that I have been described by the Sanskrit poets as golden flower. Which means, I am a golden flower. Why are you looking at me with surprise? For sure, you might be wondering, where am I, the smoke-colored tree with petty leaves, thorns and shrunken fruits, and where is the golden flower? No wonder even if you think that the Sanskrit poets who gave me that description might have done so in their senility. When the sight changes, no wonder it might seem so!   

It’s not only here, I am everywhere in the country. In Punjab, they call me kikar. In Tamilnadu, they say karuvelam. In Karnataka, they call me by two names—the first one is gobli and the second is ball. In every place the earlier generation used to nurture me with lots of affection. I used to express my gratitude to them by helping them in very many ways.

True, I do have a life of my own. And I do have my own longings. At the same time, I have my own pleasures and pangs. I do wish that my race should flourish. Whatever might be my wishes, I am always willing to sacrifice myself for the good of those farmers who love me. Is there anything more to be said of me, while I am offering myself—even at the cost of annihilating my very uniqueness—to protect other plants, other beings, taking the form of a fence? Helping you in these many ways, what is that I desire from you? One kind word, one kind glance! But today, that has become extinct.

Normally, it is not my nature to speak high of myself. I do not like speaking high of myself. But, it has become a must now. The farmer who has nurtured me this far like his own child died recently. It was a sudden death. That evening, after overseeing the farm work, he, sending away the cattle along with the undertenant, sat on the bund for a while and later pulling four twigs from me for brushing his teeth the next morning, he left for home. Next morning, I came to know that he had died in the night itself. Lying on the bed after having dinner, he was said to have died in the sleep itself. What a blessed death! A death which every one of us could desire—but, my heart quivered. Anyway, what is that one could do! Retaining the sorrow within, I remained quiet.

My master had no male children. Had only one daughter. I know her from her childhood. In those days, my master used to bring her to the farm once in a while. She loved my flowers and gum. Looking at her I used to feel as though I were seeing my sister. After growing up, she stopped coming this side. She got married last year. This morning her husband came to the field. You know, how proudly he stepped in? His disposition gave me a feeling that he had never come to the fields before. Hoping that his daughter would lead a happy life, my master got her married to a government employee. Standing on the field bund, he stared at me for a while.

He asked, “Why this stump here?” His words made me feel as though a knife had pierced through my heart.

The undertenant who stood by him, explained my uses.

“Those are all beliefs of old times. Now, whatever type of timber is required, it’s available everywhere”, said the new master.

“It seems the land gets enriched with this kind of trees”.

“How is it that a land gets productive by virtue of trees growing?” said the new master smilingly. “Is it greater than fertilizers?” said he.

“If not anything, it shall at least come handy for the madam in her cooking”, said the undertenant.

“It would be alright if we get enough firewood for a year’s cooking from the town,” said the new master.

Dora was thinking of getting a new cart made for the use of new cattle”, said the undertenant.

“If at all we need to have a cart, we shall get teak timber—first let this stump be removed with roots”, said the master.  

How indifferent! He does not have even an iota of pity on other living creatures. Otherwise, speaks about all great things. Claims to have invented many new things which his ancestors did not know. Talks about the invention of scientists that plants have life and they do sleep. Claims it as the invention of the new generation and the ancestors are not aware of it. Though the earlier generation did not know about this, they did treat us as though we were one of their family members. Now the present generation says that every living creature has life. But do not hesitate to annihilate that life.  

I do not fear dying. I was born to die in the use of my master. I would gladly sacrifice my life for the man who knows my utility. But, for whose sake is this death? What for? Moreover, my new master is ordering to pull me out along with my roots. He doesn’t like my very race.

Here they come! New master—coming with two laborers. Look at the axes in their hands! Have you seen the gait of my new owner? Fearing that his feet might get soiled, he is stamping his feet carefully. It makes me amused even under the current duress. His disposition appears as though he is coming to win over a life-long enemy. I pitied his ignorance. For a minute, I felt like telling him a little of myself. Even if I say, would he be patient enough to listen? Even if he hears, could he understand? Let it be, I felt it’s better to die than to live this life. Closing my eyes, I stood there. Am I a man to do something or the other in my longing for the life to save it!

- GRK Murty


Anonymous said...

My dear Murthy gaaru!
I read in all 3 short stories.
To say the least I must acknowledge the Aesthetic sense or nature or values that are depicted in designing/framing the page get up choosing the fonts, precise pictures. It is a treat to the eye.
Your posting dated 17th was also gone through.
As always I should say that the contributions are exceptional.
Your works are all your products out of your fascination, commitment, devine virtues and in short - they reflect you in some way or the other.
A reader, who reads like you do would enjoy these words better than me, but I got this opportunity as this is your work and I too have gone through every letter and word with care and enjoyed/some times shaken by the depth.

karpuramanjari said...

Thanks a lot & extremely sorry for the delayed acknowledgement Pl...

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