The Mango Tree

Dawn broke silently over the horizon. We watched the orange hues push the night from ink to purple and then slowly the orange took over the sky paving way for the sun to rise. It was magical watching sunrises at five in the morning from our terrace; especially in a place like this where there were almost no man-made obstructions to the view apart from the temple’s prayer flags. Three days into our vacation to our parent’s house and it felt as if we had never left in the first place. As kids, we never ran out of things to do around the sleepy neighbourhood. We knew everyone and we would group up with our cousins & friends and wreck havoc around the small school park across the road to our place. We were both in our twenty’s now and whatever we missed out as children seemed to slowly unfold before us as the sky turned pale gold.

There was evidence of cementing in parts of the front yard of the house which had been evened out to give way to the new Highway. It was to be the connecting road to Myanmar. The same front yard where once our mango tree would sway heavily with ripe fruits every summer with the wind! There were so many memories that had been rooted with the tree. So many moments that every now & then crept up in my mind – sometimes stealing a tear & sometimes making me smile. Now in its place there was a patch of cement running along the bank of the road, stretching as far as the eye could see.

A few summers ago, our parents moved back to the ancestral home in Imphal after Dad’s retirement. It was an emotional trip home that year. We didn’t know when we would make this trip again as a family but we would definitely visit once a year depending on my work & my sister’s college schedules respectively. Like every summer, on our way from the airport to the house, this year too we had involuntarily looked out for that branch of the mango tree that used to loom over the road. It used to be an indication that we had reached home. But this year it wasn’t there.

This year the government had suddenly felt the need to widen the highway after nearly twenty years. Unfortunately for us, our beloved tree was in the way of this grand project. Many illegal constructions & roadside temples where accidents had taken place were to be razed to the ground. It was a sign of change and of better times as the government had put it across in the local newspapers. But it spelt bad news for our garden & our mango tree. My father initially tried to see if there was a way he could urge the authorities to widen the road more on the left hand side of the road without having to cut down a tree. He still finds it depressing to see trees being cut, something which my sister & I have inherited from him as well. My dad even went to the extreme contemplating if there was a way of uprooting the entire tree & planting it elsewhere! Well, of course there were too many practical problems with it. Apart from the scale & absurdity of this operation, we didn’t have enough land for a tree in the back yard. Yes, we did a lot of research over it. It might have sounded silly to others but to us, this tree was much more than just another shady place to rest in the afternoons. My sister & I even went to the local forestry office. They were very amused but sympathetic. And they were happy to see two young people showing interest in conservation. So what if it was just one tree. It was a symbol of home. And all we had of it is a photograph of it that my father took before it had been cut down.

The tree itself used to be a bit of a mystery to us. How we loved hanging from its lower branches as kids! Its fruit when ripe was terrible & we preferred having it when it was green. It never once struck as odd that we preferred its raw green emerald fruit to its reddish gold ripe offering. Till date I don’t know which variety of mango it was. All I know is what my grandfather told me about it. According to him, it was planted by his Great-Great Grandfather and along with it they had planted many other trees but only this one had survived. It wasn’t so hard to believe considering the fact that the number of houses here now exceeds the number of trees. The village had changed over the years and now looked like the rest of Imphal. There were cyber cafes, STD/ISD booths & gift stores in every nook & corner one would turn to. There were billboards staring down everywhere promising all kinds of things like fairer skin & better network coverage aside every road. The locals who used to ride Hero cycles now rode the swankiest motorcycles money could buy. Despite all these changes, our mango tree never seemed to grow any taller or give less fruit each year. It stood as a silent witness to the sea of change that was occurring all around it.

In the beginning of the year, our tree had been felled. That evening, Mom had called and I could make out from her voice that she had probably cried. The tree under whose branches my Dad had courted Mom as a young lad… from under whose shady boughs, a palanquin had brought Mom home… where my grandmother had decided to spend every morning for a month before she passed away. There was just so much that had rooted itself with the tree. This summer not finding it there was something that we weren’t quite prepared for. When we reached home three days ago, I recall my sister’s eyes welling up at the sight of the cemented sidewalk. We had all shed a silent tear for it. The next day I had absent-mindedly taken out my folding chair to sit under the tree after lunch!

This morning sitting on the terrace, we started to trace back the years and all the fun times we had. Somehow the tree was always part of it. She recalled her first crush who she had seen as he passed by on a bike and how every evening for that trip she had stood under the tree hoping to catch a glimpse of him! It later turned out that the lad was related to us in some odd way that I can’t quite recall. It wasn’t too much of a surprise considering the fact that almost every other person was related to another in this small town. We had a good laugh over it every time we talked about it. The sun was slowly peeping out now and we decided to go down to the kitchen and make some tea for the third time that morning.

We both looked down at the place where the tree once stood. It was a reminder to us of how things can never be permanent. Who knew what other changes would come up in the years ahead! But the memory of our mango tree still remains with us. Many people there don’t miss it as much but every year on our way from the airport to home we will still be looking out for the branch of our beloved mango tree.