The old man and his tree

The old man and his tree

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

He hobbled down the road slowly and reached the tree at the end of the road. Yellow flowers were strewn on the ground. The gnarled trunk of the Tabebuia resembled the parchment-like skin of his wrinkled face. Sitting on the stone make-shift bench below the tree was a young schoolgirl peering into her phone. Engrossed in the flashing images and muted to the world by her earphones, she was oblivious to the old man standing beside her. Finally, she looked up and noticed the wheezing senior citizen, waiting for his place on the bench. She moved her backpack to make a place for the old man.

For about five minutes they sat in silence. She immersed in her music and he in his memories, as the scene unfolded in the sepia tints of the setting sun. “Do you know that I planted this tree almost twenty years ago?” Balu uncle asked the young girl. She glanced towards him, a bit startled.

“Yes… I did. A team of us actually — the Tree Team. Vasanthnagar used to be greener then. This is one of the few trees that has survived.” The young girl was beginning to show some interest in the story. He continued: “We once planted a hundred trees in one season. Digging pits, sourcing red mud, saplings and then actually planting the trees. We even put little bamboo tree guards around the saplings to protect them from grazing animals.”

The girl had been drawn into the story. “But uncle, you’re so old! How did you manage to do all that?” she asked.

“I wasn’t this old then,” he replied, unaffected by the blunt question. “And remember, we were a team, not just one person. Anyway, the true meaning of life is to plant a tree, under whose shade you may not get to sit. Just make sure you and your friends keep planting trees. Start with just one and soon you will have planted so many.”

The young girl put away her earphones and nodded enthusiastically. Then she thought of something and turned to her bag. Pulling out her water bottle, she bent and carefully emptied the remaining water at the base of the tree. She waved and walked away from the bench towards her home, leaving in the lengthening shadows, the old man and his tree.

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