The Gulmohar and I are losing a companion.
May 5th, 2016
Until yesterday, if you looked outside where we work, you would find a beautiful mango tree on the plot next to us.
In the respectful form of Tamil or Kannada, my mother tongue and the language that is spoken around me right now, pronouns and sentence conjugations are agender; like English’s plural pronoun. Perhaps this is why using they, them, theirs as pronouns to refer to my friend, this Mango tree, feels the most appropriate while communicating in English.
Just taller than our two story building, they were reaching for the sunlight, boxed in by the houses on all sides. Their young leaves, which were very sick when we first shifted in, were slowly starting to unfurl because of the care that Sudhakar Anna, who tends the gardens, was giving the soil. Anna means older brother, not necessarily biological though just as much a relative.
Picture him. Imagine a sturdy pair of feet, lightly planted on the grounds. Muddy trousers, folded up a couple of times, calloused fingers and a smile under a moustache. A man willing to ask pigeons for permission to garden around them.
One had to be rather careful while standing directly under the mango. They were home to thousands of fire ants. In the right tilt of light, the ants looked like large bright drops of sun moving industriously up and down the trunk.
Patient creators, fire ant homes are art pieces, green leaves carefully glued together to hold tomorrow’s sundrops.
Perhaps it was because of the ants, but while looking out the upstairs window, I have been stared at by tailorbirds with their fashionable rufous caps, bulbuls – black crests of great attitude, and prinias with sharp eyes and sharper tails. They would flit very busily here and there, keeping me mesmerized until out of sight. Squirrels would hide a distance into the canopy, their presence betrayed by loud Cheep! Cheep!s. You were left to imagine their tails twitching upwards with every cry.
Two months ago, excitement spread as a shout went around the office, “The mango is flowering!” From little human visitors of a few months old to Thatha (Grandfather) who is almost 80, everyone spent a few seconds watching them. Over the next few weeks, the fruits grew abundant. Heartbreak occasionally threatened us when our friend let go of their fruits before fully harvested, but peace restored through their continued growth.
Last Sunday we were hosting a workshop on eating to prevent disease for ourselves and as lunchtime came around and stomachs started rumbling, Amma (Mother) and I stepped outside wondering what to do. We had just cooked for 40 people, but the workshop was running late and we couldn’t sneak any food. We spotted two light green mangoes fallen on the ground! Closer examination told us they were ripe. What joy!
Picking them up, we dusted off most of the mud and using our teeth bit at the hard skin. We could already taste the tangy-sweet palate-smacking flavours of the pulp. Our noses and tongues announced great approval. Carefully leaving out the portions previously claimed by the ants, we relished the gifts of these mangoes. To two hungry women, they were heavenly.
Last night and this morning have been very hard. We got news that our friend who had nourished us was going to be cut down. The owner had sold the plot of land on which they stood. It hurts that we, who work so hard and passionately to connect people to nature, who change so many minds, who are able to protect and plant so many trees are watching helplessly as our friend is being killed without a second thought. No gratitude, no permission, no respect for a fellow being.
The new landowners wanted to construct something on the land, they didn’t even know what or when. But they have already started sawing at the Mango tree.
My heart weeps as this gentle giant, who is too big to slay with one cut is hacked with loud machines. Portioned into manageable slices. Each branch is waiting in line.
To my mango friend, I’d like to say this. Thank you for bearing this world for so many years. Thank you for nourishing us, for bringing joy to us. And… I promise to not give up. I will take today to mourn for you and for all those around the world who suffer painful losses like yours. Tomorrow though, I have your stories of connection to tell. Tomorrow I will honour your memory.
Tomorrow, I have some gardening to do.
Your friend, a human