Photographic words. The everyday with the not-so-routinely stuff that makes life – LIFE


The Day a Tree Walked

Chapter 6 | The Day a Tree Walked

Paglu’s Problem

Paglu, as was his old routine, spent half the day with Neem and his bird friends. After coming from school he would quickly eat and take some green chillies for Harini, bread for Myna, fruits for Bulbul and Kahlua. His parents did not mind in the least as he came back home every day on time, just as the sun bid farewell.

He looked happier than ever before. Paglu ate all the wild fruits and other man-made sweets and soon developed teeth cavities. It hurt so bad that he hardly opened his mouth. Sour expression and a foul mood, is what he carried around. He stopped eating in the forest and kept mum, with one hand on his cheek. His parents tried everything, but the pain didn’t subside. The village ‘hakim’ gave him some medicines that helped a little, but did not cure the problem away. Neem noticed and asked what was wrong. Paglu told him how his teeth hurt and he couldn’t eat like before. Neem, being experienced, quickly asked Paglu to take one of his thin softer twigs and to chew on it for few weeks. Neem’s twig worked like a charm and cured Paglu completely. Since then Paglu, and entire human race, called Neem “The Medicinal Tree”.
Paglu was full of gratitude and, as children show affection, he started spending more and more time with Neem. He didn’t like to go back home and got grim when he had to leave Neem. He would often run away from school and spend that time at the forest. He often forgot to do his school work and the teachers couldn’t understand.To them Paglu was a smart child who was good at understanding when he applied himself to it, but lately he seemed to have completely stopped trying. He was mostly not in class or was found standing outside the classroom as a punishment. Paglu’s grades that were bad as it is, started falling and his teachers thoroughly complained. His parents couldn’t understand, and this time his father took charge and decided to investigate.

He followed Paglu for few weeks and noticed his routine. He saw that all Paglu wanted was to be with trees. He had lost interest in studies completely. At the end of two weeks of rigorous investigation father called Paglu and told him what he had witnessed. Paglu got scared. He didn’t want his father to stop his forest visits. Paglu’s father put him under strong provision, which allowed him to go to the forest only when he studied every day for at least one hour and improved his grades. Also, he had to attend all classes and complete his school assignments to teachers’ satisfaction. He was supposed to do well in his exams, which were few months away, else he would be barred from going to the forest forever.
How would Paglu do that? He was so far behind from his class that no matter how hard he studied he thought he would never get at par. This made Paglu even more disinterested in his studies. He couldn’t understand anything and grew desperate. Neem sensed Paglu’s trouble and also saw that lately he had started bringing his books to forest, but he hardly studied. He would open one book and would fall asleep or would get lost in his stream of thoughts till Myna intervened.
Weeks passed and Paglu didn’t seem to get any better at studies.
Neem thought that he had to help as they were best buddies.
Time was short as Paglu’s exams were a month and a half away,
But there seemed no help at bay.
Neem couldn’t directly ask Paglu to study more,
as he did not want Paglu to feel persecuted or pressurized anymore.
He knew that directly asking Paglu would only make him go in a shell,
feeling that nobody understood him very well.

Neem decided to consult grandpa Bodha. He sent a word along-with Kahlua, the clever. Grand Bodha, Kahlua, and Neem together thought of various schemes. Finally they mutually decided the best course of action.
Paglu came as usual, laden with his books, but his thoughts were elsewhere. He came and sat under Neem, offering bits and pieces of food to Bulbul and Harini.
Bulbul winked at Neem and he got his cue.
He asked Paglu, “Why are the skies so blue?”
Paglu looked up and wondered what is with Neem.
Neem smiled innocently as if this is how he has always been.
Paglu said “I guess because of light.
I remember teacher telling me something about its might.”
Neem probed Paglu to find out from his books,
and said “Also read out what they say about my good looks.”
Paglu laughed, conceded and opened one of his books.
He looked for the chapter on trees
and this is how, started his studies.

'Paglu teaches Neem about various things - planes and rocket, spider webs, temples, and nations' flags' (Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav)
‘Paglu teaches Neem about various things – planes and rocket, spider webs, temples, and nations’ flags’ (Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav)

Neem made it a game and would enquire about things that Paglu studied.
Paglu would proudly explain for he hated defeat.
The trick worked and slowly Neem got him interested.
Paglu understood better now, for he was not as rusty.
His teachers saw him back in class,
and he was no longer lost.
He started loving his assignments and taught Neem too.
He told Neem about the big bird-like planes,
And the rockets that went up in flames.
He told about the different plants,
Those bear flowers that were purple and not bland.
He explained him about religion
And showed pictures of churches, mosques and temples.
He explained about spider’s web,
And how he spins it around to catch its grub.
Paglu’s grades improved
and even Neem could now add two plus two.
Having achieved what they had set out to,
Neem, Kahlua and Bodha smiled just like parents do.
Seeing Paglu improve and hearing his stories on how he got excellent marks in his exams, Neem and his friends all rejoiced. Grandpa Bodha made a speech in Paglu’s honor and about Neem’s friendship that reverberated in the forest, which was talked about for years to come. All trees joined in the celebration and showered Paglu with leaves as a way of applause. Paglu’s father was also pleased and gifted Paglu a brand new watch. Paglu had found what he liked most and decided to pursue that in future.
Paglu understood that if he balances his studies and play time then he could do both without sacrificing either. Thereafter, Paglu never skipped a class, never gave an assignment late and never got any place other than number 1 in his class.
Such is life. It brings its little twists and tales, but it teaches us a lesson all along its way. The village continued its life, like it always did. They didn’t know about Neem and Paglu and how they helped each others like best mates.
What happened thereafter to Paglu and Neem, I don’t know yet.
Maybe I will know after few years. Let’s see, let’s wait.

'Village life continued as usual.' (Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav)
‘Village life continued as usual.’ (Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav)

Chapter 5 | The Day a Tree Walked

Neem explains

The questions piled up and Neem looked more and more morose. Paglu and the birds decided to ask before it was too late. They appointed Paglu for it and he asked one day,

“What is it Neem?
You look a little lost, as if in a dream.
What’s causing you to worry?
Or is it something else? Please tell us! Please hurry!”

Neem replied,
“Paglu! Oh dear Paglu!
You never miss a thing, do you?
You all are really nice and kind.
I feel grateful that I have you all and I can call you mine.
But our friendship reminds me of something that I left back.
The promise I made, which fell flat.
I promised Rani that we would meet.
She must be waiting and must be thinking that I am a cheat!
What do I do? How do I send her a word?
How can I explain to her what incurred?”

Paglu understood and smiled. He said,
“Neem! Why didn’t you say so earlier?
Is this what day by day made you surlier?
You could have told me this freely!
I can fix this easily.
I know where Rani lives,
I will go up to her and explain what the reason is.
I had met her when you sent me to look for our bird friends.
She was the only one who understood and had asked me to comprehend.
I can go up to her everyday.
She is my friend too and we can make it work this way.”

Neem was relaxed and relieved on hearing this. It had not occurred to him to ask Paglu, as Paglu had to go back home at sunset and Neem didn’t want to trouble him. He had thought of asking his bird-friends, but Rani being really small and surrounded by giant trees, they couldn’t have possibly found her from their bird’s-eye view.

So Paglu left Neem earlier than usual that day and went up to Rani. She too looked less happy. Her flowers were still there but the aroma was missing. She drooped down somewhat and Paglu thought maybe she too was inflicted by what troubled Neem. Oh no! Did she think they were all cheats? Paglu thought that he must hurry and explain.

Paglu feels Rani thinks that he is a devil. Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav
Paglu feels Rani thinks that he is a devil. Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav

Paglu said, “Hi Rani. Remember me? I am Paglu.
We met twice before, once with Neem and once when I came looking for a clue”
Rani became sad at the mention of Neem’s name.
Her face fell and she looked as if she would exclaim.
But she said nothing,
And kept looking at the ground, thinking.
Paglu thought it would be difficult to get her to talk.
She seems really upset. It’s not going to be a cake-walk.
He said, “Rani, perhaps you have forgotten.
Please look at me for I’m not that rotten.
I know you probably think of me as devil,
but trust me, I am not that evil!
I know you expected to see or hear from us.
We have failed you, but you must understand the reason thus.
Neem made a promise and he remembers it too well.
But he couldn’t come himself as he has pledged to never walk again.
His walks disturbed the social life around him.
The birds who nested on him got hurt and few lost a limb.
He decided that they need him more than he needs these walks.
He felt the adventure was over and he needs to stop.
You see Rani if he doesn’t walk, how can he meet you?
But he was very upset for this. Believe me it’s true!”
Rani looked up, but she still looked sad.
She finally spoke and her words were soft for she wasn’t mad.
She said, “I remember you both Paglu
And I understand too.
I understood when he had sent you to look for your friends.
And I knew I would never see him again.
I made my peace with it, but I couldn’t help miss him.
He is such a close friend or maybe that’s just my whim.”
Paglu shook his head in a strong ‘No’ and Rani smiled.
“I see he has sent you here so he hasn’t forgotten me either.
For us trees, this is as good as it could be!
Thank you Paglu for coming over and helping me.
I must confess I was waiting to hear a word and now I am me!”
With that Rani smiled ever so brightly,
Her flowers beamed and spread a whiff sprightly!

Rani gives Paglu flowers. Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav
Rani gives Paglu flowers. Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav

Everything was fine now. Rani and Neem were in constant touch. Every day, without fail, Paglu would go up to her and tell her about his day with Neem. She would sometimes ask and sometimes send messages to Neem. She used to give Paglu armful of her flowers, which he happily took back home every day. Even Sheesham and Neem sent messages to each other and it delighted Neem to hear about Sheesham’s well-being. Sheesham had recovered his lost zest and looked magnificent.
Paglu did not miss what he learnt from Neem and started helping his family and friends and this change in him did not go unnoticed. People warmed up to him and soon became friends with him. Children at school wanted to play with him and share their tiffin with him. It was a happy world, an ideal world, but for one thing. His teachers, although pleased with the change in him, were less than satisfied. His grades had not improved in the little and they were in serious doubt about his future.
Paglu needed to study and they told that to his parents. Will Paglu understand this? We will have to just see.

Chapter 4 | The Day a Tree Walked

Will He, Won’t He?

Neem told Paglu that he did what Grand Bodha had asked him to. He had watched his path and saw a trail. A trail of dead bugs he had crushed and of torn out nests of birds, which had once called him home, fallen off him when he had moved.
In his selfishness, he had forgotten that a tree was also home to many creatures. Few of the freshly laid eggs had cracked and few newly hatched birds were lying helplessly on the ground. He was very sorry and felt ashamed of himself. His own leaves were sad or ill or undernourished, and many had fallen off. He forgot to give them food and water and many had died in the process. He had seen all that was to see, but realized that he loved his home the best, for it was also a home for many more.

Paglu shook his head vigorously and asked Neem to reconsider. Neem then looked at Paglu and asked him to find their friends- Myna, Harini, Bulbul and Kahlua. Paglu sat bewildered. What has this to do with the present situation? He had not seen them for a month, as they had been busy with their walks. Neem refused to talk till Paglu brought them back.

Paglu looked frantically, but couldn’t find them anywhere. He asked around, but found no clue. Keekar looked wistfully in the distance and loudly exhaled to show his sorrow.

Less-leaves but not leafless Neem with Paglu, who is thinking of Kahlua and Harini. Where will he find them?
Less-leaves but not leafless Neem with Paglu, who is thinking of Kahlua and Harini. Where will he find them?

Paglu went as far as Grandpa Bodha and Ashok,
But couldn’t see Myna and didn’t hear Kahlua’s croak.
He asked Bodha about his friends,
But Bodha sat with eyes closed, as if ready to transcend.
Getting no answer, Paglu ran up to Ashok,
“He was so tall. He must have seen,” had said the red oak.
But Ashok answered in negation,
for he had never left his station.
These birds were unknown to him.
Chances of identifying them were slim.
Paglu didn’t give up and went to Rani.
She might be small but she was brainy.
Rani told Paglu that perhaps Neem wanted him to realize something,
Paglu must search for answers within, instead of this searching.

Paglu didn’t understand what ‘within’ meant; after all he was just a small boy. He looked hither and thither, but couldn’t find any of the four. He looked again at few of the known spots, but the trees and birds whom he had asked to keep an eye out didn’t give any positive news either. He became so frustrated and tired by the end of the day that his clothes, drenched in his sweat, stuck to his body and his hair stood at odd ends.

Paglu came back to Neem and said, “I have failed to locate them.” Perhaps the birds were waiting and left because they were late? Neem looked sadly at Paglu and showed him what he had failed to see. The tree was not only a friend but also a source of living for them. If he were no longer in a fixed spot then how would their friends find Neem, let alone eat and build nests on him?

Neem said “We do not leave and neglect our loved ones behind to achieve grander things in life. For me it was only an adventure and nothing more as I love my home and friends above everything else. But for others this adventure proved to be severe.” In his zeal of adventure, he had forced his dependents and friends to find another home and another source of living. If every tree were to leave its place and walk about freely on earth then the bird kingdom and even the human world would get destroyed. There is a harmony in nature that Neem had disturbed. He realized that now and wanted to set things right once more.

Paglu looked at his friend and felt a newfound respect for him. He knew in his own species not many would have seen others pain in their pleasures. He deftly picked up those bird nests and placed them as high as he could. Neem was pleased and back came his smile.

Neem decided that he experienced what he wanted to, but liked his stationary home better. He loved it when squirrels, bugs, insects and birds fluttered and moved around. He loved the busy atmosphere around him and wouldn’t want to give that up. He won’t snatch away the homes of those who chose him, for his carefree freedom. It was a matter of pride for him and made him stand tall.
Neem fixed himself back in his spot. His legs, the roots, went happily back in for they preferred the dark and damp mother earth. Finding Neem back in his spot, the bird friends soon found their way back.
They showed their displeasure at first but soon went back to their old self.

Strangely Myna, who was vociferous, showed her displeasure by complete and absolute silence. She was seething in anger with Paglu’s and Neem’s complete ignorance. Bulbul, who was the most shy and who hardly ever spoke, was the one to express her disappointment in clear words. She told them that she was proud of Neem for his great achievement and she used to wait everyday for them to return, to congratulate them and hear their stories, but hunger pangs caused her to leave before their return. Other birds laughed at her, calling her foolish, that made her silently sob. She stopped coming there, as she couldn’t bear that any more. She had also tried to look for Neem in the jungle, but there were many trees that resembled Neem and she didn’t know if the walks caused Neem to change his appearance. The shy Bulbul even tried speaking to few of Neem’s doppelgangers but they weren’t as nice as Neem; they either mocked or glared at her. One even swatted her away!

Harini not willing to meet. Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav
Harini not willing to meet. Drawn by 6 yr old Keshav

Harini didn’t agree to come at first but Bulbul convinced her to come. She mellowed down after nibbling on few tasty green chillies that Paglu had brought for her from home.

Kahlua was the only one who was the same. With his composed self and calm disposition it wasn’t easy to know if he had felt hurt or disappointed. Unlike the other three birds, he hadn’t lost any feathers and looked the usual too.
He said,

“I know what you are thinking.
Did it affect me or not, you must be wondering.
But dear friends, don’t forget,
The way of this world is set.
One can never be sure,
of what’s in store.
So one must take life as it comes,
and not hold grudges and wait for things to succumb.
Life goes on, and so must we.
These birdies are young, these three.
They too will learn in time, don’t worry.”

All things were restored to how they were. Paglu, Neem, Myna, Bulbul, Harini and Kahlua went back to their old ways and the playful fun returned.
A month or so went by and Neem and his friends’ life was as usual, but something had lately started affecting Neem. At first Kahlua noticed, and so did Paglu. Later even Myna, Bulbul and Harini reported. Neem was perfectly fine, he would laugh when he was supposed to, help others, talk nicely, but still he wasn’t the same. Was something bothering him?

Paglu sat confused. At first, Neem wanted to walk. Then he did walk but got upset when he realized that he had affected his friends badly. Then he decided to not walk and everything made perfect sense. Everything is sorted out now. Then what can it be to affect Neem so?

Chapter 3 | The Day a Tree Walked

Whoosh whoosh walk

Neem had achieved the impossible. He and Paglu had tears of joy. They were ecstatic. Paglu encouraged Neem to try and walk a little further every day till he could get strength in his legs. Every day, without fail, Neem would wait for Paglu to come and together they would go for a walk. Slowly and gradually, Neem moved further and further into the forest.

One of the first things that Neem wanted to do was to meet his friend Seb, whose birthday was around the corner. In tree- world birthdays were never celebrated, not only because trees didn’t walk but also because they lived for so long that nobody remembered anyone else’s birthday. But Neem remembered Seb’s; he planned a birthday surprise for his friend, who was the apple of his eye. They went to meet Seb on his birthday and sang the happiest of happy birthday song that there ever was! Paglu even brought a blue balloon as a present for Seb that he later tied to one of its branches.

Photo 08-04-15 11 45 31 pm
‘Seb, Paglu with his balloon and a bird’. Drawn by 6-year-old Keshav
Hap-Hap-Happee Happy
O happy plant day to you.
Dear Seb you are here,
So live and lovely, like dew.
This day you got planted,
By birds or bees, no clue.
But now you are big and strong
And bear fruit, red and round.
Hap-hap-happee Happy
O happy plant-day to you!

Seb was so happy that day that he gave all his apples away. Paglu distributed some to the birds playing, hooting and twittering nearby. He looked for his friends, Myna, Harini, Bulbul and Kahlua but unable to find them, he took the rest of the apples home. Everyone back home loved the bright red, almost unreal, apples. Even Paglu’s grandparents got interested. They asked Paglu “Where did you find these? We can eat despite having no teeth!” Paglu just smiled.
The walks continued. Every day Neem requested Paglu to try a new route. He wanted to see every part of the forest. The different trees he met along the way intrigued him. Some had leaves as small as his and some had as big as Paglu’s palms. Some trees, that were full-grown, were much smaller than Neem and some were so tall that Neem couldn’t see their apex.
One such tree was Ashok, ‘the tall’. He was so handsome,with his thin, tall and symmetrical trunk. No wonder he carried a bit of air. He didn’t like any kind of noise and hardly spoke himself. He silenced those who were noisy. For this reason, other trees kept their distance from him, making him stand distinct. Neem was a tad bit jealous of Ashok. Ashok’s leaves were longer, rich in color and so shiny. Nearby trees gossiped that he was almost 30 feet high, his leaves never die, and his ancestors had sailed many a seas! That’s why he was sometimes called “The Mast Tree”. Neem revered him for all his ancestors had done was to fly around, as a seed, in birds’ bellies.

On one of their strolls Neem smelled a pleasant and distinct smell. It was a sweet beckoning smell that made him crane his branches to find out where it was coming from. It was already getting dark and time was short, but they couldn’t resist the smell, so they decided to find out. Paglu started walking in the direction of the source of the aroma, Neem in tow. As they walked further in that direction the smell intensified till they reached a short indistinct tree, full of small white flowers. So dainty and abundant were the flowers that it made Neem look at his own in silent disappointment. The tree looked like a dwarf, standing demurely among other giant trees. Unaffected by that fact, she smiled sweetly to herself. Neem asked,

“The owner of these pretty flowers,
White petals and orange stalks,
Who are you? What are you called?
The sweet aroma that I smell,
Is it your’s? Where does it dwell?”
The tree replied, “I am Rani, and these are the flowers that you smell.
It spreads far and wide, as you can tell.
They grow each night but fall in the morning,
This is my fate and my blessing.
Tell me, are you the one who walks?
I have heard trees whispering but I didn’t believe random talks.”
Neem, a bit shy, answered “Yes miss. I am Neem.
Walking had always been my dream.
This is my friend Paglu, my guide.
Without him I wouldn’t even have tried!”
Rani said, “It is a pleasure to meet the two of you,
I never would have believed that a tree could walk too!”

Neem and Paglu found one more friend in Rani. She was kind and gentle and told them interesting stories of all multi-colored birds and bats that came to visit her. For Neem, it was a special friendship for he had never been friends with a girl tree before, especially one so pretty and demure. But it was time to go so they had to bid her goodbye, with a promise to meet again. Rani gave Paglu her freshest flowers, which Paglu’s mum loved and used for her daily prayer.
Some days, however, were not as nice. One such incident occurred in their third walk-week when Neem met a Tree called Sheesham. Sheesham caught Neem’s attention even before they were formally introduced, because of the forlorn expression that Sheesham carried. Neem had seen him twice in his earlier walks and couldn’t understand what could cause a tree to be perennially depressed. He couldn’t contain himself the third time he saw Sheesham, and introduced himself.

“Tee Hee , I am Neem.
How have you been?
Don’t mind me asking,
But is there something that’s taxing?
I have noticed before and I saw it today,
You seem upset, despite it being such a beautiful day?
If you tell me, I will help you mate.
Before it gets too late.”
The sad tree replied, “Hello Neem, I’m Sheesham,
My troubles are many and my life is a sham.
You see, my wood is good that men put to use.
They’ll cut me one day and I won’t get to choose.
My father and brothers have gone and so will I,
No one will help and no one will say bye.”

Neem heard it all and felt sorry for Sheesham. He looked at Paglu, who guiltily looked at ground, unable to meet their eye. Paglu wondered why humans cut up trees for their luxury. Trees don’t do that to anyone even for meagre needs. Paglu assured Sheesham that he would speak to fellow humans. He will make them understand and Sheesham would be saved. Hearing this, Sheesham relaxed and Neem breathed again. They both smiled and shook their branches as a sign of friendship and tree-hood. They spoke for hours, getting to know each other, before it was time to say goodbye.
After nearly a month, Neem could walk almost the entire length of the forest, wherever there were enough open spaces between other trees.
Everywhere they went, he met confused trees whispering among themselves. Some thought, he was a tree gone rogue or a tree from outer space. Only a few could muster enough courage to ask him, who he was and what was he up to, but no one believed him when he told them the truth.

All was not bad though he also had a fan following of adolescent trees who saw him as a celebrity. They started shedding leaves to match Neem’s style and few even tried to pull themselves up to walk about like him. Neem dreamt of helping these young ones to walk, however this was only till he came across the one and only, Bodha, ‘the wise’. Bodha had been watching Neem’s growth carefully and had witnessed his each move. Tall and huge, with its long crumpled beard spread in all directions, and his disciples spread far and wide so he missed nothing which happened in the forest. Neem had never seen Bodha before as he had never been to that part of the forest but he wasn’t at all confused as to who it was, that stood before him. Neem stood transfixed as he saw the grand old Bodha. Thus spoke Bodha:

“Young Neem,
So it is true.
For, I have heard of your success,
And have been told what’s new.
I never doubted that you would do,
what you seek and was yearned by few.
But in your quest and your success,
You forget your old friends and have left them in distress.
When you go back today watch your path,
And see what is strewn that would be called your wrath.
Follow the trail,
Then ask yourself
Is this, what you wanted?
Did you pass or did you fail?”

Bodha closed his eyes again and left Neem to wonder on what was said.

Out of the crowd, came another voice, strong and powerful, as if it had been kept safe to be used only on such an occasion. The voice threatened to hurt Neem for his ghastly attempt and open display of defiance. Neem shook his head and stood rooted to a spot.

Paglu could not see his friend so
and hugged him tight
with all his might.
He told the voice
that they were acting like mice.
Cowardly, and filled with despise.
Till they give their word
For Neem to be spared,
He will stand firm and that ground will be shared.
With his friend he too would get hurt,
Till they turn into nothing but dirt.

The trees, being averse to violence, didn’t want to hurt anyone and surely not a small harmless boy and requested the voice to let them be. They asked the voice to reconsider. When the great Bodha did not boycott or harm them, then who were they to do so? The voice, getting no support, quickly retreated and said:

“You come to my ground,
and ask me to wound,
for a mistake not your’s
but of a tree that’s our’s.
I applaud you for this,
but I insist.
Forgive me, for my words,
I did not know for better or worse.
We are all your friends now,
till the ground is ploughed.”

And so, the two friends were free again, unharmed and untouched. Paglu laughed and Neem smiled with happiness at this decision and hugged each other.
As after the storm passes one clearly sees the actual damage, Paglu who hadn’t noticed earlier also saw it. Neem was unusually silent and kept his head bowed low while they walked back to his spot. Neem was much too quiet than usual and Paglu asked him the reason for that. Neem shook himself and said with a groan that he won’t walk again. Paglu couldn’t understand. This is what Neem had always wanted and yet? Is he serious? Will he never walk again? So much work and struggle, was it all a waste? It’s not fair, to him or to Neem.

Paglu had many questions of which he wanted answers to.
Will Neem answer them? More importantly, will he walk again?

Chapter 2 | The Day a Tree Walked

Move, my friend!

Neem and Paglu started meeting every day. They asked each other a lot of questions about their routine and activities during the day.
Paglu learnt many things from their meetings. He learnt how Neem gives water and food to each of his leaves; how trees prevent soil from eroding in stormy weather, how it is a source of food for many birds; he was astonished to find that each of the little Neem fruits hid a small seed (the secret of such big trees); unlike humans, trees give back what they take from the world around them. He also noticed a pattern of flowering that was so special to the Neem and saw the flowers attracted insects, which sunbirds and bee-eaters feed upon.

Neem introduced Paglu to his bird friends,”Paglu, come. Come and meet my friends- there scolding few other birds is the naughty Myna. The green one is Harini, the moody parrot. hiding behind that branch is the shy Bulbul and the silent one with the long beak is Kahlua, the crow.” Myna was the naughtiest of the lot and would often pick fruits that had fallen, before others even had a chance. She was also the most vocal. She often laughed at Paglu’s featherless bare arms and legs, his shape, plain and single colour of the skin ,there was no yellow lining around his eyes nor any tail dipped in white.
Bulbul was so shy that whenever Paglu took a step towards her, she would immediately fly away. Slowly, Paglu gained her confidence by bringing tasty treats for her and others. Kahlua was the cleverest of the lot. It was he, who taught other birds how to distinguish between a real human and make-believe one in the fields. That is why humans began calling those ones scarecrows. He appreciated Paglu’s gifts and in return gave him sparkly odd things. Buttons, seeds, nuts, and pins, were his gifts to Paglu. Paglu cherished these gifts and kept them safely in a box back at home. Kahlua told Paglu his famous story of how he was once very thirsty and saw a large earthen pot with water but couldn’t drink, as the water was too deep for him to reach. He then filled the pot with stones and pebbles, to raise the water level, till he could reach the water.

Paglu was fascinated by this whole new world and wondered how come he and others hardly ever noticed this world within their human world. He had earlier thought that only humans could think, build, and progress but he now marvelled at how industrious his little friends were. He saw how carefully they built their nests. They had perfected the art of flying, which humans had not yet succeeded in. He posted these queries to Neem, who smiled kindly at Paglu.

Neem then told him that humans were blessed to have a very sharp mind. They lacked strength, which they overcome by using their brains. Humans and the tree-world had an old agreement that allowed humans to coexist peacefully with trees, but slowly humans took over the tree-land and built their houses instead. The humans have indeed come far but they surely have diminished the tree-world in their quest. Hearing this, the cranky Keekar finally blurted out, what Neem had carefully kept from Paglu, that , “humans are a pest”. They are like a virus that spreads fast and kills everything it attaches itself to.
Paglu was shocked that day. He knew trees were not lying because he had heard stories of big forests that were cut or burned. He knew that Neem and other trees happily allowed humans to borrow from them, for health and medicinal purpose, but humans never gave back anything. Paglu walked back home, deep in thought. He didn’t go back to the tree world for a few days. Then he returned one day, with a big smile on his face. Neem was relieved to find him back for he had been worried all this while, causing him to shed lot of leaves. Paglu said “I know the solution. I would give back what we humans have stolen. Instead of only planting pretty flowery plants, I will now also plants trees.” He remembered being told by the babbling Myna once, how she took Neem’s fruits, ate the pulp but didn’t waste the seeds. She planted the seeds in a corner where a tree could comfortably grow. Paglu decided, “That is what he would do. He would plant trees!”


Such were their days, full of little happy exchanges. Everyone shared with others about their world.
One day Paglu asked Neem, why he isn’t walking already? Why isn’t he trying? He wanted to walk but never attempted to. Myna heard this, laughed heartily and said “How can he walk? He is so big and stout?”
Neem decided that he must try. The question was who will teach him? He thought of asking Paglu for help for they were best buddies and always took each other’s advice. Paglu could walk too, so he should be able to teach Neem, no? Neem asked his friend one day and Paglu smiled and said “Why did it take you so long to ask?”

And then they began to learn.

Paglu showed Neem how to lift one leg and place it in front of the other while balancing his body, but it was not so easy for Neem. Neem couldn’t even see his legs as all his legs were inside the earth. That meant only one thing- he would need to get them out first.

Paglu said
“Bend to one side
like so, like so.
Now, lift leg of the other side.
No! No! No!
Not of the same side, but the other side.
oh Neem! How will you learn
if you don’t discern?
Come on now,
try again and bow.
Up, up ,up, just one side.
See I m here, your very own guide!
Balance yourself so you don’t fall.
Move my friend, how else will we take a stroll?”
Neem tried, tried and tried
but he couldn’t see his thin brown leg,
which made him oh so upset;
that he slumped down
and hid his crown
with frustration
and a bit of desperation.

And so they practiced. Paglu spent more and more time with Neem to help him but Neem couldn’t lift his legs. Paglu tried to pick some earth to unearth Neem’s legs but his little brown hands could only do as much. Neem even tried talking to his legs but they didn’t answer. Perhaps the legs were upset, because of years of neglect? Neem and Paglu didn’t know that years of sitting at one place caused Neem’s legs to grow thin and they didn’t have as much strength as Paglu’s to carry the weight of the rest of the tree. He tried and mustered all his strength but he couldn’t get them out.

The daily practice attracted visitors and what visitors they were!

Birds, squirrels, bats and bees,
they all came in bunch, to watch the tree.
Some discouraged
and some encouraged
but they all commented,
which left Neem very interested.
Some trees even glared
and some muttered.
Some said words of warmth
and others just laughed.
Neem paid no heed.
His eyes were sharp and goal was near.
Practice, practice, practice
that is all one needs;
to make a man perfect
and a tree resurrect.

Some trees glared at him wondering why the ruckus and even Bodha, who usually sat with eyes semi-closed as if in trance, looked sideways at Neem. And so it went, day after day. Neem didn’t lose hope and every day he tried. Paglu visited him every day to encourage him, teach him and watch him try. And then it happened!

It was a particularly dusty day and the wind was strong. Neem thought Paglu won’t come that day and sat picking his leaves but then he saw a familiar figure approaching.

Seeing Paglu walking towards him,
braving strong gust of wind,
made Neem realize,
what you can achieve if only you decide.
Neem got up suddenly and stretched.
With that, out came one thin leg,
small like a little peg.
He tried and pulled, pulled and pulled;
as if he was recently fueled.
Plop, plop, plop, his legs came aground.
Neem laughed with happiness
and thumped the ground.

Paglu perceived some movement coming from Neem’s corner. He ran faster and his eyes showed him what he thought was only a dream. There stood Neem, taller than always and moving! It was as if he was dragging along with the help of its many rope like legs. Paglu clapped with joy and said “Ahoy!”. He rushed to Neem and hugged him. The other trees noticed this too and saw what they couldn’t believe. Some sat and wondered and others were dumb-founded. Some cheered and some jeered but they all watched with fascination, for this was real!

You know kids, anything is possible
if you make it your life’s mission.
One tree proved that day, how he could walk
and it was not plain empty talk.
So, do what your heart desires but remember to give it your best.
The world is your oyster, if you try.
You too can be Neem my dear,
You need only try!

The Day a Tree Walked

A story about the time when trees could walk and there were men with whom they could talk.

Chapter One  :  When they met

It was an old forest bordering an old village. Mud houses and open streams, grass that was still green. Kuccha roads on which kids played ‘gilli-danda’ and village that resonated with sounds of transistors playing in the background.

It was a usual sort of day,
hot and bright with a clear blue sky.
A tree called Neem was doing the usual too
You know, shedding old leaves and encouraging the new.
The trees paying their daily sum to their collector,
who was a light breeze,
through giving it their water.
Our good-natured gentle Neem asked his friend Keekar again, for 10th time that week, why were they still standing.

He wanted to move, like humans do.
Flutter around like birds and learn how squirrels chew.
Neem’s friend,
grew impatient.
He answered him with a grunt
and a thinly veiled contempt
that Neem had lost its mind .
Neem must stop, else he wouldn’t be too kind.

Keekar told Neem that if he asked again he will tell grandpa Bodha, who would boycott Neem. Grandpa Bodha was very old and very strict and looked like that too, with his gnarly fingers and beard so long that it touched the ground. He was so old that everyone spoke to him about anything they needed to know or complain about, for he knew everything! Neem feared being boycotted above everything else and for good reason too. Being boycotted was the most serious of all punishments, for you see in tree-world having no one to talk to meant spending hundreds of years of life completely alone with nowhere to go and nobody to share things with. It was the most dreadful punishment so, naturally, nobody ever got it and hence, most feared as nobody knew what might be the result of living in such isolation. Neem wasn’t planning on being the first one to experience that and so didn’t ask again out of fear. Our simple and kind Neem was a friendly social creature and wanted to be able to chat, more than his desire to walk.
Few seasons passed and there stood Neem still doing the usual. One fine day a little boy came and sat under the Neem tree. Our friendly Neem, unlike his friends, wasn’t the one to doubt, feel shy or get suspicious. So he said a friendly “Hello”. The boy didn’t respond and kept staring down at his browned legs, looking rather sad. Neem felt sorry for the boy and wanted to help so he tried again and asked “Who are you? Why are you sad?” Getting no response, Neem thought that the boy probably couldn’t hear him and tried again but louder this time. The boy didn’t answer. Neem, not the one to give up easily, then shook himself to shower leaves on the boy. The boy slowly held out his hand, then touched his hair to pick out the leaves that had fallen on them. He squinted twice and shook his head. Neem again showered him with leaves and this time the boy slowly looked up. With eyes big and wide and mouth to match, the boy blinked twice to see if some human was sitting atop the tree but found none. Neem asked again as loud as he could but the boy just looked at it with blank eyes.

Neem got sad and had given up just as a small foreign voice said ” I can hear you. My name is Abhay but everyone calls me Paglu” . Neem was overjoyed! It was the strangest sort of voice- sweet, gentle, soft but clearly audible. The boy began talking and Neem listened.

Paglu told Neem how he had always been different from others. He would often stop to hear what the other animals and trees were saying and converse with them. People now think he is crazy. His own family thinks he is making up stories or being naughty. Nobody believes him and nobody understands him. His friends were none and people had long stopped believing anything he told them. He grew lonely so set out for the woods outside his village. That’s where he saw the friendliest looking tree and came to sat under it.

Neem heard him patiently and told him that he isn’t mad, nor crazy. He is just different. They don’t believe him because they themselves can’t do what he could. People are so busy living that they have lost touch with other living beings. They no longer stop to look at a butterfly, see a bird’s flight or gaze at stars.

Neem told the boy about his own troubles about how he has been wanting to know why trees don’t move but fears isolation. The boy told him that he knows the reason. Neem couldn’t believe it. A stranger from other species knows it !! Will he get his answer that day? That too without getting boycotted for it. What a wonderful day!

The boy told Neem that trees can’t walk because they never tried.  Unless you try how would you know that you can’t do something?

They both talked for hours and became thick friends from that day on.
That was the day Neem got the answer to the question of his life. But it gave birth to another one- If he tried, will he be able to walk?

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