Radha hopped and skipped, balancing herself with outstretched hands, making her way through the shallow stream. The tingling sensation of water below her bare feet made her squeal in happiness. The cool breeze running through her hair and touching her skin made her feel vivacious.
“Shyammm, oo..shyam, have you grown old? Why aren’t you able to catch up?”
She screamed with a gleam in her eyes and a naughty smile forming at her lips, as she fastened her pace. Running through the forest to the other side of their village to meet their dear friend Bannu, was a daily affair.
After finishing work at the fields with Appa, Shyam would run over to Radha’s hut and would call out for her – “Radha, O Radha, come let’s go. We don’t have too long. We have to get back before it gets dark”.
Radha who would be waiting to hear Shyam, would come dashing out of her little hut and without wasting a moment would head for the road.
“Oye… wait for me…why do you go dashing like a bull? You need to learn some patience!”
Shyam would retort as he starts to run behind Radha to catch up. Sprinting across the fields, into the forest laughing, giggling, screaming and throwing bits of pebbles, leaves, flowers at each other, the two friends make their way to the other side.
Bannu had no friend other than Shyam and Radha. He had known them for as long as he could remember. The day he had opened his eyes, he had seen two pairs of eyes peering back at him in amusement. And from that day on, no one has been able to separate these three friends.
Bannu would wait every day to meet his friends. The tinkling sound of the tiny bells on Radha’s feet would reach Bannu through the quiet forest and his heart would leap in anticipation to the moments ahead. The sight of them dashing through the forest towards him would fill him with excitement that knew no bounds.
The three of them would embrace in a warm hug before settling down to discuss about everything and pour their hearts out. Bannu took great pleasure hearing Radha and Shyam share their stories of the day in a funny animated way. He admired their vibrance and was always in awe of them. He took great pride in this friendship. Time seemed to be in a rush with the trio engrossed in talks. The otherwise beautiful view of the setting sun, brought in nothing but disappointment, as Radha and Shyam prepared to head back home. Hugging Bannu and promising to meet again the next day, the duo would resume their journey back to their little huts on the other side of the forest. Bannu would listen through the woods to the extent that he can, to the diminishing sound of Radha’s anklets, until it was completely gone. He would then start to prepare for the night with memories of his friends dancing in front of his eyes.
The Kingdom of Mysore was seen expanding under the Wadiyar empire. People seemed busy as businesses started to flourish. News of happy and wealthy subjects spread through the kingdom. The air smelt sweet with hopes and aspirations of people. Festivals were celebrated with a lot of pomp and splendor. Marriages were blessed with the presence of royalty.
Amidst all this flourished the friendship of Bannu, Radha and Shyaam. Years had gone by and the three friends had grown. Bannu being the youngest had grown to be the tallest and was always made fun of, as his growth did not seem to stop. Radha had grown into a fine young woman and Shyaam into a desirable bachelor.
Marriage talks were making their way in and out of these youngsters’ homes. With proposals coming from everywhere, the latest conversation of the trio was around the same. Bannu was clearly aware of the love blooming in the hearts of his dear friends. While they refused to acknowledge the same, it shone in their eyes and their actions. Bannu was happy to see their love blossom, for it meant having them together for life.
One afternoon, Shyam calls out to Radha – “Radha, o Radha, listen, I have to go out with Appa for some work. I will join you at Bannu’s soon. You go safe and I will reach in no time”.
Radha rushes out of her hut and sees Shyam hurrying off.
“He seems to be in a hurry all the time these days. He does not even look at me properly”. Radha mutters to herself as she finishes plaiting the rest of her hair and swings it vigorously, the plaited pile of frustration landing on her back.
She looks at herself in the reflection of the water, a lotus smiling back at her. Radha places the bright red bindi on her forehead, pressing it in place and heads off to meet Bannu.
“No one listens to me better than my Bannu”, she thinks to herself and throws a pebble into the stream before she starts jumping and hopping her way as usual through the stream. She quickens her footsteps to reach Bannu as soon as possible to pour her heart out before Shyam reaches.
Bannu hears the distant sound of anklets and knows his friends are soon to reach. As the sound gets closer, he expects Radha to come running in her usual excitement. But today, there seemed to be some tension in her walk. She had her energy, but it was loaded with confusion and irritation.
The dirt from under her feet was flying all around with each step. The small pebbles were being kicked around making tiny sounds as they collided against each other. As she reached, she looked lost in her thoughts, fiddling with the end of her saree and exasperated with that strand of hair which refused to get tucked behind her ear.
Finally, she looks up at Bannu with teary eyes “Bannu, Shyam is such a dolt! How is it that he can’t understand my feelings? I have made my love for him obvious in multiple occasions, but he refuses to notice! Is it right for a girl to initiate such discussions? I have been waiting for him to broach this topic and have been dreaming of my life with him. But he seems to be content with his Appa. His Appa calls and he is gone! He does not need me and here I am dreaming about becoming his wife. I worry if he has any feelings for me at all. What he feels for me is probably no different from what he feels for you, just a friend and nothing more. I wonder if I should accept one of the proposals that my Amma brings me and be content with it!”
Radha lowers her head and tries to swallow up all the tears as she is engulfed by a wave of sorrow. Lost in her thoughts she slumps onto the ground.
“Love between us does not have to be explicitly mentioned my Radha”– Shyam, who had overheard the conversation, said. He cupped Radha’s beautiful face in the palm of his hands, lifted her face and wiped away her tears. “You are not just my friend, but my soul mate. We will live this life hand in hand as friends and as lovers”, Shyam said. It was a joyful moment for the three friends. This friendship was to last forever. Bannu was happy to see his friends express their love for each other and prayed for them to get married soon. He could not wait for the day, when he no longer had to worry about losing his friends!
Storms and rains had made it impossible for the friends to meet. Bannu waited for it to end soon. The turbulent weather sent up a swirl of negative thoughts through him. The word of a waging war had spread through the kingdom. It could be far worse than what the kingdom had seen so far. Bannu was worried for his friends. He had not met them for a fortnight now. The last conversation they had was all about Shyam and Radha’s wedding plans. They had all been very excited with the day getting closer. But now, with the heavy storms, the wedding plans will probably have to be pushed.
Bannu woke up from his sleep. He saw the silhouette of a person standing in front of him. As he cleared and adjusted his vision, he was delighted to see Radha. He sighed a sense of relief knowing she was fine! He had been worried all these days and now to see her in front of his eyes was a treat to his soul. While his heart jumped uncontrollably out of joy, his mind was trying to make sense out of all that it saw. The moon was still covered by the fierce looking clouds. The rains continued to lash out at everything within their reach. Streaks of lightning threatened the night. A loud thunder shook the entire earth and Bannu realized it was too late in the night for Radha or Shyam to come over to his village and meet him. What was happening? There were many thoughts crossing his mind, when he heard Radha.
The sound of the rain was draining her sobs. Radha was crying hysterically. “Bannu, Shyam is no more. Shyam is no more Bannu! That wretched war took his life” Radha said, her voice quavering with pain. She was completely drenched in the rain and was trembling like a leaf. “I had told him not to go, but he would not listen. How will I live now?”, Radha cried out loud her wails echoing through the forest. “I know Shyam would have wanted me to be strong, but I just can’t live anymore Bannu”
The storm had stopped, leaving behind a deep void. Shyam was no more? Bannu could not believe all that he was hearing. How he wished for it to be a nightmare. But the more he saw Radha stand in front of him and weep, he realized the nightmare was for real. His friend Shyam was no more. He would never get to see him and did not get a chance to bid him goodbye. Memories of their beautiful warm days flooded his head, only this time making him feel week.
“I am leaving Bannu. Wanted to meet you one last time”, Radha said wiping away her tears, to gather herself back. As she wrapped her arms around Bannu, her body felt damp and lifeless. Her soul seemed to have departed, leaving behind flesh and bones. One last look at Bannu and Radha started to walk away.
As she walked her anklets no longer had the life that they otherwise had. Bannu could feel something horrible was about to happen. He had a sudden feeling that he was never going to meet Radha again. He wanted to stop her and console her. He wanted to hug her back and tell her what she meant to him. He wanted to run behind her and stop her from doing anything stupid. He did not want to lose his other friend as well. He wanted to comfort her. He wanted to scream and cry. He wanted the hands of his friends to comfort him like the way they had done always. He wanted to feel their warmth, just like when they would sit with him.
He was filled with lot of emotions, but Alas, what could he do? He was after all only a Tree! A Banyan tree, lovingly named Bannu, by his dear friends. Rooted to the ground, helpless, he watched his friend disappear into the night.
Days, months and years melted into each other. Bannu had stood through it all. Kings changed, from the Wadiyar’s to the Sultans to the Britishers, Bannu lived through it all. Times changed but Bannu’s heart held the image of his friends, Radha and Shyam. At every sound of an Anklet, his heart felt hopeful. Every couple who took shade under his tree reminded him of his friends. Every storm reminded him of that fateful night. One more glimpse, just one more glimpse, was all he wished for.
300 years passed since. Bannu stood there, amazing people from all over. People often looked at him and were amazed by the magnificence and the centuries that he had survived. As word spread, many people travelled from all around just to get a glimpse of Bannu. “Celebrity Tree” they would say.
Bannu was used to the crowd. He was always surrounded by people. But none of them thought of him as anything but a tree. With age taking over, Bannu preferred to hibernate as much as he could. This helped him keep his mind calm and away from the hustle bustle. here was nothing to stay awake for anyways. All he prayed was for his soul to be free. Free enough for him to join his friends.
A tender touch woke him up. He felt the softness and warmth of the skin brushing over his rugged trunk. There was nothing unusual about the situation, as Bannu had experienced a lot more, with people leaning over him, excited kids scrambling all over him, couples hugging him and etching him with marks of eternal love. But this time, he felt something familiar about this touch. His mind was trying to unravel this but had lost its agility to present him with immediate conclusions. He tried to go back to his sleep, but there was a sensation running through him which made him restless. His body detected something which his mind was unable to comprehend.
A feeling of hope and disappointment swept through him like waves, confusing him. He felt he was on the verge of understanding the familiarity but was disappointed at the failure in doing so. What was it? He tried to dig through 300 years of his life with the restlessness within him increasing.
“Honey, look, he is so beautiful, isn’t he?” She ran her hands on Bannu and stood transfixed for a while.
“I feel so connected. My soul feels light and happy. I feel strangely liberated! Feels like I have been here before”, she said and called out to her partner to come and join her. As the couple stood there on either side of Bannu, hands around him, trying to get a perfect pose for their picture, Bannu felt his restlessness melt away. He felt his soul freed from the grasp of a storm. His heart pounded within him, not with fear or worry, but like a Tabla sending out vibrations, filled with the music of love.
3 friends united after 300 years!
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