The Gulmohar Tree

The Gulmohar Tree

The Universe gives, what you manifest”
Is it uniformly true?  For some it is how you manage the twist in your tale! 

The breeze swept her dupatta higher and she playfully brought it down, as the sun played its part -glistening her strands. No, she wasn’t a beauty per se, but she had her effect on people, and she knew it. Heads turned as she sauntered about from one stall to another carefully choosing her veggies. She was very clear on her choice. It was going to be only greens on her platter this Sunday, no other colour, not even to break the monotony on her plate. She never deviated from her plans. Never! Perhaps once was the only exception.

There was always a happy word or two for all those who went past her. She had been in the neighbourhood long enough to make friends and all loved her for her happy persona. Born to travelling parents, a cushy job in hand and an only child made her a very attractive proposal for many but somehow she seemed joyous in being single. And her parents were weary of asking her to make a decision. Her next stop was for her mother who loved potato wafers and she was going to give her a bagful to last for all the latest releases on Netflix.

It was a perfect Sunday midmorning as she went about doing her duties for the kitchen which was officially run by the family cook and unofficially controlled by the diva, herself. Amma had been with them since her birth and was almost a second mother, issuing ultimatums like her own, nagging over emptying the entire glass of milk or chiding her for drinking cuppas of hot tea, one too many. That was another kind of love and care for which she always was in gratitude.

As she checked her shopping list, she knew she’d have to come back in the evening again as most of the fresh spices and ingredients to be used in the biryani was going to arrive at the tiny spot, over there, near the broken bench. An old couple sold hand ground spices and she made it a point to buy from them whenever she adorned the chef’s cap. The aroma, she was convinced, the best only under this tiny canopy. She was rigid about her views. Didn’t deviate from them, at all, for the price of a change is heavy! She wasn’t fond of cooking until a few years back.

If you were to think her to be an able bodied, forward thinking, intelligent and caring girl. You’d be right. She was also, if one may want more details, a fast thinking, fiercely adaptive and deeply sensitive girl, highly unforgiving in her core!

Ah yes! How can one forget a bunch of those flowers? Flowers which had begun a special life. 

“What should I choose this time?  Some plain white roses, fragrant and fully bloomed with a solitary bright red bud in the middle. Making this choice needs special attention and special care. These flowers shall mark the beginning of the another year. 

An order was placed. She bought all fifty white roses. The little flower seller was amazed. Not many come along buying flowers like every day. He was even more happy because she did not fuss over the colour of ribbons or the paper. “Thank you Didi, these flowers will adorn your home beautifully,” he said beaming while bending to keep the money down in his make shift drawer.

Didi’s face smiled, her heart did not! She was happy, always happy to help, spending money buying from the poor. She was more than satisfied to fill his coffers. She wasn’t the type to be carried away by the mall or brand culture, she stood her ground when it came to basics and ethics. Her heart carried more than her face expressed.  Her heart was a what can be said, a box- a box of things that one could neither use nor throw away. The contents could never be revealed nor aborted. The memories were neither precious nor inexpensive. Yet her heart was a box with no mysteries, no secrets, just one plain simple truth.

But the bottom line was that she had spent money to make someone smile today.

She decided to take the longer route back home. That lonely stretch where the Gulmohars were in full bloom.

The speeding truck honked and she was just in time to get out of her reverie and the truck’s way. It was a firm hand that had gripped her. She was taken aback, not too much though. “Are you alright?” she could hear the words, repeatedly but why couldn’t she answer? Her mouth seemed stuck and her heart was racing but she was alright, wasn’t she? Of course , she was! She could see him, hear him and …. Smell him too- sweat, some strangely intimidating fragrance and his deep black questioning eyes. Flustered, she managed to pull herself up, out of his arms, pressed her dress down, putting away the unruly stresses all over her face. She managed a “Thank you so very much!”

Everything was alright now. She did not need reminding that she was on the wrong side of the road with her bags. Who is he anyway to talk extra? No textbooks told her that good Samaritans can chide as long as they liked! This is the problem with these men. Everyone wants to take control and become a protector. Mummy is right about Daddy. This is exactly what he does!  And in any case, this road never had traffic, only one odd truck would speed past. But he went on and on about what could have happened….

She was least interested in pursuing a conversation and her legs were already shaking. Her shoulder seemed numb and this man wouldn’t stop his lecture. He picked up her things and helped her sit on a mound under the shade of a Gulmohur tree.

She gathered herself and bade him good bye. He refused to let her walk alone. 

And that is how she never was alone the next three years. He was there to help her, pick her up, drop her back, shadow her, follow her till she gave in.

She gave herself into falling in love. Something that she was opposed to considering the horrifying things that she had heard. Of course there were rosy alibis too. The determination of the past, the strong notions about steering clear of love caused a brain smog comprising positive and negative thoughts. Gradually the conflict in her mind seemed to abate and she found herself drowning in love.

 Amma sensed something due to the alarming increase in tea consumption during holidays and she missed taking her lunch box, every other day. However, her own mother allayed the cook’s suspicions saying, “Youngsters have unpredictable appetites.” Amma had, sort of guessed but never questioned. It was one thing to consider someone a daughter and another thing to trespass the line.

The resentment for love stories came from the fact that her mother’s only sister had given up her life. Her aunt fell for a man who tortured her till her last day.  He confessed that he wanted her out of the way so he didn’t pay any attention to her changing moods until it was too late.

And this rogue was her school sweetheart!

Due to this untimely death, she had formed a strong view on love stories and especially the ones which started dramatically. Although her parents had the most beautiful bond of love and respect, it was her aunt’s life story which made her tread very carefully till, well, his arrival.

What was it that was making a shift in her paradigm now? Why was the one who believed that she would have nothing to do with men, slowly beginning to question her mind set? What was it about “him” that was making her pooh pooh her own belief system?

Her love story was supposed to be knitted well in warmth and glow. The stitches being tight enough to keep both sides together. He loved to cook so that is how her interest in cooking began. He was a trekker too, gone for weeks and then would resurface bringing all the mushiness of first love. They shared common interests in books and animals. NGOs were often initial sites for dates. And book 

cafes too. He wasn’t available all the time, though when he was, he was an attentive listener and a complete charmer. Flowers, cakes, books, and special local ingredients from his place of tours were constant gifts. She was in a happy space. She wanted to spread this happiness all around her.

Her father, a wonderful man, had infused in her, a positive attitude. She had imbibed the best qualities from him. Being ever helpful was a top trait. No wonder every person was touched by her availability all times to offer a helping hand. The canopy for the freshly ground spice shop was presented by her because a mere plastic wasn’t good enough. The mushroom seller’s daughter needed money to be able to afford her college picnic. And our girl was there to help out. These were her father’s genes and she was proud of them. She spearheaded a movement where all the extra food from their colony was distributed by her father and other male members of her colony, to the family of labourers in the construction area in the vicinity. 

Back in her office, she was one of the most sensible workers, fun at all times, no flirtatious relationship with anyone and willing to stay extra hours if needed. So what more could any boss ask for? She knew people loved her for all the joy and cheer she brought to the place where she worked and resided. From school, her achievements, in the form of medals and trophies were displayed in her living room. Not only brilliant but a righteous, matured and disciplined girl- her teachers used to tell her parents.

When she chose to be a chartered accountant, her family was happy. Innocent Amma was happy too, for she always knew this girl to be very good in counting money. Every trip of hers to the village had generous gifts for all at home. If there was one human being who had the blessings of everyone around her, it was She.

There were days when the young couple had lot of free time for themselves after weeks of separation. She secretly knew it was just a matter of time before he proposed. Her parents would be over the moon. They had no qualms about religion, caste or whatever as long as their daughter was in love. She had never brought him home, fearing the eves dropping neighbour and friends. He too could never take her home because of his parents, she thought.

From café dates, they shifted the venue to his friend’s bachelor pad. He was always perfect in his behaviour. He made no advances. She felt safe and secure. They had long chats about each other’s childhood, teenage years both pleasant and unpleasant, over cups of tea and biscuits. And many times as he cooked for her. 

During one such date, he mentioned about going to the Bahamas for a week followed by a trip to Singapore. She was excited and happy for him. The breeze in the balcony, the flaming red Gulmohar flowers and the solitude brought scenes of beaches floating to the room. Then arose a surge of emotions and as was natural, both got caught in the waves. Neither did she stop him and nor did he. It was the most beautiful feeling to give yourself to the one you trust, she said. He agreed or did he vaguely murmur? No she was wrong, he was happy too, although a little surprised at her willingness. They wouldn’t be meeting this weekend and not for the next one or maybe two months as lot of things were to completed upon his return. She was a practical girl, not the demanding kinds or the nagging kinds.

 Amma had returned from her village with gossips galore. Work was heavy on her office front this month and of course her Sunday Biryani followed by green veggies were her therapeutic sessions.  Deadlines to be met meant fewer coffee breaks, pushing herself to the limits was making her unwell. The office staff had brought food from outside and two of them fell sick. Her junior had an upset stomach and she was on a vomiting spree. So the joke was on them. They were twenty seven in the office but  the bacteria chose to love  only those two. 

More than a month had passed and she was waiting for him to return. None of the two were the WhatsApp or video call types so that was never an option. Amma’s concern over her health was beginning to irritate both her and the Parents. 

All three sighed secretly and silently! Blessed are those who have caring people around them.

He called to say he was back and that he had to meet her. She smiled at the thought. Both met under the same Gulmohar tree. The season of these flowers always added charm, and more promises to life.

He gifted her a shirt and a bag of spices.

She gifted him her lab report.

His face fell. Those deep eyes turned hostile and his smile was gone!

She murmured, trying to say something, he yelled –having plenty to say! “What is this? What the hell is this? 

She whispered taken aback, even she didn’t know…since it was her first time…

“First time, eh? Oh Really? Please for God’s sake……. Don’t talk about first and tenth time, don’t give me that nonsense!

“What are you implying? I don’t understand.” It was her turn to talk and she did gently.

“I wasn’t here for months, How the hell is it supposed to be mine? 

“Don’t say that please! You know I love you, we love one another, it is untimely, I understand but we can talk about it and resolve the matter. Or you could meet my parents and……” She was sobbing. 

Gentle random winds carried stray Gulmohar flowers to her lap and shoulders.

“Meet your parents for what? Say what?

 A broken twig fell on her lap.

“We could, we could announce an engage…. ment,”

 The winds grew stronger ….

“Shut up, you! Heavens, No! Don’t tell me you never guessed it?” The winds gained pace.

She was hurting, crying louder, her words were muffled, “Guess what? 

I am married! My wife is pregnant! We went to the Bahamas for a babymoon. I am going to be father after years!

The earth shifted under her feet, she could hear rumbles of the sea waves in the Bahamas, her head was spinning.

Married… wife… pregnant! The words were reverberating and becoming louder and louder…… The branches of the Gulmohar began to sway as if a dance for the aggrieved party had begun.

“Do you know what my wife will do if she finds out? Can you even gauge the pain it will cause her? A pregnant woman needs love and care not shocks. “

“I beg of you”, she whined like a puppy.

“GO AWAY!”  he roared.

Her head stopped reeling! She found her voice at last. She wasn’t going to take this filthy behaviour from him.

“Oh Really? A pregnant wife needs care?  You suddenly recall that you are married?” She was laughing hysterically! Her arms clapping, dress flying in the strong winds, she was choking, sobbing and laughing all at the same time. Dust and solitary petals were flying in the ensuing storm

“Why didn’t you tell me?  You cheat! Why? Why did u fool me? She lunged forward screaming indignantly.

“Fool you?” He shoved her throwing her off balance.” Just because someone extends his arms to save you from an accident ……… I SHOULD HAVE NEVER SAVED YOU! “His voice was booming, “And you begin meet him regularly need not necessarily lead to such a careless situation. It is your doing! Did I force myself on you?” He barked. 

“How dare you… how dare you,” she trembled getting up.  “Why didn’t you tell me that you were married? WHY DID YOU START TO SEE ME ? Why the flowers, the meetings and spending time with each other?” She was overwrought 

The Gulmohar tree seem to come crashing down upon her!

Did u ask me, eh? Did I meet you every single day?” Regular couples meet daily; they go out every day. Is it my mistake if love and marriage was in your head?” he argued back heatedly, perspiring and scratching his brow. “And flowers? Oh come on, THEY ARE GIFTED TO THE GRAVES TOO!”

She cut him short in an uncontrollable pleading voice,” But what will we do now?” 

“We? I really don’t know what you will do now!”

Bombarding her, he started walking backwards from the mound towards the road.

“Listen, please!”  She was crying…She was feeling helpless. This shock was unexpected.

“Just lay off, he warned menacingly as he stepped onto the road. The sound of a racing truck almost covered the next part of his sentence, “Remember, I love my wife, love is kept aside for the right pers………”

She heard his words almost incoherently but she heard his scream quite audibly as the truck went over him.

Blood splattered, he lay on the road, she stood at the side like a statue. There was no one around. This was a road rarely used except by an odd speeding truck once in a way.

She walked up to him. She was in a transition mode from that of intense agitation to the basics of tranquillity.

He raised his arm towards her, seeking help. His voice played in her mind, “I SHOULD HAVE NEVER SAVED YOU …….” She observed him with zero feelings.

His single intact eye was dripping blood in the eye lashes, he was inaudible, his face softened like a helpless deer stuck in quick sand expecting a saviour to reach.

A replay of his dialogue went inside her head, “GO AWAY!”

He tried to drag himself with whatever was left of him. He tried to reach out to her dress.

Her head spoke his last words, “Love is kept aside for the right person.” She took a step back, making his reach unsuccessful.

As the minutes ticked by, she viewed his imploring eye with disdain.

And as his breaths ebbed away, hers came back. 

She sighed, looked up at the Gulmohar tree in relief. It had quietened down. It stood, lifeless, not a leaf nor flower moved as she walked back with her report. 

 She walked back home.

She walked back to reality.

She walked back to her life.

“Flowers are gifted to the grave too,” Samiksha whispered those very casual words, loud and clear as she placed the bouquet of “fifty white roses with a solitary red bud in the middle” at Sebastian’s grave.
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