It was that sensitive time in the history of the world’s flora and fauna when the mighty dinosaurs had breathed their last but the giant mammoths hadn’t taken their first step.
In the little lake-side resort, it was celebration-time. Some of the birds, dressed in their finest plumes, were throwing ‘Goodbye Monster!’ parties. As for the plants, they were breathing in as much of the tranquility as they could. Yes, there were a few rebels, who went about lamenting the complete lack of predation. These plants, coloured in various shades of the then fashionable amber-green, debated that fighting for survival had an excitement of its own. They made a big show out of tearing their kids’ ‘Combat the Dino’ notebooks. But on the whole, the lake was pleased as punch.
The festival season had hardly ended when one fine summer morning, arrived the Malvaceae “Cotton” family. They were huge, erect plants – the ball-like rolls attached to their branches shaking as they muttered a stolid greeting. Before night could fall, they had taken firm standing in a secluded portion of the resort, too far away from the other inhabitants to be called neighbours. Conifer shrugged his shoulders; the flowering plant made up her mind to try her graces and hues on the sturdy creatures whenever she got the chance.
Weeks went by and the curiosity about the Cottons kept rising. The flowering plant’s youth notwithstanding, there was no change in the reticent behaviour of the Cottons. They kept themselves to themselves, refusing to accept any interference from the society. Such indifference was a major ego-blow for the vain lake-beings and they had started being defensive about allowing such non-flattering neighbours to remain. Following an eerie tale shared by the Fern about the disappearance of the young birdling who had last been spotted – naively – in the Cottons’ premises, the inhabitants decided to hold a conclave.
“I believe,” announced the Ginkgos, “that they are dino spies. Sent by the dinos to keep track of us till they return.”
The moon was playful that night, sending down a sudden rim of light. Fern jumped out of his skin. “So you mean the dinos intend to return? In that case, you can never be sure – the Cottons’ may be very, very dangerous!”
“It’s too bad.” announced the flowering plant. “I have even had my nails softened knowing I will never have to use them for self-defence again.”
“Look,” said the Conifer, ignoring the groans from the bimbette, “I believe Ginkgos is right. The very structure of the Cottons is a dead give-away. Who goes about with balls like that? The Lord save us from whatever they contain!”
The fish in the lake had now come ashore, their attention locked. “Let’s launch an attack.” they heard the inhabitants say. “We’ll set these devils right!”
Early the next day, the lake-side inhabitants arrived at the Cotton premises. While the birds flew, the plants used their tendrils and extensible branches to travel. Once together, they started hurling abuses.
“Get out of our resort oh ugly ones!” screamed the birds.
“We know you are the dino spies!” shouted Ginkgos.
“We don’t keep losers like you!” the fish put in, from the safety of the water.
Conifer, braver than the rest, managed to pelt a large boulder at the Cottons’ stem. “That should teach you a lesson, you devil!”
The stone made a huge dent in the large, Grandfather Cotton. Shaken beyond belief, he put together all his energy to let out a bloodcurdling growl. For a moment it seemed all was still. The inhabitants stood rooted, petrified by the scream. Grandfather filled in the silence.
“You creatures have the audacity to abuse the Cottons? Just because we are not social butterflies like you doesn’t give you the liberty to form any baseless assumption.”
An adjacent Cotton, probably a son, rustled. “Grandfather has a broken leg. Entirely because of your horrendous behaviour. This will not be excused. Listen well, this will not be excused!”
“Let it be son. We are not ruthless like them. I am hurt beyond measure and refuse to stay for a second more where there is no appreciation for our presence.” Grandfather”s voice was now pained.
“As you say Sir,” nodded the son, “but we’ll give them a little something for their hospitality.”
While the inhabitants looked on dazed, there was a loud clicking sound from all the Cottons. Right in front of their unblinking eyes, in what would have been a spectacle had it not been so perilous, huge white masses emerged from the balls. In a snowfall of sorts, the white mass got entangled with the Fern, went down the Conifer’s throat, formed an icy layer above the naughty fish. In a matter of seconds, the air was all-white and the creatures all unconscious.
When sense returned to the lake-side resort, the Cottons were nowhere to be seen. The land where they had stood was charred a hideous shade of black.
The Cottons re-appeared many years later, none of their former glory lost. But this time around, they were a cherished treat. They were cultivated with all the love and care they had lost out on in the previous birth and their fabric was made into colourful, comfortable clothes that could be worn by all.
Grandfather’s leg is now healed and he is a hale and hearty old man. He still enjoys a good-old cotton flood and makes sure the seeds pop to coincide with the harvest time. His laughter is the loudest of all when little kids run about collecting the cotton fallen in parks or floating in mid-air.
There’s a Cotton family near my house – and yes, they are still rather taciturn. Almost every day now I get to walk on cottony pavements. I smile to myself often, enjoying the snow-like feel of the white fluff. I wonder how many people realize when they look up at a cotton tree, the kind of traumatic journey over the ages they have had.