Sometimes he wished the legends surrounding him were true. That there indeed were white-clothed spooks who would chatter away on his branches on full-moon nights. Perhaps some of them would hum a song or two and bells would jingle in the distant horizon. As things stood, the old peepal tree had almost resigned himself to his sad fate of long, lonely days and nights that denied him rest.
When he had been younger, the hustle bustle of the Kalka Colony street fascinated him no end. He was the proud resident of one of South Delhi’s poshest streets and stood beaming in a roadside corner, his outstretched arms lapping up the winds. There was a sprawling college playground just behind him and potted plants looked on in awe as he stood in all his majesty. When the morning sun rose, his jade-green foliage would devour the sunshine and sing in the new day.
The little boy who lived in the maroon house would walk down the stairs with his grandfather and stand in his shade, waiting for the school bus. Employees of Mehta and Sons garage would bring down the shutters and dust the cars inside. Their good wives would occasionally tie holy threads around his stem. Some came with golden dupattas. The panipuri walas, who had set shop in his shade, would start peddling their snacks to anyone who walked by. When afternoon came, they would spread out a red mattress and sit down for lunch. He could still remember – well, almost – the distinct aroma of the aloo ki sabji and chawal that they would eat. But like everything else that the passing years had taken away from him, his memories too seemed to be dulling with time.
Mehta and Sons was now a large-scale automobile repair place – and a large-scale menace for his ageing lungs. Smoke and grime were now perennial, compounded by the gases that the zooming cars seemed to deliberately spray in his face. The playground had long ceased to be, now replaced by a glass-building that saw legions of people go in and out with polythene-bags all day. Several of them discarded the transparent things all around his home and the vile bags would jump about, refusing to leave him alone.
The boy was nowhere in sight. He had probably passed out of school and gone to some other country that had green pastures and dainty farmhouses. He often wondered what stopped the residents of Kalka Colony from planting some trees along the length of the street. Together with the young plants, he could help clean the air. If nothing more, the rants and ravings that sounded in his shade would end. We don’t get rain. The daughter has a breathing problem. I wish winters would stop bringing smog. The peepal was distressed whenever he heard people crib. Gone were the innocent lunches and the sleepy afternoons. Gone, for good.
Lately, a little blue bird sometimes comes and sits on one of his twigs. She has a delicate singing voice and is deft with her beak. Already she has brought to him a large assortment of leaves, pebbles and pieces of bark. Every morning now, whenever the noise and the fumes get too much to bear, the peepal steals a sleepy glance at the nest-in-the-making. Shortly he is sure, there will be blue birdlings squeaking and squealing his slumber away.
* written as a part of Ek Titli’s Green-o-Con
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