A ‘Tender’ Tale | Nandini Ganesh
There is truth in that change which unfolds gracefully from the changeless
I looked at the sky for the first time over 50 years ago. A clear blue sky gazed towards my gradually expanding branches and roots trying to stabilize themselves below. It was a time when the gush of the wind was louder than the cacophony of honks. A time when light blessed us in abundance, as compared to now, when dark patches of tall buildings fell heavily in the way of our energizing rays.
I was growing old now, watching, often gawking at all the incredulous activities humans did over the years. I brood over the future of this planet, about my fellow trees, the quality and tranquility of their lives. Humans, few and far in between all these years of my existence, have been caring and sensitive towards our community. The man who sold tender coconuts in my shade every summer, was one of them. I named him, ‘Coco.’
Coco and I struck a friendship almost instantly. He has been making a livelihood from his tender coconut sales for decades now. He fondly addressed me as ‘Gul’, riding towards me every morning from March to June with an enthused fervor. Coco was my special human and I, his special tree. We were a close-knit family of several species; Coco, squirrels, pigeons, crows, bees and I, Gul. We coexisted. And coexisting to us meant sharing our resources efficiently, enriching each other’s lives and not losing sense of our Self. Throughout the day, squirrels would be frolicking in and around my ever extending arms, which by now, were reaching across the width of the road. I was their playground and home, and they entertained me with their presence. They were harbingers, keeping up to date with happenings in our ecosystem. Summer meant a buzz of activities in the neighbourhood. Bees and birds merrily bustling about, kids grasping at leaves during recess and the happy smell of melting ice-cream. Coco found us amusing; he would gaze at us between sales. He often reminded me of how blessed he felt to have built his shop, his home, in the shade I provided.
All day I watched, as cars, buses and trucks plummeted fiercely across the road. What stressful lives they lead, I wondered. Ours was slower, more ‘grounded’ and felt more meaningful, especially when Coco reposes in the late afternoons or when a bird brings friends to her nest.
One morning in mid-April, Coco rode his bicycle approaching me with dullness in his face and his usual beat lacking in his stride.
“What bothers you this bright morning Coco?” I enquired.
He looked at me, and with a sigh, said, “Sales aren’t going to be too well today Gul”
I wondered what could possibly be a reason for the downfall. Surely, everyone would want to relish the sweetness of what filled those hard shells? Turns out, there were other ways by which people were quenching their thirst.
“A new eatery serving snacks and soft drinks has opened up at the corner of this road as part of a summer camp. A lot of our regulars are in there, enjoying their bottled drinks” Coco continued sadly.
I always believed humans were a bit strange, and this news affirmed that belief. The choices they made were surprising. They extract and exploit to their pleasure from the natural world, add in their ‘agents’, brew a convincing concoction, and at most times, have a detrimental effect on the very source. Coco bore a sullen look the entire morning, and I could only stand tall above him, being a companion in his silence and the blistering heat.
“They will come Coco, have patience” I said after many hours of silence.
And they did. Deep into the afternoon, a tired family in a car stopped by. Delighted to serve them, Coco pulled out his knife, swiftly pierced into the shells and handed over two tender coconuts. He struck up a conversation with them about how most people opted for more sugary, unnatural drinks these days. A member of the family empathized with Coco, explaining to him that’s just the way things went, and that our bodies and the natural world constantly respond to our actions in subtle ways. Sooner or later, he said, we would be made to feel the impact of our choices.
We watched with a satisfactory smile as the family was visibly rejuvenated after emptying the contents of the drupe.
The months that followed saw a steady influx of people, although we were never reaching the numbers we did before the commercialization of our area.
In the middle of June, temperatures began to drop slightly, as monsoon approached. I was less ornamented, with my red flowers beginning to fall. The winds picked up speed and brushed my leaves tenderly in the evenings. Petrichor wafted through the air, now less drenched with moisture. Transitions in nature reflected in the everyday life of the inhabitants of this planet. Mostly the changes are nuanced and between the lines, but they had deeper impacts on the transforming lifestyles.
Change… is bittersweet. Soon Coco would wrap up his contents and walk on to do different chores in different seasons to earn his bread. Soon he would say goodbye, and I would see him only next summer. As long as Coco was here, no human dare dirty his home. No plastic thrown, no spitting. But when he was gone, home became an easier target. The home he cared for so much and valued greatly would be turned into a garbage bin by ignorant humans. This was common behaviour, as unnatural and cruel as it was. Coco had an innate sense of sanitation which perhaps stemmed from his diligence and sincerity in work. He would get angry every time he witnessed a lack of cleanliness. It made me sad too, but my spirits are not easily dampened. My hope and resilience to keep growing have allowed me to survive the adversities of this world, dominated by human ego.
The last time Coco spent in my shade that year, he made four sales the whole day. As he sat on his cycle, about to pedal off into the sunset, he looked at me with a longing in his face and said, “Until next year Gul. Enjoy the rains.”
I felt the longing too. Waving my branches and ruffling my leaves, I said,
“Always remember Coco. Patience is rewarding. Life is seasonal, much like summer.”
Written by Nandini Ganesh