Sunday, October 26, 2008

The tamarind tree

Behind one of our favourite terrace cricket grounds, the one at the top of my building stood an old tamarind tree. The tree had it roots just outside our Society's boundary walls but its branches loaded with tantalising, ripe tamarinds or 'imlis' as we called them crossed well into our compound. Beneath the tree lay the tin roofs of the shanties which were just on the opposite side of the boundary walls. To aim for the 'imlis' was a risky venture as it involved the tossing of stones into the tree and making a quick run for it. The run was to ensure that when along with significant amounts of 'imli', the stones came clattering down on the tin roofs, there'd be no one in sight for the irate wives in that house to curse. If you asked us, we'd say that they ought not to complain as half of the 'imli' which was knocked out of the tree fell into our compound and half into theirs. We were only aiming for our half to savour its tangy taste with salt.

There'd be no trouble like that if we could be as agile as the langurs that popped up in the trees frequently. They'd relax regally on the branches having their fill of the 'imli' all the while gnashing their teeth at us. Our games of terrace cricket would continue in minor unease inspite of these highly unfriendly visitors. There was a clear understanding that we'd not climb into their trees (not that we had ever considered that) and they would not tramp around our cricket pitch while we were playing on it (an agreement which they'd break once in a blue moon and send us braveheart cricketers scurrying back to the safety of my flat just a floor below). The tree was also home to dozens of kites that had got their strings entangled in the branches of this tree at some point in history. Some were bare skeletons with the just the bamboo framework and the pale string on the verge of breaking sending them finally to the ground that they were headed for. The wind from the Narmada when strong in the evenings would tug at all these lost souls and play an orchestra of rustling paper and plastic. 

The tree was kind enough to even allow some pigeon to roost on it and it'd look so out of place on its branches. Of all the nature's creations that fly, the pigeon is something that looks more suited to a man made environment of buildings and statues than to a world of forests and flowers. Or maybe it's because this bird has ruined so many afternoon naps for me by entering into our kitchen and generating enough of a racket to stir me awake and cause me to chase it out of the flat in person, that I cannot associate it with anything as peaceful and beautiful as Nature. 

The swarms of mosquitoes that hovered above the tree as soon as darkness began to set in would indicate that the bad light conditions for our game of terrace cricket had been reached. We pals would hang around for 10-15 minutes discussing the important events of the day to come, mostly "Games" period at school or the upcoming challenge match with the slum dwellers who lived on the other side of the huge ground that lay behind our Society. The tree would listen to all of our talk and never join in, except by making the occasional bat fly above our heads with it's silhouette outlined against the moon. No wonder, the 'imlis' of the tree tasted so fine. They were probably full of the tangy sweet memories of those before who like us had discussed the finer points of their lives under its peaceful shadow.

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