Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Let it be…….

There’s a neem tree outside my house. You wouldn’t think this of it as you see it tower majestically over almost all the other tree in the lane, with its rather incongruously pretty mane of pale-green arrow-shaped leaves but it’s an unassuming tree. Except for the first few years after my dad planted it as a tiny sapling and watered it lovingly to its current glory, it has stood there pretty much minding its own business, not asking for much – attention or water or anything. We only notice it seasonally. A few weeks in winter when it sheds its all leaves in thick, raspy, mud-coloured snowdrifts and then covers itself rather coyly in beautiful glossy pink little leaf-lets that giggle prettily in the sun. Then in summer around Ugadi (our New Year) when we jealously guard it from passersby who come to divest it of its leaves - now neem-green and waxy-shining - and for its tiny, creamy white flowers that you are supposed to eat with jaggery (bevu-bella) on Ugadi day to remind you that life is a bittersweet affair. And finally just before the rains, when the tiny cream blossoms, now grown up to fat, green fruit like green berries, lure a whole host of birds including gaggles of parrots who noisily visit the tree, bickering about who gets the choicest pick and covering the ground near my gate with indigo-black guano like some strange organic ink-blots.
For the rest of the time, the neem tree mostly keeps to itself, not even asking to be watered. A few months ago I noticed that termites has started to cover its trunk like warty mud snakes. I dimly remembered that termites were the death knell for anything wooden and getting rid of them became an obsession. I was damned if I was going to let some termite army get at my dad’s tree. I tried everything. I poked open the “snakes” manically every morning with a stick, even though I’d be half-blinded by the debris of mud-covered termite (Or is it termite-covered mud?) I desperately rained bucketfuls of water on them. (Which was rather fun as the mud came down in thick rivulets choked with half-drowned termites…) But still the snakes came and by the dint of some hideous termite magic, every morning there’d be a new insidious termite-mud snake on the tree. It was when the snakes started climbing out of reach into the branches that I gave up. My mother tried to console me. All the trees are covered with them she said, as if that was a consolation. I became a tree-termite census taker. What my mum said was true - lmost all the trees in neighbourhood had those hideous mud snakes. But so what? It didn’t make the fact that my neem tree was infected any less horrible. I continued to scour for newer, more terrible weapons against the mud-snake pestilence. Someone suggested choona mixed in water, another said turmeric worked like magic, yet another talked about making a decoction of tobacco leaves in boiling water. I tried all of them and watched helplessly as the snakes took over my tree….

Then one day, I went to my dad’s bank. When he died two years ago, amongst all his financial investments left in meticulously documented and updated condition was one fixed deposit. Mysteriously incomplete, because it did not have any nomination. Which meant that until we either found some record of a nomination made by my dad, the deposit could not be transferred to me or my mum and the money would lie locked in the bank - a dead investment. It was just 20,000 rupees but it niggled. The bank and I patiently went down its trail, tracing each renewal to the previous and that one to its ancestor. But the trail stopped suddenly; cold, scentless, barren of clues. I turned the house upside down, scouring every scrap of paper because it bothered me that a perfectionist like my dad could have thus blotted his copybook. There had to be something, somewhere…. The bank manager for some strange reason seemed to share at least half my enthusiasm and hunted with equal fervour. But it was no use, we both separately hit an unrelenting, mysteriously silent dead end. Exhausted, I gave up and had almost forgotten about it for six months….
Till that day. I had gone to the bank to renew some other deposits that had matured. The bank manger – and my co-hunter- reminded me about the left over FD. I remembered but I was puzzled. Because I didn’t have anymore FD’s left to renew. So where could this one have gone? Absentmindedly I rifled through the lot that I had just handed over for renewal. And there it was, with the manager’s damning remarks at the back. I gave it to him. This can’t be it, he said, because this has already been transferred to your name. This is the one, I insisted, look at your own handwriting at the back. It can’t be, he said, a little more firmly, because… I know, I know I thought, this one has been transferred to my name and that one couldn’t…. But I continued to insist, now bleating like a desperate sheep. Finally, fixing me with a gimlet gaze, he flipped the FD over and looked at it. If bank managers were allowed to balk this is how they’d be trained to do it. He obviously recognized the writing and the FD. Quickly he started accessing stuff in his computer, refusing to look at me for a long time, checking and rechecking. Finally, if bank mangers are allowed to gulp nervously, he gulped. “This is the one and it has been transferred to your name.” How could that happen, I squeaked with incredulous joy. I don’t know but it’s been done by someone else not me, he said, wanting to clear his slate and pointing at the signature. It could’ve have Michael Jackson’s signature and I wouldn’t have known any better or cared. All that mattered is that the dratted thing had cleared itself up, just like that. I came home joyously and told Mum the news…
The next morning, I stood by the neem tree, the memory of the magical FD fading at the sight of the mud-snakes. Suddenly a shower of something fell on my head. I looked up. Nothing. I walked away and came back with a bucket of water. Maybe watering would help to drown the mud-snakes. As I bent to pour the water, suddenly another shower of that something. I looked up again. And this time I saw it. A squirrel, frantically nibbling away at the mud-snakes, termites and all. I could hardly believe my eyes. I went rushing into the house to check with if squirrels were bonafide vegetarians. And then stopped to think….who cares? What mattered is that the mud-snakes were clearing up. Just like that. Just like that FD…..
Right now, the roof of our house in crumbling away. We have to get it fixed but we have been putting it off, the prospect of living covered in concrete-‘n-cement rubble and/or being swindled by unscrupulous contractors so daunting that my mother even went so far as to tell me, “So what if we put it off? The neighbours did till the rain started coming in through the roof and they had to collect in uckets….”Me, I’m just hoping that one fine morning, we’ll wake up and find the roof fixed – just like that. Like the FD and the mud-snakes……