Chennai Express pulled into platform number one at the Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. M.G. Ramachandran Central Railway Station. Anand got down with the bags and helped his wife Kamakshi and son Vishal get off the train.
"Appa, you promised me you will buy me Tinkle", said Vishal.
"Yes, we need to walk to the front, come on", replied Anand.
Anand with the bags and Vishal holding his mother's hand walked all the way to the front and on the left-hand side of the platform, Anand saw the Higginbothams book store. They walked towards it and soon Vishal got his share of comic books. They walked outside, ignored the tricky auto-drivers convincing every person who comes out to get into their vehicle, and went for the pre-paid auto stand. After five minutes they were on the way to Anand's ancestral home. As they neared his home, Anand pointed out with excitement at a tea shop and told his son "That is where I and my friends hang out during our College days".The smile on his face didn't last long. He soon experienced Saudade for those good old days.
Anand works as a conservation officer at the archaeology department in Mumbai. He has been living there with his family for eight years now but he doesn't miss any chance he gets to visit his hometown. This visit is a very short one. He had come for one of his cousin's wedding, about to happen in three days. He will be leaving for Mumbai the same night. As they stepped out of the auto-rickshaw, Anand saw his father Kannan watering the plants in their garden. Vishal ran towards him "Thaatha", he shouted overjoyed and gave him a hug."You have grown up a little", Kannan said with a big smile ruffling Vishal's hair. Anand looked around. Nothing has changed in the past year except for some new additions to the innumerable flower pots, which Kannan takes care of with so much attention. Anand's mother Sathya loved trees and plants. After her demise, Kannan took to caring for them, and now he is obsessed with it. It made him feel closely connected to her memories.
"Anand, Kamakshi, come on in and freshen up. I will make breakfast", said Kannan.
"Selvi Amma is not here today?", inquired Kamakshi about his help.
"No, she is sick and has taken off for a few days".
"I will help you Appa. Anand why don't you help Vishal get ready".
Breakfast was done and everybody sat around in the living room. Vishal's head was buried in a comic book."When are the relatives coming?", asked Anand.
"Your uncle has booked rooms near the marriage hall. So I doubt if anybody will be coming here. We will all be going there tomorrow morning anyways.", said Kannan.
After a little small talk, Anand left to meet his first love, something he never fails to do when he comes home. Vishal joined him this time.
They walked towards the park two streets away and there she was standing tall by the entrance of the park. It was a beech tree, about 60 feet tall with beautiful clusters of pink and purple flowers hanging all over her. A few years back Anand donated money to build seating around her. He held out his arm and ran his hands on the thick trunk. Anand sat down on the stone seat. Vishal sat down next to him.
"This is Baby", Anand said looking up at the tree.
"Baby?" Vishal asked."The tree is so big Appa".
"Yea now she is, but when I and your grandma planted this together, she was very small"
"You planted this? When?"
"When I was about your age. They had just opened this park and were developing it. Your grandmother loved greenery. She took the initiative and with the help of many people around here, they planted a few trees. I and your grandma planted this one".
"Can I plant one too?", Vishal asked eagerly.
"You want to?", Anand looked at his son and smiled."We can plant one when we get to Mumbai. But you will have to take good care of it. On the way back from school I used
to carry water in my bottle and pour it to her every day"
"I will Appa"."Can I go play?"
"Not for long, your grandpa will be waiting"
"OK".Vishal ran to the slide.
Anand sat there watching his son play. A lot of memories came rushing to him. He remembered the day he planted Baby. It was on October the fifth and it had begun to drizzle. Their neighbor Kishore uncle dug a hole in the ground as Anand and his mother watched. His mother gave a small sapling to Anand and asked him to place it in the hole. With the help of his mother, he covered it with soil and leveled the ground. He then sprinkled some water on the soil.
"It is going to rain so a little water would do dear", said Sathya
Vishal got up and both of them stood back and smiled at each other.
"You want to name her?", asked Sathya
"Mmmm", thought Anand for a while and exclaimed, "Baby".
"Haha ", laughed his mother."That is a beautiful name".
His mother was a very warm person. She loved everybody and helped a lot of people in her lifetime. He missed her. The baby was always a good friend. Anand visited her every day. Whenever he was feeling low, he used to come and spend some time in the park. After his mother was gone his visits increased until he had to move to Mumbai for his job. The tree had made other friends now. A squirrel was running about on her branches. Anand also saw a nest, probably a crow's. He always felt his mother's presence when he was around the tree.
The marriage went well and soon all the relatives and friends were leaving one after the other."When are you coming again?", asked Kannan looking at Vishal. They were at the railway station. Kannan had come to see them off."Christmas vacation". replied Vishal. The train was already waiting in the platform and was about to leave in a few minutes."We better get in", Anand said."Bye Appa, take care. Will call you once we reach", said Kamakshi."Bye Thaatha", Vishal hugged his grandpa."Bye, see you".Anand said goodbye and followed his wife and kid into the train.
A week went by and one evening when Anand came back from work Vishal said: "Appa you promised we will plant a tree here".
"How about tomorrow?" Anand asked.
"Yay", jumped Vishal."I and Appa are going to plant a tree tomorrow Amma. You want to come"?
"Sure dear, we will go", said Kamakshi. She looked at Anand and smiled.
The next day morning, Anand bought a small sapling of Ashoka. In the evening, Anand, Kamakshi, and Vishal set off to a lane behind their residence. They found a good spot. Once Anand finished digging a hole big enough to plant the sapling, Vishal placed the sapling in it. Vishal, Anand, and Kamakshi covered it with soil and Vishal watered the plant. By then a few people had gathered around.
"My son wanted to plant a tree", Anand told them.
"That is good. We can all join together once in while to plant more trees in this area.", said one of them.
"Sure why not? That is a great idea", said Anand. Everyone cheered.
"What are you naming it Vishal?", Anand asked.
"I haven't thought about it Appa", said Vishal looking at the sapling.
Putting his arm around his son Anand said, "I am sure you will come up with something".He thought about his mother.
Kamakshi said, "Amma must be really happy".