The Almond Tree
The Almond Tree9 mins 17.4K 9 mins 17.4K
August - 1992
"Mammiiii" Neha came running towards her mom. Crying buckets.
"Arre! What happened beta?", mom asked worriedly.
"Shilpi just went out to buy Rakhi for her bhaiyya. I also want a brother Mamma! I want it now!! When will he come out??" she touched her mother's belly.
"Hehehe ... Who told you its a boy .. it can be a girl also right?" mother smiled.
"Noooooo.. I dont want a sister. I want a brother!" shouted Neha.
She continued crying. Her pregnant mother tried to console.
It was long past Rakshabandhan when Sameer was born. Neha's wish of tying a Rakhi that year could not be fullfilled. But as soon as she saw her tiny little brother, she forgot her wishes. Her joy knew no bounds. She took the responsibility of distributing sweets in the society. Just for the sake of telling everyone, that she had a brother now. That she could go to market and buy a Rakhi now. But, days passed and the feeling of joy was replaced by the feeling of jealousy. Till now, Neha was the only centre of attraction in family. Suddenly, she was no more the Star of the show. Her attention had been snatched by a new-born micro-sized baby. She couldn't bear it. Her mom was watering a newly planted Mango sapling in the garden, when Neha came to her. Howling.
"Hey! Why are you crying? Shilpi hit you?"
"No! I don't want this brother Mamma! Take him back to your stomach! I don't want him!" she sobbed.
"But, why? What happened?", her mother asked.
"No one loves me now. Everyone loves him. Everyone gives him chocolates. Everyone plays with him." Neha whimpered.
"Ohh! Hmm! Here, look at this plant", she pointed towards the plant she was watering. "Do you like this Mango sapling or do you like our Almond Tree?"
"Almond Tree of course! It gives us so many almonds!"
"Yes. Almond Tree right? But then, why am I watering this plant and not the Almond tree?"
"Because this one is still very small. Very weak. We need to take care of it. Make sure it grows well."
"Now you understand?" her mother smiled.
Suddenly her eyes twinkled "Ohh yes, Sameer is this small plant!! Young and Weak! I am big! Like the almond tree! I am so big! Yayy!" She ran away.
(She then tried to climb the Almond tree one day. To show Shilpi how big she was. And well, fell down)
September - 1999
The Mango plant grew up. So did, Neha and Sameer. Sameer was now in 2nd Standard. Neha had advanced to 6th. They had gradually become best of friends. And at times, best of enemies. The bedroom bed had become a WWE Arena. They would fight on silliest of things. They would play with silliest of things. Studying in the same school, they even commuted in the same auto. The auto also had 8 other neighborhood kids. One of those kids was Rohit. Now, Rohit was Sameer's classmate and also his biggest competitor. He would always tease Sameer on one thing or other. They had this race, getting out from Auto; as to who reaches the classroom first. Rohit would always win the race. Sameer shrieked and screeched at home, about buying new Action shoes. The shoes were his armor of defeating Rohit. Father did buy him a new pair of shoes. But they were not Action Shoes. Sameer hated them. He threw them away. The consequent pummeling by Father was still less painful than not getting the Action shoes. Rohit continued to win the race. One day, Neha noticed Sameer sneaking around Dad's room. She sensed something odd. She followed him secretly. He was hiding the 10 Rs. note in his compass box when she caught him
"You were stealing, weren't you?" Neha jumped in front.
"No no! I was just arranging my compass" Sameer was startled.
"Let me see!" she grabbed the compass box. Sure, she found the 10 Rs. note. Holding the note like a baton, she ran to her mom. Mother was so angry, her slaps that day were merciless. Soon, father arrived. Another bashing. Sameer sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. He didn't eat. No one did. Mom and Dad later tried to soothe him. But all in vain. He didn't move from his bed. Eventually giving up at night, everyone went to their respective rooms.
Neha whispered, "I know you are not sleeping. I am sorry, I told mom. I didn't think she would tell Dad."
"All of you are bad. I hate everyone! I took the money to buy Action shoes. I had just borrowed, I would have returned everything when I had a job. I didn't steal!" Sameer sniffled from inside the blanket.
Suddenly, Sameer turned on hearing a loud breaking sound.
"Here, we will buy Action shoes while returning from school tomorrow" said Neha. She had broken her Piggy Bank. Shocked, Sameer sat up.
"Chalo, I will bring Roti-Sabzi, you count the coins if we have enough" Neha smiled and left to bring the Thaali.
"Excited Sameer ate everything whilst counting the coins".
(Next day, the piggy bank money sadly fell short. Mother secretly chipped in. Action shoes were home)
December - 2005
Neha was going to participate in the Annual Day dance. This was her last year in school. She wanted to make it memorable. The college fascination had already started. For Sameer, college was still a distant dream. He had just progressed from half to full-pants in school. For hours, they would discuss their future dreams and aspirations. The WWE Arena was now a Late-Night-Chatroom. Neha had been rehearsing really hard for the performance. The song, "That's the way, Maahi ve!" had bugged home all month along.
Finally, the day arrived. Anchor announced, "Please welcome, Neha Dikshit!". Sameer had not been able to manage a front row seat. He was sitting somewhere in the middle. Neha appeared on stage. Loud claps. Louder whistles.
A guy chirped from behind, "Aaye haaye what a piece!". Everybody laughed. Sameer turned to see the guy. A group of 5 was entertaining the back-seaters.
A seemingly taller guy beamed, "Your Shahrukh is here Preity!". Boys guffawed again. "Aaj shaam ko aaja mahi ve, kya pata Kal Ho Na Ho". Whistles.
Sameer kept staring. Sameer's friend said, "Calm down. They are her classmates. Maybe friends even".
He looked back at his sister. She was visibly offended. But she continued to dance. He calmly walked up to the group and slapped the first chirper as hard as he could. The tall guy smacked Sameer across the face. He fell on the ground. Somehow, he still managed to kick the tall guy on the groin. Stupefied, all 5 of them jumped on Sameer. Punching him, Kneeing him, Kicking him. Crowd gathered. Song stopped. Everything came to a halt. "Dont mess with us again" said the tall guy kicking him again. The group started walking off. Sameer barely got up. And jumped on the taller guy's back. Grabbing his throat. Landing as many blows on his face as he could. The teachers entered quickly. Fight was separated. Parents were called to the school after the incident. Father shouted at home, "I knew this would happen one day. Our son has become a goon. Hopeless you are!". Sameer stayed quiet. Neha knew exactly what had happened. But she couldn't find the courage to speak before her Dad. Bandaged Sameer entered the bedroom silently and slid under the blanket. Clock struck midnight. The pendulum swinging 12 times was normally the cue for their late-night-chats. The light was off today.
"Why didn't you tell dad?" Neha whispered.
"If I could hit those guys, imagine what our former Colonel Dad would have done to them! I was just showing mercy."
They both burst out laughing.
(Father overheard the conversation from behind the door. A formal complaint reached the Principal's desk next day. 2 of those guys were found guilty and suspended for a month)
January - 2015
Neha was working in an MNC now. Sameer as always, was catching up. The day was still fresh in the memory when Neha left home for her job. Mom was sobbing throughout. Later, even Dad gave in. Sameer had to control his tears. And he did. Barely. There's always a need of that one person in the family. One who stands on the other side of grief. One who consoles. In this family, Sameer was that guy. Somehow, he even managed to convince parents that they need to be strong for Neha to leave. When Neha was at the Gate, Parents waved. But Sameer had vanished. Hours later he returned home with red swollen eyes. He SMSed Neha, "Oh you left! I was at a friend's home. Sorry! Have a nice trip!". There are many skills required to become a strong, tough brother. Crying like a baby is definitely not one of them. Covering it up is.
It'd been 2 years since Neha landed her job. The classic 'I-Dont-Have-Time-For-Anybody' phase. It had affected Sameer-Neha bond as well. The long phone calls reduced to long whatsapp chats. Soon came a time when their chatting topic was only the recent Movie Releases. Parents had started looking for boys for Neha. She didn't like it. Not that she had a boyfriend. But she wanted to work. Once Mother called her about meeting a boy they had liked. Her reply was very rude. She had been like this for a few weeks now. Mom cried herself to sleep. Sameer called Neha,
"Hey hi! Calling so late! Everything ok? GF issues?" Neha laughed.
"Haha! no no! Everything's ok! Just called randomly. How are you?" Sameer said calmly.
"I am good! Did you see the new MI movie. Its awesome!" she said excitedly.
"Hmm. Hey do you remember our old Almond Tree?"
"Yes of course! My favorite tree! So many memories I have with it! Why?"
"We had to rip it down yesterday"
"What? But, why?"
"The mango tree had outgrown it. Their branches were clashing. Anyway it was old now, the roots would've damaged our home. It had to be uprooted."
"Ohh! That is so sad! My fav tree!" she winced.
"Ironic, isn't it? The Almond tree had given shade and helped the Mango tree grow, all this while. Eventually, the very same Mango tree turned out to be the reason for its death. If trees could feel, Mango Tree could never forgive itself, could it?"
"But you can feel Neha. Dont be that Mango Tree."
And it dawned upon her. She realized her mistake. She had mistreated her parents. She had lost her old innocent self somewhere in the city chaos. She had to find a way back. A way back to being the Almond Tree again. The big Almond Tree that she was.
"I am sorry" she replied with a broken voice.
"Talk with mom tomorrow. And, not like this! Talk with a smile!" said Sameer.
"Hmm I will"
"Chal. Sleep now. Good night!"
"Thank you bhai!"
"Just don't forget to order the XBOX in the weekend flash sale and consider the debt paid" Sameer chuckled.
"Hehe pakka! Good night"
(She went to meet her parent's chosen Boy that weekend and really liked him. They are going to get married )