The Azar Tree
The Azar Tree10 mins 737 10 mins 737
Anu and her younger brother, Sonu, lived in a modest house at the edge of the small farm that their father owned. It had once belonged to his family but he had managed to buy out his siblings’ shares in the property since none of them were interested in working on the farm. The farmer and his family lived frugally, and with the money saved from the good years, he had bought a tractor and some machinery which helped him till the soil, grow and harvest crops. His wife looked after the livestock comprising cows, chickens, and ducks. Although there were farmhands to help with the daily tasks, both children did chores after coming back from school.
Their parents wanted them to develop a sense of responsibility as well as a sense of belonging. “This will all be yours some day,” their father told them. “Anu, even when you marry and leave home, you will still have a share in this property. So, both of you must learn to care for the land and all that stands on it.”
The ducks spent their time swimming in their little pond and laying eggs in the hay while the chickens scratched around the courtyard and lay eggs in their coops. These eggs were sold in the village market along with the vegetables grown in the smaller fields. The cows grazed on the grassy banks of the brook behind the farmhouse and their milk was sold to a sweet shop in the village. A merchant bought the annual crop of grain, loading it on to trucks and taking it to be sold in the neighbouring towns and cities.
On one bank of the merry little brook that babbled along behind the house, stood a tall old Azar tree with many branches. Every summer, pretty purple flowers covered the tree and attracted all kinds of interesting creatures such as squirrels, birds, butterflies, and bees.
Anu and Sonu loved the tree, which they called ‘Azar’ as if it were a person. They knew each curve, each gnarl and each mark on its trunk and branches. They climbed up and sat on their own favourite branch, swinging their legs and biting into juicy mangoes. Whenever they were troubled, they hid in the tree and confided their woes to it. They felt as if the old tree listened and tried to comfort them by waving its leaves gently. They peeped into the birds’ nests and saw the newly laid eggs. Then they watched as the eggs hatched and the fledglings opened their beaks wide to be fed, making loud squawking sounds. The parent birds seemed to know that Anu and Sonu would not harm their babies. Squirrels scurried up and down the trunk and branches, looking for food. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower and bees buzzed busily around.
“Who planted Azar?” Sonu asked his father. “My grandfather,” was the reply. “Just like you and Anu, your aunts, uncles and I spent a great deal of our time climbing Azar, playing hide-and-seek, eating fruit, taking naps… it was not as tall or as strong when we were young but sturdy enough to hold all five of us. What wonderful hours we spent in that tree!” he sighed. They hardly got to meet the aunts who were married and both lived quite far away, while both uncles had gone to the city with their families, to earn a better living. Only the children’s father had remained on the farm, which he loved just as much as he loved Azar, the brook and everything else around him. He had passed on this love of and respect for Nature to his children. Their mother too taught them to respect the environment and their fellow creatures. “Don’t waste water!” she admonished them gently. “It’s a very precious commodity.
There was a time when your grandmother and aunts had to trudge for miles to collect water and carry the heavy urns back on their heads. We are fortunate to have the tube well now, but we should never take anything for granted. Use only as much as you need.” She also taught them to treat animals with kindness. Anu had a knack for nursing sick or injured creatures back to good health. Whether wild or tame, they seemed to trust her. The veterinarian at the village centre answered all her questions patiently and always welcomed her help. He suggested that she study to become a veterinarian herself. “Where will I get that kind of money?” asked her father. “Don’t worry about that,” reassured the gentleman. “There are scholarships available, I’m sure. I’ll find out and when the time comes, help her apply for one.” Anu nursed this dream close to her heart. She studied diligently so that she would qualify for the scholarship. Her idea of heaven, apart from spending peaceful hours in Azar’s branches, was taking care of animals and making sure they remained healthy. She had her own little ‘First Aid Centre’ in one of the sheds where she tended to injuries and issues which didn’t need a veterinarian’s expertise.
Sonu’s dream was very simple – he wanted to live on the farm and grow crops like his father did. He loved planting seeds, watering them, watching for the first tender shoots and then seeing the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit. Each time it happened, it seemed like a miracle anew. The thrill of watching plants grow, never palled. His father had allotted Sonu a small plot of land behind the house in which to grow vegetables and flowers of his choice. Apart from the time spent with Anu on Azar’s branches, he was never happier than when he was pottering around in his little garden. He proudly bore gifts of fresh vegetables and flowers to his mother who never failed to appreciate their size, colour and quality.
One night, while the household was asleep, there was a terrible storm. The howling of the wind was punctuated by muted bangs and crashes. The farmer and his wife winced, imagining the damage being done to their fields and sheds. Fortunately, the crop had been harvested – otherwise the loss could have been appalling. Suddenly, there was an incredibly loud crash, which woke the children. “What was that?” asked a shaken Sonu. “I don’t know. We can’t go out to investigate now. We’ll only find out in the morning. I hope there’s not too much damage,” said a worried Anu.
When the children woke up the next morning, they ran out to see the extent of the damage caused by the storm and were horrified to see old Azar lying uprooted on the ground. “That must have been the loud crash!” exclaimed Sonu. They ran to the tree with tears streaming down their cheeks. “Azar! Azar!” cried Sonu. Anu put her arm around her brother’s shoulders and they looked helplessly at their friend lying at their feet. Their father came up to them and held them close. “Children, you will have to go and stay with your grandparents for a couple of weeks while we repair the damage to the sheds and fields. By the grace of God, the house escaped unscathed and the animals are all safe. Say goodbye to Azar here. He was a good friend to us all.” He gazed sadly at the once majestic tree lying on its side with its roots exposed. He remembered his childhood days spent in the shade of the old tree or in its branches and mourned the passing of a dear friend. “I will put your wood to good use, my friend,” he promised in his heart. “You will continue to provide us with shelter and succor just as you did in life.”
The children sat on the ground close to the fallen tree, gazing at it mournfully, patting its trunk and running their hands gently through its leaves and flowers. “I wonder where the squirrels, birds and other creatures have gone,” said Sonu suddenly. “Do you think they’re all dead?” he asked Anu fearfully. “No, no,” she said reassuringly, hoping she was right, “I’m sure they are all safe. Azar must have taken some time to fall from that great height, so they had enough time to escape.” “Oh, good,” said Sonu with a sigh of relief. When their father called out to them, saying that it was time to leave, they stood up slowly. “Goodbye, old friend,” they murmured softly. Reluctantly, hearts heavy with sadness and with tears in their eyes, they left for their maternal grandparents’ house in the neighbouring village, an hour’s bus ride away.
Although they mourned Azar, the children were soon busy playing with their cousins and their friends. The fortnight passed quickly and their mother came to take them back home. “Is everything all right at home?” asked Anu anxiously. “Yes, yes, don’t worry,” said their mother reassuringly. “Everything’s back to normal. Now say goodbye to everyone.” They followed her example and touched their elders’ feet, asking for their blessings. Then bidding their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins goodbye, Anu and Sonu boarded the bus with their mother and spent the ride telling her all about their adventures with their cousins. “One of grandfather’s calves was sick but Anu looked after him and made him well again,” reported Sonu.
Their mother smiled fondly and caressed Anu’s cheek, saying, “My Anu is so wonderful with animals!” She was determined to send her daughter to veterinary college. “No early marriage for my daughter,” she thought. “She has a gift which must be developed properly. Who knows where it might lead her?” She tweaked Sonu’s hair playfully and asked, “What about you, Sonu? I hope you weren’t up to too much mischief!” “Of course not!” retorted her indignant son. “He behaved very well, Mother,” said Anu, smiling at her brother affectionately. “Grandfather says he’s got green fingers.” Sonu smiled happily. “So he has!” agreed their mother, pinching his cheek gently.
Alighting at the bus stop, they took a rickshaw to their farm. When they reached home, they ran to their father who was standing at the door. “Father, Father, we had a wonderful time but we missed you and Mother!” cried Sonu. “Yes, I’m so happy to be home,” said Anu. “I’m happy to have my Munni and Munna back too,” said their father, using his nicknames for them. “Freshen up and have something to eat, then there’s a surprise for you!” he added. “What is it?” asked Sonu excitedly. “You’ll see,” said their father. The children hurriedly washed up and ate their meal as quickly as they could. “Now, don’t gobble your food like that!” admonished their mother. So they slowed the pace down but were soon done. “Father, what is the surprise?” asked the impatient Sonu. “Come with me,” replied their father.
Taking them by the hand, he led them to the bank of the brook. They looked down to see that a small but sturdy sapling had been planted where Azar used to be. “This is little Azar,” said their father. “Just as old Azar looked after you both, you must look after little Azar. You will water it and see that the soil around it is clean. You must nurture the tree and make sure it grows up strong and beautiful, so that it can be a friend to you, your children, your children’s children and, hopefully, many generations after them.” Anu and Sonu looked at their father with shining eyes. “We will, Father,” promised Anu. Sonu jumped up and hugged his father tightly around the neck. “You are the best father in the world!” he cried. “Yes, you are,” echoed Anu. “Thank you, Father!”
Many decades have passed since then. A middle-aged man passes a work-worn hand gently down the trunk of a great old Azar tree as his grandson holds his other hand and looks on. “Who planted this tree, Grandfather?” he asks. “My great-grandfather – the father of my grandfather Sonu,” replies the man. “It’s so tall and beautiful, Grandfather,” says little Ratan. “Yes, his name is Azar and he has been a good friend to us all, Ratan – to me, your father and now to you. The farm and everything on it, including this wonderful tree… everything I own… will be yours one day. You must look after them all.” The little boy looks up at his beloved grandfather and says solemnly, “I will, Grandfather. I love the farm, the stream, this tree, our house – everything. I will always look after them… and you too. I will look after you when I grow up and you grow old, Grandfather.” Man and boy look at each other in perfect understanding and love. “Good,” says the man, “good!” and squeezes the little hand gently.