The Mango Tree
The Mango Tree
She tried to avoid the mud puddles with books neatly placed in a plastic bag in one hand, her handbag slung over her right shoulder and the umbrella clutched in her left hand. She was afraid that her white cotton saree with beautiful patches of light pink flowers would be stained, and so she was bouncing and jumping a little.
“Lakshmi Amma, give me the purse and books”, he was laughing as he stood there watching.
She could not recognise him.
“You do not remember me? I am Naresh, son of Thotappa”
“My, My! Look at you. You have grown so tall. Which class are you studying and where?”
Naresh took her books and purse. He did not carry an umbrella like her. It was a mild drizzle, and he never bothered to protect him from such drizzles. He was only afraid of the storm.
He was the son of her gardener. Lakshmi had to let go of the gardener after her husband died-everything became much too expensive with no bread earner, and she had to keep it prudent and minimised. But that was about 8 years back when Naresh was only 7 or 8 years old. She could not believe he had grown up to be such a tall boy. He was probably 15 or 16 years now and had just completed his SSC. They both chatted and caught up on old times.
Naresh informed her that Thotappa worked in a big house in another village, after leaving Lakshmi’s home. Thotappa died a year ago after which Naresh moved to his uncle’s house. Naresh’s mother had died when he was only three years of age. The only mother he knew was Lakshmi. She still remembered how he had held on to her saree and would not let the edge of her saree slip from his hands, refusing to leave. He was now tall and youthful. He completed his SSC with great difficulty by doing part time errands. It was very clear from the clothes he wore that he was very poor and she was not sure how he managed his education.
But from that day onwards, Naresh caught up with Lakshmi Amma and started accompanying her home every day. In the evenings, they would sit in her garden with tea and biscuits and chat about his studies, his goals in life and about her daughter, whom Naresh called Akka. She would show him her granddaughter’s pics on the old laptop which was only used to talk to her daughter who was now happily settled in the USA.
It was Naresh’s idea to plant the mango tree. One evening, he said, “Amma, let us plant a mango tree in the corner of our garden.”
She liked the idea and they both selected a mango sapling from the market and planted it. Naresh would water the plant every day and as they sat watching the mango tree growing slowly and the old hibiscus plant gnarling its way around in the garden, feeling content in each other’s company; Naresh forgot about his poverty and was happy to be with Lakshmi, the only mother he knew and for Lakshmi, the company of this young boy was extremely delightful and her loneliness had disappeared.
He would often say, “Amma, one day I will be like the mango tree, fully grown, branches wide open, giving shade and fruit to the people who take cover under me. It inspires me, Amma!”
And then again, he would become forlorn, when he remembered he had no money to complete his education.
He worked on menial jobs in the village and studied during nights. On the last day of his HSC examination, he bought jackfruit with his own money from the market. It was his Lakshmi Amma’s favourite fruit. They sat in their garden – eating the jackfruit, watching the sun go down and the mango tree growing higher. He felt happy as well as sad.
“I did well in my exams. Hope I get enough marks to be admitted to the Medical College on scholarship. There is a reservation for OBC but still, I need to pay some fees. I have written to uncle Maniappa and he said he will help me out.”
He continued, “Amma if I become a doctor one day, I will treat the poor and needy on a free basis. I will join a government hospital because I don’t want anyone’s Appa to die outside the hospital waiting for treatment especially when they can’t afford it. I will just work for a decent salary from the government and give my life for the poor and needy”
It was then that Lakshmi understood how important it was for him to become a doctor and why he was so attached to the mango tree. She offered help but he politely refused.
He touched her feet and said, “No, Amma. You already helped me a lot. Without your help on the books, I would not have done well in my HSC examination”
They sat quietly that evening, both lost in their own thoughts, looking at the half grown mango tree and the sun setting gloriously behind it.
In the two years since Lakshmi met him again, Naresh had become her son. She became dependent on him. She did not give birth to him, but even when he was small and had stayed in her house, they both had a special bond. He would always loiter around her and help her in the kitchen. Thotappa was hired when Naresh was 3 years old, at that time his mother had already expired.
Amma fell into a dilemma after this. She had to take a quick decision. Naresh’s results would be out in a week. Her daughter might not understand the connection she shared with Naresh, who was as good as a son for her. She knew how important it was for him to be a Doctor and she knew he would make a good one. She was 58 and probably would die in the next five or 10 years. Her one and only daughter was happily married and settled in a different country, with no need for any financial support. If she could help the Gardener’s son, who became the son she never had, wouldn’t that poor boy be uplifted?
She didn’t want any luxuries in life. She just wanted to know the satisfaction of seeing Naresh grow; a poor boy, devoted to his passion, achieving the goal of his life. In her mind, she had already started seeing Naresh as a future doctor, in a white coat, with a Stethoscope around his neck. Lakshmi decided then that irrespective of what anyone thought or perceived, she will carry out her wish to help Naresh. He might oppose but then she also knew what to do and how to convince him.
There, in the middle of her beloved garden, on an early morning, surrounded by her mango tree, the old hibiscus plant and a couple of shrubs and jasmine plants, Lakshmi made her decision. She was going to ensure that her boy grew up into an enormous mango tree, which gave shade and fruit to anyone who came seeking its cover.
The results were released the next week and he scored high marks. Lakshmi and Naresh hoped that admission in of his dream colleges would be easy with those scores. In the meantime, she sold the house with the help of a broker for a very good price. She also rented a small house near her school. She was now ready to move. Once she secured the entire amount, she planned to invest some of it on Naresh’s education and the rest in bonds so she could get a monthly interest to keep up her sustenance. After all, it was only a matter of time before she retired.
Lakshmi was very excited and was now waiting for Naresh. She kept waiting for Naresh who did not return from the market that evening. He was almost 30 minutes late. She had sent him to get some vegetables and fruits. She kept pacing in the garden and every time she turned, her eyes looked at the gate, anticipating his arrival. After an hour, she saw Mani, the next door boy, running and panting. He started talking while he was trying to catch his breath and Lakshmi could not understand a word of what he was saying.
Finally, the words hit her like a cold wave. She was numb for a second before she almost collapsed. Had it not been for Mani’s support, she would have had fallen and hit her head. Tears streamed down her face and she broke into a faint shriek, crying her heart out.
Her beloved son, Naresh, died half an hour back after being hit by a truck on the road, while she had been waiting for him anxiously. The force had pushed Naresh to stumble and he fell down with his forehead hitting a stone on the road, causing instantaneous death.
The last time she had cried was when her husband died of a chronic lung disease. She did not cry even when her daughter left for the USA with her new husband because she knew her daughter was going to be happy. She missed her daughter but she knew she could always talk to her and could see her and the kid once a year. But this was different. Like her husband, there will be no Naresh anymore, there will be no evening talks, there will be no one to roam behind her, there will be no one calling her Amma every day, and there will be no one running to the market to help her with her chores. She felt her hopes and dreams shatter. Her mango tree had died half-way. There will be no college, no studies.
She fell into a state of despair. Naresh was an orphan and had a distant uncle and a few relatives. She was the only one closest to him- not by blood but by heart. She made arrangements for the funeral, and as his body burnt to ashes, her hopes of seeing him as a doctor also went to ashes.
She had to vacate the house as she already sold it but there were so many memories attached to it; the times she spent with her husband and, her daughter growing up. But more recently, here fresh memories were of Naresh with his arms wide open in the garden, sharing his aims and aspirations and enjoying the evening sun over tea and biscuits.
But then, Lakshmi’s life had to move on.
One has to carry the burden of loss; the remnants affecting the people left behind. As she walked out of the house, with all the luggage loaded in a truck, she glanced one last time at the mango tree. Underneath it stood Naresh, smiling at her, beckoning her. At that moment, as tears gathered in her eyes, she understood her mission.
There were so many young boys like Naresh with aims and aspirations, but unable to fulfil them due to lack of financial support. So what if Naresh died? She was going to help someone else’s son fulfil his dreams and help society. There was no dearth of boys like Naresh in our society and as she realised this, she welcomed her new mission with a new fervor in her heart, she looked forward to accomplishing it.