Once upon a time, there was a tall and proud Mango Tree in a nondescript village. Indeed, the only redeeming factor about this dirt-poor village was the tree. The Mango Tree, as in the case of other great trees, had stood quietly, resolutely for many decades, giving forth its fruits summer after summer; spreading its shade year after year. Nothing affected this great tree – not the withering poverty around it; not the searing, dusty summers; not the frosty, brutal winters and not even the bellowing monsoons. It just stood, and worked through its karma – to bear fruit, give shade and provide shelter to myriad birds.
In spring and early summer, when its fruits were still raw and green and tangy, the koel made its way to the Mango Tree. The koel was the Tree’s favourite guest - she was a renowned singer: the herald of a first love, the announcer of spring, the coaxer of an early sunrise. She was a shy one, the koel, and so, the leaves of this great tree hid her as she sang forth lustily.
The Mango Tree, however, was cursed with a terrible destiny. One night, the koel flew away when noises from hell reached its ears. The puzzled tree listened, shushing the wind that was sighing through its leaves. Yes, there were those terrible noises – the screams and hyena laughter. Surely it came from netherworld. Had the earth split open and had the filthy, evil undead escaped from below? The Mango Tree’s fear came true. Indeed it was the undead. They were dragging two children by the hair, and marching towards it.
The Mango Tree shuddered. ‘Give me freedom,’ it begged and pleaded some god. ‘Give movement to my roots – this minute! I can protect my children. Yes, they are my children. I have seen them sit in my shade, sharing food and life. They have played on my lap; rested against my trunk; eaten my fruits. Set me free! Set me free this minute! I shall fling the undead back to the netherworld.’ The Tree wept in vain. The undead had arrived with their cackling laugh. The Tree looked on, immoveable – still calling out to the silent god.
The undead flung two ropes on the branches of the Tree. Soon, the Tree had two new adornments made of flesh and bones. It cursed its strength – oh why did its branches not break – the way those delicate necks had snapped? The branches barely creaked as the children swung; the undead laughed some more, smoked a cigarette or two before returning to the Netherworld. Silence befell, and no one heard the rent of anguish and rage of the Tree. ‘Give me movement at least now,’ the Tree cried to the still silent god. ‘Let me fold my branches, hide my children, save their dignity in death...at least do this,’ it pleaded. A silent sky stared back at it.
The sun – that heartless bastard – rose in all his bloody glory. The Tree stood helpless, motionless, naked, revealing to the world its new burden. A crowd collected, like flies on shit, and gawked at the spectacle. They stared and stared. Some took out mobile phones and clicked photos. Only then did they bring the children down.
In a way, my public shame is good, the Tree thought. The Tree had heard of the young King and his Queen. It had heard travellers talk of hope - of a new, modern era under this well-travelled King. The Queen too was a bold woman, it had heard. The Tree was sure the King would mount his fastest horse, and come with guns blazing. Surely the King’s army would drag out the undead. Chop their heads off, drive a stake through their undead hearts. Yes, the Tree thought, the King and Queen will give justice to my children. After all, The King and Queen have two little princesses and a prince and they would surely know; they would surely feel the Tree’s heartrending grief.
No one knows what the King and Queen thought in private. Did they sit by their children in the night, holding their hands, thanking the silent god for this better life? Did they thank the stars that no undead could come near them? Did they, like this silly author, think of those two writhing children in their last, terrifying moments and shed an angry, scalding tear? We will never know...never know.
Seriously, what did that stupid Mango Tree know of the world and its ways? That lump of wood had been rooted to the same spot for decades. What did it know? The undead had become the kingmakers. They advised the king - ‘Oh King! The image of the kingdom is more important than a bag of bones swinging from a tree. The whole world is now suspecting that the undead move freely in your kingdom. Your duty is to dispel this notion. Those two dead...errr...things...it is their fault for being born so poor and lowly,’ they spat. ‘The world is after your throne, my Lord,’ they tittered. ‘Hold on to your throne tightly. Allow us to take care of this mess.’
Indeed, the undead had closed their cold hands on the young king’s heart. He was no longer moved by bodies of children hanging from a tree. But he could not be seen sitting quietly. So he opened a giant chessboard which had the names of all his soldiers. He moved the names around in a random fashion to pass the time.
‘The King is busy – he is making a strategy to deal with the undead,’ the undead kingmakers pacified the world. Indeed some of them even said, (in the silkiest tones) ‘Look, those bags of bones were probably ravaged in the right way for the right reasons. This happens by accident.’ The world - the stupid, arrogant world with many such bags of bones - rattled even more angrily. The undead were taken aback. What was wrong with the world? So they brought in the policeman who was a storyteller in disguise. He said the undead were not involved at all. How can the world be so silly – there are no such things as the undead. This was all done by the people who had given birth to these set of bones.
The Mango Tree shook and trembled. It waited and waited for the King and his army. Every time dust rose on the road, the Tree rejoiced – the King had arrived, it thought. But the King never came. The dust...well that was because of the undead – hundreds and thousands of them crawling about like dung beetles.
The Tree tried to uproot itself – why should it bear fruit, give shade to this land of the undead? But it was cursed. Cursed to stand still, live for another hundred years; have many such ropes encircle its branches.
Soon, the world will go to sleep, forgetting the Mango Tree and its burden. The undead have won yet another round. If anyone is keeping track, here’s the score – Undead – several thousands: Silent god – NIL.
© Sumana Khan - 2014Tweet