My family stayed in a small Coal India Colony. Rows and rows of residential quarters stood proudly on either side of black, shining tarred roads. There were many vacant large tracks of land interspersed between them. Cows and goats lazily grazed all day there, till the Sun dipped down in the far horizon. I never missed these final moments of rendezvous with the setting sun. The sky turned yellow, deep orange, pink, greyish blue and then dark. The fresh new painting of the Creator every day, left me enthralled. I loved to be alone at such times. It was that time of the day, when I seemed to become one with the earth, sky and the sun. The exquisite feeling of absolute stillness and peace has stayed on with me, ever since.
Then as the darkness would creep in, I would become aware of the Mango tree which stood about ten metres away from me, against that backdrop. It had seemed perfectly harmless until then. Suddenly, it seemed to come up alive. The hundreds of birds in it would fall silent and a hundred eyes seemed to open and stare at me from there. I would know then, that it was time for me to go back home.
On my way back, the gory tales I had heard of Ghosts, hanging out on that tree would flood my brain. Did GHOSTS really exist? I would find out, once I grew up. The only information that I had gathered, by eavesdropping on softly whispered tales of elders was that, they loved white for they always donned that colour, besides of course, swaying.
Each house had a big courtyard shaped like a capital ‘C’. Probably, each house was caught in the claws of a crab, would describe them better. Many of them had gardens and huge trees of Guava and Mango. We also had them in our garden. I loved the Guava tree. It was my friend, for I remained hidden up in one of its branches, reading books, singing happy songs and sharing my
adventures of the day. The tree heard them all patiently, and nodded and smiled by rustling its leaves or swaying its branches.
The Mango tree disappointed me hugely.
It grew straight, towering up towards the sky without so much as lending a branch for me to climb on. I understood that it held children with a quiet disregard.To top it all, its fruits were a total disgrace!
What kind of tree gave forth fruits whose seeds were as big as the fruit itself? Monkeys on that tree, would throw those stony mangoes on us, hitting us hard, in return for the stones we pelted on them for teasing us.
My friends would make fun of our mangoes, infuriating me further.
” You do not even know how to make a mango, you silly tree! Have you never heard of anything called ‘pulp’? Do you think a mango has only a seed and skin? Next year , do better than this. Do you understand? ” I would tell it loudly.
The best Mango tree in our locality grew in the last house of our row. They were huge and sweet. The owner loved our children’s troop and allowed us to raid the tree at will. But there was a problem; his watchman Sunaram. Short and dark, he absolutely refused to let us have even one mango from that tree. We waited in the late afternoons, for him to fall asleep. Those were the days when all elders took a small nap during that time.
That day, I had just managed to climb the tree after climbing up the boundary wall while the others waited down on the other side. As I shook the Mango laden branch vigorously, the ‘thap thap’ sound of falling mangoes awakened him. He came rushing with a stick twice my size, towards me. In absolute panic, I jumped right off the tree to the other side and escaped as fast as I could. Back at home, I was sure the mangoes would be weeping in his tummy.
Though only six years of age, I had quite the mean streak in me and would not take this, lying down. Soon, opportunity presented itself.
My father would wake us up at 4 a.m. every day and take us for a walk with neem toothbrushes in our mouths. By the time we came back; the Sky would start clearing slightly. At such an early twilight moment one day, I saw Sunaram meandering at a little distance, in the street opposite my house. A bright idea struck me instantly, at his sight.
I rushed in and wrapped myself in a white bed sheet, and just as he came a little near, I started swaying slowly, as if dancing to a slow, distant, English tune. The effect was dramatic.
He stared in horror, and his large eyes grew bigger and bigger.
“Ore Baba! Ore Baba! Chotto bhooth..!” He said, gasping,as his hands covered his mouth.
Then he lifted his lungi up to the knees, and ran away as fast as he could, yelling, ” Bhoot! Bhoot!”
I dropped to the floor, helpless with laughter. The laughing cost me dear for in the process, I got so entangled in the huge bed sheet, that extricating myself from the mess, was quite an ordeal.
That evening, a solemn looking Sunaram came to warn my mother of a ‘little bhoot’ in our house.
My mother refused to listen to him. It was followed by the Owner’s wife.
She tried to make my mother see sense, so exaggerated the description. I was sitting with my book right there, and tried my best not to burst into laughter. Hiding my face behind my book, I fervently hoped my mother would not smell a rat. She did’nt, with God’s grace.
Sunaram turned over a new leaf and respectfully handed over to me whatever number of mangoes I demanded. I do not know why he never looked directly at me. Did my size bother him? This I will never know, but the memory of that escapade still brings a smile on my face, even after so many years.