He hated the rains. They made him nostalgic and reminded him of all the good things in life. There is something very bad about the good things in life – they make letting it go very difficult. He sat on the wooden rocking chair in the verandah waiting for the rains to stop so that he could come out into the open. How ironical he thought that his name should be Bhaskar, Hindi for the sun.
As he sat, waiting for the rains to stop so that he could take one final walk around his orchard, he looked around. There was a huge clock ticking away on the wall. No one ever knew how old it was but every hour it has chimed religiously for the entirety of his memories related to this house. He had donated most of his furniture but he could not bring himself to give the clock away. He could not take it with himself but he had decided to the leave the old clock behind to give company to his old house till its new owners move in.
He stood up and walked out. The empty house did not make him feel very well – it was like he was breaking off an age old friendship. A mild drizzle made for a mischievous weather outside. It rained for some time and then stopped, only to rain again after a few seconds. A game of hide and seek was on. Bhaskar decided to play.
The orchard added the beauty to the estate. It was his father’s pride and one of the primary reasons why he had never considered moving to the more populated parts of the city. “A man is known by the trees he plants,” he used to say.
“How is that?” Bhaskar had innocuously asked.
“Well you see,” his dad spoke very rarely but when he did Bhaskar loved the way his eye brows rose and fell, “there is a very intimate relation between the kinds of trees a man plants and his character. Not everyone likes to plant all kind of trees. We pick and choose our trees, very much like we make the other important decisions of life.”
“Most of my friends, who live in the town, do not have any trees in their house,” Bhaskar had enquired.
“Well most of the people, who live in the town, do not have any character either.” His father winked at him.
Later that year when Bhaskar had sought permission to plant the Peepal sapling, which he had won in the debate competition on the Environment Day at his school, in his father’s orchard his dad had asked him a question
“Who’s going to look after it? I already have enough trees for myself.”
“Me” Bhaskar had replied, “Just as you look after the other trees.”
“Would a Peepal tree fit into an orchard of fruit trees?” his father amused himself at little Bhaskar’s expense.
“You have a big orchard. I am sure there is place for everyone.”
Impressed with his answer, his father had volunteered to help him plant the sapling. As he dug the earth, placed the sapling with care and filled its roots with the soil, his dad had stood a little away watching him and the mango trees that had just started to blossom. With lots of mud and a faint smile covering his face, Bhaskar walked back home with his dad just as the sun was about to set in the western sky.
“What can you tell about my character now? I have just planted a Peepal tree” he asked.
“You are going to have a long and stable married life” his father replied. Bhaskar had chuckled at the response. Long and stable married life is good, he thought. He had seen his dad after his divorce and he did not quite want that kind of a life. A man is made for a woman, for his kids, for his family and not for a bunch of fruit trees that blossomed once a year.
The rains had made the ground muddy and unless you watched out very carefully you would definitely slip. But Bhaskar, having spent most of his life among these trees, knew where to put his foot down and how firmly. At first came the long Papaya trees, then came the wide trunked mango and the jackfruit, a little to the left of the jackfruits stood the guava and on the right of the mangoes, just a little far away stood the mighty Peepal that Bhaskar had planted as a kid. He intended to walk up to it and then retrace his steps back. He would have done so had he not spotted a young girl atop the Peepal tree trying to scratch her name on the bark of one of the many sturdy branches.
The girl, having seen Bhaskar and his walking stick, tried to conceal herself at first and then having realized that it was futile was trying to sulk away.
“What are you doing here?” Bhaskar asked; his voice stern and grave.
“Trying to write my name on that tree,” she replied, a hint of fear in her voice just like the one when you were caught by your teacher eating your tiffin in between classes.
“Why would you do that?” Bhaskar’s voice softened a little.
“Because it is my tree and I do not want anyone else to take control of it. I have put my nameplate for everyone to see.”
The answer amused Bhaskar. She was barely ten. She had a white frock on with colorful polka dots all over. With her whole set of front teeth gone, she had a smile as mischievous as the monsoon but just as the monsoon filled the whole atmosphere with a sudden chill her toothless smile filled the whole orchard with a warmth, the warmth of the burning stove on a cool wintery night.
Bhaskar indulged himself. “Who are you?” he asked
“The evil twin sister of the tooth fairy. She took all my teeth for a reason.” She giggled. “And who are you?” she asked.
“Ohh I am the sun” Bhaskar said looking up to the sky “The clouds have covered me, you see. I had nothing else to do. So I thought I would take a walk around my orchard. Can you do me a favor?”
She looked confused. Bhaskar continued
“You see the clouds would be gone soon and I would have to return to the sky. Maybe I will never ever have time enough to visit these trees again. I am a very busy man. Would you look after these trees when I am gone?”
“I would love to” She smiled. Bhaskar smiled back.
“I would be watching you from the sky. You must keep your word.” She nodded back in acceptance. Bhaskar started walking back, his last walk among the trees in the orchard.
“Where are you going?” She asked.
“Well there got to be some place for a setting sun. I am going there.”
“Do not worry. I am sure there is place for everyone. And besides the sun never really sets, does it? When it does set in one part of the world, it actually rises in another.” She told the above line with the wisdom of a grandmother, slowly but surely. Her words comforted Bhaskar. In the tranquility of the orchard he thought he heard it echo, all the lessons of life rolled into one sentence.
He glanced over his shoulders and shouted back “You are going to have a long and stable married life!” and then hurriedly walked back to his house. The taxi that would carry him to the station would be coming any moment. He would then leave his orchard and his house for ever. The doctors were convinced he did not have much time and he wanted to spend the last few days of his life with his grand children. They would never come down to live here. So he had decided to go there.
But before that, he had to call his lawyer and make a small change to his will. The orchard and the Peepal tree would no longer belong to him. They will henceforth belong to the evil twin sister of the tooth fairy, who had lost all her teeth for a reason!