When I was a kid, like every other school going child in my neighbourhood I waited impatiently for my summer holidays to begin. I daydreamed about climbing guava trees and savouring the taste of ripe guavas. I wished for the smell of new leaves and flowers in mango trees. I waited for my grandma to fall asleep in the afternoon to steal chilli powder, oil and salt from the kitchen. I waited for my siblings and cousins in our house’s terrace where they would come panting with raw mangoes bundled up in their petticoats or trousers. Oh! The beatings we used to get when mummy washed our clothes full of stains from the raw mangoes.
I remember the day I planted the thrown off spinach roots near the pipe where we washed our clothes. I remember eating spinach subji after a week, the taste of sincere appreciation for a work well done. But the best parts of the vacations were not any of these. It was not the mangoes or guavas or spinach. King of them all was cashew nuts!!!
There were three big cashew nut trees in my house. Gigantic ones, where red ants pasted a leaf with another to form their nests and lived happily like a family (Colony!). Crows made their nests and cuckoos laid their eggs. A lot of itchy worms lived in it, touching them used to give me allergies. Despite all that cashews were always my favourite. The multi-colour fruit was of no interest to me. But it did invite scores of squirrels, birds and insects. I was always in want of the nuts.
Every morning I gathered the fallen fruits and separated the nut from them. I dug holes and buried the half eaten-half spoiled soiled fruits but carefully collected the nuts in a big cover. I was depressed when it rained and soaked the cashews before I could collect them. It took away their crispiness and taste.
At the end of the vacations, my dad took our entire collection of cashews to the market along with the stack of old newspapers that had piled up in the year behind. He came back with something worth the money the cashews and newspaper would fetch him. Some things like new books, pencils, a stack of rice or a pretty doll for me to play with.
The cashews that fell after the vacations were never sold. We made campfires every eve and roasted them in the pyre. Broke them open with pebbles and dug ourselves into its deliciousness.
Three years after I left for college, the cashew nut trees were cut down for their wood. Without their shade, the scorching sun made it impossible for us to play in the mornings or evenings. The thought might have killed me a few years back. But at the time they were cut, it didn’t hurt me anymore. I had changed. I had forgotten. I had grown up. Cemented brick walls separating us from the neighbouring families mushroomed all around us. Grandma had passed away. Without her and my partners in crime, the idea of mangoes and guavas no longer excited me.
Few years after my marriage when my kids complained about the blazing sun I remembered fondly of my good old days. How lucky I was! What memories we had carved on those trees’ shades. It all seemed surreal now, too good to be true. I fed my kids with video games and lulled them to sleep with Harry Potter books.
In the little time their sleep gifted me, I walked to my dad who was still toiling in the land. His love for plants had not died down with his age or promotions at work. After retirement, he plans of opening up a juice stall where he dreams to serve juices from fruits with zero pesticides. I wonder what he would sell! Maybe, guava and mango juice. We still had plenty of them at home. Oh, wait! That is not all. We have pineapples and tomatoes too. He had planted sapota a few years back, whatever happened to them? I had not cared to ask.
Baby? After all these years!
“I have babies, dad.”
Both of us laughed mockingly at each other.
“You know the cliché dialogue. Don’t make me say it out loud like some melodramatic dad from the last decade.”
I giggled and pulled out my tongue at him.
“What is this plant?” I asked.
“You don’t recognize it by its leaves?”
He asks hurt. I looked apologetically at him and then back at the plant. I know this one. I know this smell. I have just never seen it this small.
“How old is it?” I asked.
“Did you get a sapling?”
“Nah! It grew on its own.”
Seeing my puzzled expression he explained.
“Remember all the pits you used to dig when you were a kid, to bury the fruits?”
“Yeah” I replied shyly.
“You were always disappointed by the cashew nuts soaked by rain remember? You always buried them with the fruits in the pits.”
“But dad, this can’t be those. They must be at least 10 years old.”
“The tree that gave me these are 14 years old Anu. They outgrew you long back. I sold the land with new trees long back for money, just like I sold those trees. Like we stole those nuts from the bosom of the earth and sold it for books and pencils.”
“And pretty dolls.”
“And pretty dolls. Nature pays us in abundance even for the discarded ones. Actually, nature always keeps an eye for the buried and forgotten ones, unlike us.”
On our drive back to my workplace Appu savoured the mangoes his grandpa had plucked for him.
“The mango is so delicious mummy. Even better than the mango flavoured ice creams.” Appu looks funny and cute, his lips and fingers soaked in mango juice.
“Of course. It’s the real fruit, my son. The authentic, original thing. It always tastes better than look-alikes.”
“Where should I put this?” The seed looks so big for his tiny, yellow hands.
“Just throw it away. Let’s find a dustbin.” Anju quips in. She is Modiji’s girl.
“Wait. Appu, can you hold onto it some more time? Let’s bury it in some place with soil.” I ask him.
“Let’s plant it in our house, mom,” Appu suggests, now sad to let go of the seed. “Then we don’t have to wait till vacations to eat good mangoes.”
“Mango grows out to be a tree, Appu. You can’t grow one in an apartment.”
“What good is burying it, mom? Without water and care, it won’t grow up anyway.” Anju gives me a nerd like expression now.
“Nature has a way of growing back, kids. On its own. Nature doesn’t need us. It’s the other way around”.
We stop at a barren land with a few trees and a stream nearby. We bury the seed with Appu’s toy shovels that he uses to make sand castles in beaches.
“I am still worried about them, mom.” Anju pulls at my shawl and pleads.
“The monsoons will water them Anju. I can smell the winds already.”
“But monsoons are not on time these days. What if they come so late?”
“Do you want to come back and water this plant?”I suggest.
“Yeah” Anju looks so relieved now.
“Yayyy”, Appu gleams.
We never went back. It rained that night. Monsoons came on time for the little fellow buried deep in the soil. Appu was not lucky enough to eat his grandpa’s special mangoes as and when he felt like. Maybe some other kid born a few years from now will be lucky because of Appu.