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The Peepul Tree

It’s been almost 20 years.  I am back in the town as the district magistrate, where I spent a most of my childhood . I was yet to get the bungalow from the government so had to stay in the guesthouse for the time being. I was being driven in an open SUV to the guesthouse and I could feel the air with an essence of memories.  The area looked familiar, a river flowing by, kids playing around. The road now had some potholes opposite to those days, when we could find some road in the potholes. The chauffeur was talkative, addressing me as ‘sahib-ji’ (a substitute for ‘sir’ in Hindi). He was almost 3-5 years elder as it looked from his appearance.  Long dense mustache, slightly grown beard and short hairs, well wet with some excessively strong mustard oil and a well-built body. He was happy and tension free, whereas I was not. His (legitimate) income will be around one fifth of what I could earn legally, still he was more satisfied and relaxed. I was not very happy as I had to He was trying to explain me about the town especially temples and the banks of the river with religious importance. To be frank I was getting annoyed and was just trying to be polite by nodding my head in response to his words, some times with a sound “hmm!”

Soon we reached the guesthouse, I paid some tip to the chauffeur saying “will fire you if you continue being talkative” within my heart, but the words that came out of my mouth were “you stay here I may go out in the evening”. The housekeepers took my luggage and lead me to my cottage. I gave him some money asked him to get some soft drinks as was the hot and humid month of July and I was not sure if I could get safe drinking water in there. I had more trust in the American cola companies than the motherlands ground water. Any way he went happily to fulfill my orders. I threw my self on the couch peeping out through the wooden window. The river, the temple and sound of bell in the temple, devotional songs being played there. When I was partially lost in nostalgia, I heard a knock on my door, it was the housekeeper with cola.  I thanked the housekeeper.  Planning to go the bed to have a nap. In order to make my nap go undisturbed, curbing the noise coming from outside was the priority. I moved to the window to shut it.  I could get a bigger picture from here. Women entering the temple, with a corner of their saaree called aanchal, on their head after taking a holy dip in the river, some of them pouring the holy water over the Peepul (Sacred fig) tree and kids playing cricket in the ground beside the tree. Peepul tree and cricket! Some memories forced me to look at Peepul again. It is the same peepul tree, as green as it used to be, as thick as it used to be and as sacred as it used to be, it did not seem that it got older.

I refuted the idea of closing the widow returned to the couch. Memories coming to my eyes like a Bollywood movie of 80’s. 20 years ago I lived in this town. As the son of district magistrate I had all the luxuries, respect and care.  But respect stuff was limited to the grown ups. There is no such thing among the kids. They play together, fight and then play again. No one knows whom is what and neither they care.  I use to play cricket with my folks here in the same ground. The shadow of the Peepul tree; use to be our strategy room, dressing room, dugout and celebration arena. I used to dominate the game every time.  Not because I was a very good player, but because the playing kit belonged to me. Others had to bear my offenses if they wanted to play and I made full use of it. They have to bowl me out at least twice to really get me out of batting.  They have to get out if I am bowling even if they are not. Every time I use to threaten them that I will take my game kit if they do not accept my rules unconditionally. I was the undeclared captain, umpire, referee and manager of the playing troop.  Beside the cricket kit I always use to have a lot of tasty food and drinks with me that was another benefit for them. Another thing that made me rule the troop if not the game was that with my repute it was easier to get the ball back if someone hits it to one of the houses. But kids are kids every time they do not accept your illegal demands. That use to create kiddy fights and finally leaving me crying back to home with my kit. But there was one good thing, next day we again played as usual.


Image source: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?231464

That evening, I was batting even after being out three times (may be more I don’t remember), my dictatorship in the troop has prevailed. Chintu was bowling. He had me twice, once bowled out and once caught behind by the wicketkeeper. On being bowled out I just said it had bounced twice so it is not valid ball. Everyone saw it did not. But I knew they had to accept my words. A clear cheating and I got away with that. Second time when the player behind caught the ball coming off my bat I claimed it never touched the bat. Another clean cheating. Everyone saw that it touched the edge of the bat, everyone heard the sound of collision between leather and wood including me, but at that time I wanted to bat. There was a lot of argument this time. I used my trick; “I am telling it never touched my bat just spun away from it if you continue this cheating with me I will carry the bat and other things let me see how you play.” Chintu came cracking at me he said “you are cheating you are out twice its my turn to bat”. I continued with my trickery. “If you continue cheating with me I will not play with you guys I am telling I am not out” Suddenly another guy says   “even we don’t want to play with a cheater like find your way back home”. I said OK go to hell and started collected my stuff. I was expecting that now they will accept my conditions, I had tried this before and most often I was successful. This time was no exception. Chintu with anger said “OK we give you a last chance but this time no cheating” Well I got what I wanted but wanted it with pride so I said “what cheating I was never out, you are cheating I don’t play with cheaters like you” I was sure of the victory for my although not in the game and it worked. He said ok “go and bat”.  

After two balls the haunting came again. I was run out, by almost a meter.  I was no ready to quit. I said “I reached made it” This time I faced a lot of anger for everyone. Any dictator does not continue for a long time. This time I had to quit. I said “OK what can I do if all of you are cheating but I was not out. But who can win against you cheaters.”  Chintu came forward and took the bat from me. I was already angry with him. I said “it is getting late the game is over for the day”. In the game of cricket all the kids like to bat their full session but who wants to bowl. We just bowled with a hope for our batting turn if the person batting gets out. My statement angered Chintu. He said what the hell is this? You kept on batting even after being out and now when its my chance how can you leave.  I replied to show my dominance “I cannot play throughout the day for your batting I have to go home”. And by the time reached under the Peepul tree. packing the stuff. I thought what I am asking for myself are my rights after all every thing belongs to me, I get the ball when if breaks Sharma uncles window, without any reprimands for these boys. I have all the right to decide about the game here. He came on to me and said “you cannot go like that  enough of your cheating I will have my batting”. I said I don’t care, go to hell I am leaving. 

He came onto me holding my collars “I will take my batting, what do you think. I also caught his collar.  He was at least 20 cm taller and 15 kilo heavier than I was.  But as a kid usually do not make all these calculations before entering a fight. They just enter into it. A fight has already started between the two of us under the peepul tree. I had no supporters among the kids everyone was supporting Chintu (Yeah stop cursing me I know he was right). I was all onto me hitting me I suddenly grabbed the bat and hit him on his upper leg. The hit was strong but not enough for a guy like Chintu. He suddenly turned and hit me two punches really tough ones. I started crying, tears rolled down my eyes. Every one including Chintu got scared; the girly weakness that always acts as a weapon had worked for me that evening. They escaped and vanished. It all happened under that peepul tree. I also forgot everything and returned home without any signs of tears and crying. 

My mom said tomorrow we are moving to another city as your dad has been transferred. I was really happy that I will get to see a new city, new school new people. My folks in that city never entered my mind. That was my last evening in this town. Not letting Chintu bat came haunting my mind today evening. It was all I could remember. The flashback was gone, I was back into present when I realized its 7:30 in the evening. I came out of my cottage without any nap. Found my talkative chauffeur and asked him to take me to that Peepul tree. He looked at me in a weird fashion as if I had asked him to take me to a cemetery. But he had to follow my orders.  I reached under tree soon. I climbed over the tree embankment. Some similar tree awakened Buddha thousands year ago. I was not hoping for any awakening but just thought “Although the sins that I committed that day were not big but if I could fix them”. I asked my chauffeur. The kids still play cricket here? He said yes ‘sahibji’ we all have grown up here playing this game. I continued “I was 10 when I use to live here and play. You must know some of the kids from that era. Any idea about, Shashi, Chintu and..” Before I could complete he asked me “what did you ask ‘sahibji’ “Chitu”? “ I said “yes do you by any chance happen to know him?” He smiled and said “not Chintu sahibji, Cheeranjiv his full name is Cheeranjiv.” I never tried to know his real name as I never felt the need. I looked at him as he continued “Shashi is a peon in a small school in a village close to the town.”  I desperately asked “…and Chintu?” He replied “right in front of you sahibji”. I looked at him closely and got myself convinced to accept that he was Chintu. I said “I remember the last day I had here, you batting chance is still due for which you hit me”

The element of embarrassment and fear alloyed in his eyes and he said, that was the childhood sahibji, hope you have forgiven me for that. I laughed and said Chintu you were right on that day I must fix the wrongdoings of the past.  Lets have a game tomorrow evening. “Sahibji forgive me I forgot that please you forget that as well” he said. But, I prevailed and a game was organized the next day.

All the cricketing stuff was organized along with spectators sitting under the peepul tree. The peepul tree was witness how I approach to fix the misdeeds of the past. Those who were older supported me but the kids supporting Chintu.  The game started. I had to start with batting and Chintu had to bowl me out to get his batting turn. There were 10 other kids who were supposed to field for us. I started with an honest mindset. Chintu was no more a player that he used to be. But at the 3rd ball I faced I nicked the ball and one of the kid behind caught it. It was completely against my honor to get out in the beginning itself, I decided to say no to the honesty and claimed, “I did not nick the ball”. It was a clear nick everyone saw that but no one could resist because of my reputation. Even Chintu said you must be right sahibji. Twenty years ago, his reaction used to be completely different.  Again on the sixth ball I was trapped leg before wicket, the ball hitting me on pad right in front of the stumps. My reaction was the same. I quietly move my foot a bit forward and said this is not leg before wicket, see I am leaning forward (Assuming no one saw my moving foot).  Chintu accepted this as well.  The third time I got stumped but slowly moved foot inside the crease line I called the umpire to prove that I was not out. The kid behind me got angry but I was still powerful if not with game then with  my social status. 

The entire thing did not last long. I had to accept when I was clean bowled after few deliveries. Now I had to save a target of score of 11 while bowling. I was already dark. The first ball went past Chintu. Something came to my mind, I can use darkness to defy the umpire, Chintu and the truth. I threw another ball past him and appealed for a caught behind. I knew he never touched the ball, but I pretended that I heard a nick. With my short argument with umpire and Chintu I could convince both of them. Chintu said “If sahibji is telling that he heard a nick I must have nicked the ball, otherwise why would he do so.” I was victorious, the elder ones greeted me with applause, though the kids did not like the way I played. I was feeling happy to have saved my rep, no matter how I did that. I was thinking I won the game and fixed what went wrong 20 years ago. The peepul tree was not witnessing anything new. Infact things never changed. Elder ones were still influenced buy personal reputation, kids had nothing to do with that. I was still using my social position to win games and prove my control over the game. The only thing that was different was Chintu’s attitude, today he was accepting whatever I said, he was not a kid any more.


One Response to The Peepul Tree

  1. To undergo proof reading….