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Thursday, 29 August 2013 20:33

The Cherry Tree

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One day, when Rakhi was six, she walked home from the Musoorie bazaar eating cherries. They were a little sweet, a little sour- small, bright red cherries that had come all the way from the Kashmir valley.
There were not many fruit trees in the Himalayan foothills of northern India where Rakhi lived with her grandfather. The soil was stony, and only on the more sheltered slopes were there forests of oak and deodar.

By the time Rakhi reached her grandfather's cottage, there were three cherries left. "Have a cherry, Dada," she said when she saw her grandfather in the garden.

Grandfather took a cherry, and Rakhi promptly ate the other two. She kept the last seed in her mouth for a long time, rolling it around on her tongue until the tang had gone. Then she placed the seed on the palm of her hand and studied it.

"Are cherry seeds lucky?" she asked.
"Of course," said Grandfather.
"Then I'll keep it."
"Nothing is lucky if you put it away. You must make it work for you."
"What can I do with a seed?"
"Plant it!"

Rakhi went to the corner of the garden, where the earth was soft and yielding, and pressed the seed into the soil with her thumb. It went right in.

When it was winter in the hills, a cold wind blew and the garden was bare. In the evenings Grandfather and Rakhi sat outside near a charcoal fire, and Grandfather told stories- about people who turned into animals, ghosts that lived in trees, and beans that jumped and stones that wept.

One spring morning Rakhi bent to pick up what she thought was a small twig in the garden and found it was rooted. She stared at it for a moment, then ran to fetch Grandfather, calling, "Dada, come and look. The cherry tree has come up!"

Grandfather bent almost in half to peer down at the tiny tree. It was about four inches high. "Yes, it's a cherry tree," said Grandfather. "You should water it now and then."

Rakhi gave it a sprinkling and circled it with pebbles.
"What are the pebbles for?" Grandfather asked.
"For privacy," Rakhi said.

She looked at the tree every morning, but it did not seem to be growing. So she stopped looking at it- except once in a while, quickly, out of the corner of her eye.

That year the monsoon rains came early, and Rakhi plodded to and from school under her umbrella. Even when it wasn't raining, the trees dripped and mist came curling up the valley. The cherry tree grew quickly.

It was about two feet high when a goat entered the garden and ate the leaves. Only the main stem and two thin branches remained.

"Never mind," said Grandfather, seeing that Rakhi was upset. "It will grow again. Cherry trees are tough."

Toward the end of the rainy season, new leaves appeared on the tree. Then a runaway cart rumbled down the hill and snapped the young tree in half.

"Will it die?" asked Rakhi.
"It might," admitted Grandfather.

But the cherry tree did not die. By the time summer came around again, it had sent out several new shoots. Even when there was rain, Rakhi would sometimes water the tree. She wanted it to know that she was there.

One day Rakhi found a hairy caterpillar on the tree. I was making a meal of the leaves. The girl removed it quickly and dropped it over the wall. "Come back when you're a butterfly," she said.

One February it was Rakhi's birthday. She was ten, and the tree was nearly four but taller than the girl. Then on a sunny morning Grandfather came into the garden to "let some warmth get into my old bones," as he put it. He stopped in front of the cherry tree, stared at it for a few moments, and called out: "Rakhi, come and look!"

Rakhi dashed over to see a pale pink blossom at the end of a branch. They gazed at this little miracle.

The following year there were more blossoms. The tree overshadowed Rakhi, even though it was less than half her age. That summer there were small cherries on the tree. Rakhi tasted one and spat it out.

"It's too sour," she said.
"They'll be better next year," Grandfather replied.

One afternoon Rakhi went to the garden and rested beneath the tree. She gazed up through the leaves at the blue dome of the sky. She could see the mountain disappearing into the clouds. She was still lying beneath the tree when the evening shadows crept across the garden.

Grandfather came and sat down, and they waited in silence until the stars came out.

"Just one small seed," said Rakhi, and she touched the smooth bark of the tree she had grown. She ran her hand along the branch and put her finger to the tip of a leaf.

"How it changed!" she said.
"Just like you," smiled Grandfather.

Night settled on the foothills, and Rakhi looked at the tree spread against the starry sky. She said to herself, "One day I will tell my children how Dada and I planted this cherry tree many years ago when I was six."

Ruskin Bond is a renowned children's writer. He has written many short novels, stories, poems and journals. He has spent most of his life in the Garhwali hill station of Mussoorie.

Read 25975 times Last modified on Thursday, 29 August 2013 20:35
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