By Susmesh Chandroth
Translated from Malayalam by Smitha Meenakshy
Original Malayalam title – “Haritha Mohanam” (“ഹരിത മോഹനം“: “Haritham” means “Green” and “Mohanam” means “Beautiful”)
I was into some deep thoughts concerning the earth. It was surely not about the Indians or the English or any other people living here. It was the biodiversity of the earthen surface that came to my mind. The vague beauty of the forest was floating in front of me as in a movie. The graphics of the mind did create a dream like picture. Suddenly the calling bell rang. A dark thought which is usual in prisoners peeped into my mind. Who will be ringing this bell on this holiday?
Sumana was folding clothes in the bedroom. She turned back and looked at me. Little eyes of Peeli and Thanmaya raised from the fishes in the glass jar, they were watching keenly.
Today is marked in red in the calendar. Such days are for special visitors like vendors of vegetables and fish, people coming to collect old newspapers, the farmer who comes with the organic rise from the pokkaali field and the washer man. Apart from these three, other special groups could also be considered, they are people who come to recover bad debts, relatives, neighbors or any unexpected visitors. No possibility for the people from the first two categories, so it must be an unexpected visit, and can be classified only after seeing them.
I stood up and confirmed that the dhothi is intact, but still it gave a loose feeling as usual. I opened the door. In front of me the caretaker Rajan Pillai, with a darkened face.
“Mr Aravindaakshan, what happened in the lift today? “ He enquired.
I could not recollect the incident immediately. However, it came to my mind in the next moment, and I smiled with an embarrassment in my eyes.
“I have not come to see your smile; I came to enquire about the complaint”
My smile faded, I could not raise my head. My secret act is going to get uncovered in front of my children and wife. My silence made Rajan Pillai more irritated.
Sir, that lift is for the use of all the residents in these flats. You cannot do any such nonsense there. Did you think nobody could notice, if you hide here after such a shameful act?
I could see Thanmaya and Peeli going to their mother in a frightened way. Sumana was watching me from the bed room door holding both children close to her.
Though my tongue may save me with its smartness, my finger nails might betray me. Dark crescent in each one of them have not disappeared even after washing thoroughly.
I said in a very polite manner,
“Rajan Pillai chettan, when I brought soil through the lift, the cover busted and little soil spread ….. “
“Little? Mrs Chandrathara and Mrs Poornni came to me with their children and showed me their dirty hands. If they got sick, will you take the responsibility, will you?” He raised his voice. I was in deep humiliation.
“I thought of informing the cleaning section, but …”
I said the truth. I have forgotten everything. I was in an extreme contentment.
“Right now I will clean it, you please go” I told him in a hurry.
I just glanced back to get an idea about the scene behind. Trying to analyze the expressions of my wife and kids, I smiled at him again. It seemed that he turned to a better temperament.
“See, we have instructed the residents not to bring meat or fish without proper packages. Then how can we compromise for soil? If I get complaints I cannot help taking actions.”
My heart filled with grief. I have seen blood drops in the lift. The dark blood stain in the walls and the floor of the lift could made me nervous. Is soil dirtier than the blood of a creature which is slaughtered for flesh?
Rajan Pillai was about to go, but turned back and asked. “Why do you bring soil inside, when all are trying to sweep out soil and dust?”
I could not give a truthful answer immediately, lied partially. “I got a plantlet, wanted to plant it in a bottle. “
“Try some money plants which need no soil. They will grow in water. Or why can’t you buy some beautiful plastic ones?”
I grinned again. Rajan Pillai has no ill feelings to the plants which grow in soil. Therefore, he didn’t say anything more, and left.
I was relieved, closed the door and turned back to see my family assembled in a row as the winners of a competition, Sumana in the middle and kids on both sides. I looked at her with a peculiar expression of insult and shame, which only a culprit can show. She stared at me in an unpleasant way and went back to the bedroom. Children came to me running. The little one said in kind voice
“I was afraid when uncle scolded you”
I hugged and kissed her. “Uncle was not scolding me, He was just telling about muddled elevator, don’t worry”, I pacified her
Papa, did you take the soil with bare hand? Then amma will also scold you. Soil is dirty.” Peeli said in a low voice. I could not help smiling. Is Sumana listening to her daughter’s alert?
Thanmaya was silent throughout this time. Then she asked seriously.
“Where did you keep soli?”
What was going on today? After waking up in the morning, an unusual enthusiasm packed in me. I went down, walked through the road about half a kilometer to find some free soil on the road side. I gathered some in a polythene cover to bring it safely. The real pain of unavailability of soil can be understood only when we live in such a city and go in search of little soil.
“Which plant? Is it Rose? “
Sumana came to us. She might have finished folding clothes. Otherwise, her feminine interest in a garden plant might have compelled her.
“Who gave you that plant? Shina aunti?” Thanmaya asked.
“Will it give big flowers? “
Peeli could not hide her excitement. She was happily running around me. Even in those unexpected shocks, I felt some sort of bliss.
Now my children can see a flowering plant nearby. It will be a new experience for them to see the process of planting it in a soil filled pot and keeping it in a convenient position of the open terrace. They can water it in turn. They can count the new leaves coming, with their eyes widely open.
The little gold fishes in the glass jar may get a long term rest as they could find their performances lacking any attention from the children.
When Sumana shook me with a question, children stopped their laughter and fun.
“Why are you upset? Is it because of the care taker’s instructions? Don’t mind it. I will give him in return. Don’t you know we have enough reasons to scold him? “
I gave her a pale look. I wanted to tell her the truth, but felt really bad about the presence of my children.
“I was lying. It is not a garden plant as you think. “
“Then… “She raised her eyebrows. Kids looked at me in the peak of their curiosity.
“It is a tree”
Sumana looked at me in a strange manner. It was a sharp and silent look which women used to take out in such circumstances to analyze their mentally weak husbands. It was a hundred kilograms gaze, but that doesn’t create any difference in children’s attitude.
‘Is it a Christmas tree?”
“How did you uproot it?”
I observed silence again. Why can’t I get out of this feeling of a real a culprit? I thought. Is it such a dirty time to handle soil and plants with a timid mind?
Sumana came with her next question.
“Is it a tree or tall flowering plant?”
“Not a flowering plant. It is the sapling of an ilanji.
My mind filled with the fragrance of the ilanji flowers spread all over like the sandal colored , size reduced clone of sunflowers. I walked to the terrace. The ilanji sapling was there in the corner along with old broken vessels and brooms.
Sumana surprised. “When did you bring it here?”
Children sat near the plant in astonishment. It reminded me the day when I brought decorative fishes. They even took the fish in their palm to see it clearly. I expected a similar observation even now.
“Papa, how tall the tree will grow?”
“Will it flower then?”
“Which flower? Name it papa?”
That is the name of the tree, no?
Yes, that too ilanji.
How is it papa, my name is not same as yours or amma’s, then how can it be?
I got confused. But Sumana took everything casually.
“Baby, it is not the case with plants. The flowers will get the name of their tree or plant. Like rose, daliya, lotus… “
“But papa, they have their own botanical names. We can even know their family from that name.” Thanmaya came with an argument revealing her knowledge.
‘Enough, enough” Sumana interfered.
Then she asked me calmly.
“Where are you going to plant it?” Now it is the time for me to open up my mind , which became more relevant by the visit of Rajan Pillai. Sumana’s usual demands and desires may come alive by this incident.
“At present we can plant it in a pot here, will think about the future later”
‘Can ilanji grow in pot? ‘
No, but since no other choice is left now, we can do it. We will go for a bigger pot, if needed”
“Wow, that is great, a big tree in this 7th floor, crossing the barriers of the terrace. You know it can collapse even. So it will be very easy to lose this rented residence too.” She laughed at me.
“No sumana, this small plant will take years to grow up into a big tree. Let it be here until then. Isn’t it really beautiful?”
She looked at me with a dark face.
“Don’t you remember, you were too upset when we put those fishes in a small glass jar, you are not allowing me to have some pet love birds even. Fishes in the glass jar are just like a tree in a pot. You are more childish than our children. “
I did not say anything. women will keep silence untill they get a chance to argue without any loophole. Kids are watching us interestingly.
“Do whatever you like, I don’t care, but don’t think that trees will take care of our kids when they grow up. The house rent is unaffordable even now. When we pack up for the next house, I have to pack these trees too.”
Sumana went to the kitchen. Thanmaya followed her. Peeli was sitting on the floor, observing the sapling in a hesitant manner. Her hands were folded and kept tightly to her belly. The ilanji sapling is standing firmly in the soil filled black polythene cover.
A serious debate over the limitations of the two- room flat started that night itself. It went on until the yarns of the night.
“ Aravindetaa, can we purchase some land, any time?” Sumana asked.
Children are growing very fast. Next year Peeli will be in first standard.
I know situations have changed a lot after the school admission of Thanmaya . It was four years back. The city is crowded with schools now. The annual fee is not less than rupees 40000 to 60000. They may be providing a high standard of education. That cannot be denied for Peeli. Otherwise, her voice will not keep its pace with that of the city life. In that case, her low voice may be strong enough to hurt her father’s heart. Thanamaya’ school expenses cannot be ignored too.
When I thought all these together, I felt the necessity of changing the job. But if I cannot survive in the new place, it will be another tragedy. I am a witness to the activities of the new generation professionals in the city. I could not pursue my thoughts as the memory brought two British personals Peter and Oxe to my mind.
Peter and Oxe started the company in British ruled Madras as a small garage for Mercedes Benz. Then they developed it to spare parts distribution centre. Now they have many branches in Southern India. The company became a part of the Amalgamation group as the British withdrawn from India. I joined there as an accounting assistant at the age of 21. My official position has been raised to a branch manager now. The only attractive factors of this job are the position, the Chennai trips and the colonial nostalgia of Peter Oxe .
A graduate with no computer education cannot take any official challenges at the age of 37. The job experience when combined with the position of the father of two kids and a little self respect is giving me a typical life experience. I cannot move to some other companies for a lower post. Getting a better salary is doubtful in that case too. It may be difficult to work with this experience at another place. Putting all these together, the hope for a change becomes illogical. Therefore, it is better to be in the same office among the same staff. The salary is not better than that of the ther staff members. House rent is to be paid from the pocket. Company has provided a bike and that is the only vehicle I owned so far in my life. As kids have grown up, bike journey became very risky now and that dangerous exercise is to be avoided soon.
There is a house construction plan in the bedroom cupboard of this house where we have been staying for the last ten years. That was drawn 11 years back just to accomplish a desire. No land was purchased or no money was arranged for the same. It was the architectural design of a dream house with three bedrooms, a fine garden in the courtyard and some land in the backyard with a number of trees and a small pond.
Now this is that Ilanji, which could not occupy its position in that dream land due to my disgraceful shortages so far.
We have not thought about any garden plants here for the last ten years. So the entry of this ilanji changed all our days. With Peeli and Thanmaya, I made it a habit to see the plant every morning immediately after getting up from sleep. While watering it together, we watched its new budding. Even some times my excitement will be so much that I forcibly invited Sumana too. One such day I told her’
“See the new leaf, one day I will plant it in our own land. Together we water it, and you see, it will grow into a big tree. “
Sumana looked casually and replied’ “I have stopped dreaming about such funny things.”
Sumana is from a poor family. I have selected her as my life partner on my own interest. There were least chances for her to get a better life partner, in the absence of my entry . She is aware of it and so she has no complaints about the life, though she used to share the scarcities.
Another day, when I was returning home from the office, I saw one small van of a nursery selling plantlets. They had a lot of fruit and flower plants including small mango trees and chikku plants. Among them, my instincts could find out a champa tree.
Suddenly I asked “what is the price for that”?
“Fifty rupees” answer came very fast. This is bigger than the ilanji at home. It requires a big pot too. Even then, it should be replanted to earth within one year. Otherwise, it can be a big crime against its life. The seller could recognize my interest which he can make use of. He started tempting me.
“Just plant it in the land, it will flower within a year. “
“Within one year?” I felt little uneasiness about the innocence in my enquiry.
“Sure sir, see its growth, it is golden champa.”
The famous poet’s lines came to mind. “ chempkapushapsuvasithayamam…”
I thought of Sumana’s feminine beauty. She has long hair. If this will flower in the next year, Sumana can decorate her hair with these flowers and she will come to sleep with the fragrance of heavenly champa flowers. Thanmaya too has long hair.
I thought of going back home little late so that others including Rajan Pillai will not notice this big sapling. He will go for dinner at 9’o clock. The gate keepers are not a problem for me. I packed it in a big polythene cover. Luckily, there was nobody in the elevator too…
I was in real dilemma when standing outside awaiting Sumana to open the door. It is very difficult to get some land in this city. Eight lacks per cent is too high for a common man. Even in the outskirts, the land is not much cheaper. So this life term will not give a chance to buy even five cents of land if everything goes in this way. Now Sumana’s salary is going for the house rent alone. I know, this champa tree also has to wait endlessly in the open terrace with the ilanji. I would not have bought it.
Thanmaya yelled in excitement, “mamma, papa has done a shopping, see the big packet”. I was shocked, I was is an urgency to get a polythene cover and when asked, one shop keeper gave me a good one of a famous textile show room, and now that created misunderstandings here. Sumana looked happily. Peeli tried to grab the packet.
“No, No it will snap, leave it” I was afraid; the branches of champa may get damaged.
“So, it is not dress? , Then what? Sumana exclaimed “something delicate?”
I sat on a chair nearby. I should not have covered it in this way. I should have ignored Rajan Pillai‘s concern about the building structure which a tree can damage.
I opened the cover and took the plant out. It was tall. It stood dishonorably in the room with the T.V, D VD, etc. The wet soil the black polythene felt inferiority complex of coming into an odd place. Sumana looked at me doubtfully. Children were observing both of us.
They started impatiently.
“Which is this plant, papa, and is it a big Ilanji”? Shall we keep it here?
Can we keep it on the TV”? I got up from the chair with my chempa . “Now we can keep it in the terrace, we will think about this tomorrow. Now you go and learn your lessons.”
I kept it nearby the ilanji. It gave me immense pleasure to see both trees together.
That night, when we were about to sleep, I told Sumana, “It is ponchampa. Didn’t you see, long petals with golden color… it will flower in the next year. You can have those flowers for free , no?”
Sumana asked “It will become a big tee, won’t it?” with no irritation in her voice.
“Not that big”
“Then why don’t you buy some small plants like Rose which we can plant here easily?”
She asked without any expectation of getting an answer from me.
She might have thought that these trees will inspire me to buy some land anywhere. She knows my desire to live in the fragrant air of them.
That support tempted me further and it gave way to many trees like mandaram, nagalimgam, gulmohar, punna and neem. All of them came to my seventh floor terrace through the lift. My life became very busy with their cultivation. It gave me much happiness to be in the green filled terrace. Even from the north side of the ground, the shining leaves of these trees were visible.
Another Sunday, the calling bell rang. I opened the door to see Mr Rajan Pillai.
He was in a fuming mood and asked suddenly.
“ Mr arvindakshan, what were you doing at that corner of the car porch yesterday night?
I swallowed. Looked back, to see my family. Yes, they are there. I grinned as usual.
“See Mr Arvindakshan, I have come with a serious complaint. Don’t smile. Shall I read this compliant in front of your wife and children?”
What would be the complaint this time? Who might have given it? I felt irritated.
“Why did you go to the west side car parking area during yesterday night?
I looked back Sumana. Her eyes are firm on me. Rajan Pillai continued without any softness in voice.
“You know Rani madam and her mother are alone there, as her husband is abroad. You were roaming nearby. Some children have seen you. That is the complaint. Do you understand?
Sumana came forward. She stared me with sharp eyes. Kids were frightened by the scene.
Rajan Pillai could not stop there.
“Look, Mrs and Mr Mahendran have already lodged a complaint against you. I never expected such behavior from you and not acted immediately on it. You know, what they told? They are not able to use their dressing room as you are always in the terrace looking that side. What is happening to you as you getting old?”
I bowed my head. Silence spread all over there.
My colleague Shina has given me some seeds of kanikkonna last week. I was trying to find some land for seedling. I could find some loose soil in the broken concrete of the car parking.
He started talking to Sumana. “In this complaint they have written that your husband was peeping to the bath room of Mrs Rani. What should I do now?
Sumana came further and said” RajanPilla chetta , please come” as she walked , he followed her. When she opened the door to the terrace, the green leaves of mandaram along with the dark green leaves of nagalimga pushed in.
“Wow, what is this?” He astonished.
“Herbarium “Sumana told. This time it was my turn to be surprised. Sumana who studied economics and who is in the job of a clerk is telling about herbarium.
Every tree has been given a name plate with its name and botanical name. That was for thanmaya. Sumana and kids believed that one day we would be going to our own land somewhere to transplant all of them. It gave clear dreams about our future living. My old wife and I would be living happily in a house festooned with these trees, where my kids and family visit us frequently.
Then Sumana asked. “What was yesterday’s incident?”
“I was planting the kanikkonna seeds given by Shina”. I answered.
Rajan pilla left home without any more words.
That whole day I was thinking about the bank loans and the real estate business persons who are looting the dreams of a common man. My daughters are growing. I have to give them proper education. I should give them a standard life. With this job of the manager in Peter and Oxe I have to work around 20 years more to accomplish all those. I cannot keep these big trees in the balcony of this rented house for long. I may be forced to send them somewhere. It is terribly beyond my thoughts.
My restlessness did not end there. It prolonged all through the night. When I realized that my eyes could not welcome sleep, I got up from the bed and walked out of the room. There, my world of trees greeted me. I stood among them. I could see the bedroom ventilations of Mr mahendran’s flat were fully covered with paper. Now only I noticed it. I could not put up with my agony. I sat on the floor helplessly. There was pale moonlight all around. I recollected the word Sumana voiced today, “herbarium. “
On normal days, we used to leave the house together in the morning, after sending the children to school. As usual, next day we were walking out of the lift. We noticed Rajan Pillai was waiting for us, outside his office room. He moved towards us. We looked each other in panic.
“There is a plot of land around 18 kilometers away from here. It is north to those fields. No middleman in the business. Shall we go and see it? The owner is in U S, it is not priced highly, and you can afford it. I have enquired everything.”
We could not believe our ears. Both of us looked each other with the same feelings in our heart.
Rajan Pillai continued.
“There are lots of trees in that plot. They want some good buyers who will conserve it properly. If Mr Arvaindakashan buys it, their wish would be fulfilled, I know. “
I did not say anything. Sumana was talking something in her excitement. I raised my head to see my seventh floor balcony. The dark green leaves were waving a blissful manner.
Note : “Ilanji”, “Chempa”, “Mandaram”, “Nagalinga” etc are flowering trees.