Flower of Sycamore
By Sudhir Misra
It is rainy season. The juicy flowers of Indian Lilac are also dripping. The nursery of Khare grandfather is also full of greenery. The tree at the outer corner of the nursery is full of red Sycamore.Within the nursery, guava, mulberry and navel orange are also growing. With a lot of effort grandfather has cultivated navel orange in the heat of Lucknow, which is usually out of reach for children studying in class fourth like Chitu. Yes, of course in the guava season the nursey gets desolated. Despite of keeping a very tight watch by Khare family, the children army somehow find the opportunity to infiltrate the nursery.
With the bunch of some older children Chitu also gets something. Once they get the opportunity then the children don’t leave anything, be it guava or navel orange no matter if it is raw or ripe, they just fill their pockets. Today also, this team of grasshoppers have ravaged the nursery. When Khare grandfather saw the nursery he got shocked.
Khare grandfather went to complain. The first target was Chitu.The door was knocked and a voice from out of the house came-Hey Mishra ji, are you in the house?Chitu’s father has just arrived home. He has some special habits. Whenever he returns home from somewhere, for at least half an hour his temper remains very high. Everybody in the house as well as outside is afraid of his temper. But the nursery of poor grandfather was desolated. The first name on the list ofthe people responsible for this devastation was Chitu.
At the third call of Mishraji, without a shirt and with just a cloth wrapped around his waist he came out and said – tell me.Khare grandfather was shocked when he saw his dire look and said – nothing Mishraji, Iwas saying that take care of Chitu a bit. If he will roam around with Firoz, Chand and Nanke, then he will be a spoilt brat.Today these people have destroyed the whole nursery. I am just saying that if he needs guava or navel orange, he should come to me, I will give him myself.After saying this Khare grandfather quickly got past him.
The weather was very humid at that time.However, whenever Mishraji gets angry, Chitu automatically gets drenched in sweat. Mishraji first increased the volume of radio. Then he picked up the wooden rod that is used to clean cloths and started beating Chitu, turnig his back red.With this he started saying – do I keep you hungry that you are doing such things and defaming in the whole society. Chitu folded his hands and began to weep.
'Dad, Iwas plucking the Sycamore. I did not go to the nursery. "
Hearing this Mishraji dictated – you will not get dinner tonight. Go eat Sycamore now.
All these things stayed within the family. People outside could only listen to the songs. Mishraji is very well mannered. Whenever he beats someone in the home, he increases the volume of the radio. So that people outside cannot hear the shouting and crying of the family members.
Chitu quietly went on the terrace.Just then Aunt Spoke – take Raju outside, I have to prepare dinner.Aunt is Chitu’s step-mother.Chitu was furious (thought) – First, Iwon’t be getting dinner & now I have to take Raju out also.One and half year old Raju was crying loudly.Well Chitu held Raju in arms and reached underthe sycamore tree near the temple on the hill. This fig tree was not only his, but was a friend of all the children as well as the old people of the neighborhood. From panchayat to the country's politics, everything is discussed under its shade.
It isevening time. Chachi (aunty) is already sitting. Chachi is chachi of the entire neighborhood. Both Mishraji and Chitu calls her Chachi.The one thing that Chitu liked very much about her was that despite of the high volume of the radio, she could easily understand who was beaten by Mishraji.Looking at the crying face of Chitu she asked – what happened?He was already very furious. He started to cry instantly and said – I was beaten by my father.Chachi instantly wiped his tears from dhoti drape and asked – your aunt did not save you? He did not say anything.Chachi with all the women sitting with her started discoursing – this is what happens after the death of mother. Mishra got married again even before 3 months were over. Now the children have grown Cichhaledr.Shuklain joined the chorus as well.Chitu became sadder.Raman uncle appeared to come fromthe front.Seeing chachi, uncle greeted her.Chachi said – where have you been? You have become like the flower of Sycamore.Chitu did not pay attention to what else they talked about. But flower of Sycamore aroused his curiosity.He asked - Chachi what is Sycamore’s flower? Chachi asked – Have you ever seen a Sycamore’s flower? He said no.Chachi said – even I have not seen it, but my grandfather had a flower. He reaped plait of a witch. The witch brought the flowerfor him.Chitu's eyes widened ... Witch’s plait."Yeah ... So if someone steals Witch’s plait of hair, the she becomes his slave throughout his life. MyGrand father returned her plait only after she brought her the flower. "Expressions of flashbacks appeared on Chachi’s face – when my grandfather had the flower, he had a large landlordism. Even the Englishmen came to meet him. Then the flower was stolen.
Chitu did not understand that what was so special in the sycamore flowers? Chachi said - Chitu if you get the sycamore flower, then all your desires will come true.Then Chachi was called back..Chitu also went home. Raju was crying, he handed him to Aunt.Mishraji came out frombehind the scenes in the wardrobe.Then the order followed – go upstairs.Chitu got it, it was the everyday’s routine. A half bottle of English wine opens every other day. Roasted cashew nuts, shredded cheese and lettuce.Yes, the special thing was that no one could see him drinking.Mishraji believed that drinking alcohol is bad. Therefore, he should not drink it in front of children.However, he used to send Chitu to fetch the cigarettes.Chitu was hungry by then. The sounds of his empty stomach could be heard clearly and tears were flowing from his eyes.He started to think that how good it would have been if his mother was still alive. His father could not dare to beat him like this. Mother would have taken the beating on herself but would have not allowed his father to beat Chitu.Suddenly he remembered how good ladyfinger dish she used to prepare, with breads.God, can Mummy not come back? Suddenly Chitu remembered what Chachi told him about Sycamore flower and wish fulfillment.What if he gets the sycamore flower? Yes, then he can resurrect his mummy.Chitu began to recall the face of his mummy lying in the hospital.Doctors were saying – its ninety percent burn, no hope.From feet to head, she was badly burnt.Facial skin was hanging fromall over herface.Then she called Chitu.Chitu saw her condition and began to cry. Mummy's face was strangely expressionless. Probably she had stopped feeling the discomfort and pain.She said: Come here son.Chitu went and stood beside her.She looked into his eyes and spoke without moving her head or neck - son, study well, become a great man and yes, always listen to your father.She then closed her eyes.Chitu was sent outside.Around five o'clock in the morning she died.
Chitu’s chain of thought broke – he started to think what did mother say before going to the house ofthe Lord? Father is so merciless. He beats me so much. He does not even give me food.Then the voice of Mishraji came - come downstairs.Everyone in the family have had their dinner and had gone to be.d.Mishraji was sitting on the bed in the balcony. Both hands were leaned backwards while. The sky was cloudy and joy on liquor was on the face of Mishraji.Chitu knew now was the time for Dad's lecture, but suddenly philosophical expressions appeared on his face and he began to speak - what amI? AmI your enemy? I know this is what you think, but you do not know for your father how important the respect of his children is. I don’t care how I lived, but if someone will come and say something about my children then... his mother....Then suddenly tears started coming from his eyes.What do you think? Do I get pleasure from beating you or keeping you hungry? But this harassment is important, otherwise you will not become successful when you grow up. You will be like me.Then suddenly he got up and brought dinner from the kitchen and kept it in front of Chitu.Suddenly he started to like Papa. He jumped on the food.
Mishraji went to sleep.Chitu had quelled the appetite of his stomach but the pain of his back increased.He started thinking about his father – in the morning he will again get angry on some orthe otherthing and will again beat him. He again recalled his mother. The thought of sycamore flower was still dancing in his mind. All the people were asleep. He quietly opened the outside doorlatch. The time was quarter to twelve in the night. Chachi said that sycamore flower blossoms exactly at twelve at night. Genie and Apsara come to pluck them. Into the darkness, Chitu timidly reached underthe tree. Nothing wasvisible. Through the green leaves, the thick branches of Sycamore were looking like giant’s hands and feet. It was already twelve in night. There seemed to be no flower. At last, with no success in finding the flower he returned home. He could not sleep for a long time. His back was hurting. Tears came floodingFrom his eyes.
This childhood process of Chitu went on for a very long period. Whenever Chitu was beaten or he was in any difficulty or suffering, the Sycamore flower seemed to be his only hope. There was always hope that one day he will definitely find the Sycamore flower.He will keep his wish in front of the flower – resurrect my mummy. Chitu himself didn’t know when he began to understand this truth. The truth that the Sycamore flower never blooms nor his mother who has gone to the home of God, will return.
.. Now he does not go underthe Sycamore tree…As he has grown up now.
Translated by Vasundhara Singh