“It happened so suddenly that afternoon!”

“I know. The storm was bad. Wasn’t it?”

“Well, I guess the tree was also quite old. This one had been here since we moved into this society, five decades ago.”

“Anyway, it was dangerous the way it was leaning on one side. And that Abdul’s tapri underneath was also big nuisance. Bats at night and the brats all day. I hated it.”

“What a sound that was! Heh, na?”

It has been 36 hours since the Municipality’s emergency help arrived and cleared the tree blocking the apartment gate. But people would not stop talking about it: how strange, how shocking, how sudden, oh so scary, so lucky. Sometimes she wonders if everyone ever sees the same things, the world as she does. Did they know he was there that afternoon? Did anyone see him die?

The rain was still heavy,  when she got out from the auto near Abdul Chacha’s shop. There was waterlogging on the road and the autowallah refused to go any further. Chacha recognised her, came running with an umbrella and handed it over to her without a word. He nodded his head. She understood, accepted it with a smile, a return nod, and began crossing the waterlogged road to reach the apartment a little further away.  Not for a minute did she think that the climate was changing.

An hour later when she rushed to the window on hearing the crashing sound it seemed like some new forest had come rushing to the main road. It took a while before she started noticing, in the distance the old tree now fallen. And peeping like a white dove from a tree hole, a taqiyah , his skullcap.

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya recite the poem

PHOTO • Labani Jangi

The Old Tree

Who do you think watches
the sun climb over leaves,
a chameleon turning from lime
to gold-green to deep forest
to orange, to rust...
who keeps the count
when leaves fall, one after another?
Who notices the greying of the resolve,
time meditating, precariously,
on brittle branches,
or the chew marks left by tree squirrels
scurrying up and down the trunk
hunting for God knows what?
Who watches the army of carpenter ants
drilling holes in the confident bark?
who sees the trunk tremble in the dark?
Who smells the storm rising in the tree rings,
and springs that wilt inside
or hang uninvitingly,
a bunch of mushrooms
along the trunk?

Who fathoms the depths of my roots,
the blind distance they dig,
the colour of the last hope
they search in the aquifer?
Who feels my ever tightening grip
on the slippery soil,
the drying of the sap in my veins
scorched by forest fire?
They only see the final fall.

This poem was first published in a climate anthology titled Count Every Breath. Ed. Vinita Agrawal, Hawakal Publishers, 2023.

Pratishtha Pandya

Pratishtha Pandya is a Senior Editor at PARI where she leads PARI's creative writing section. She is also a member of the PARIBhasha team and translates and edits stories in Gujarati. Pratishtha is a published poet working in Gujarati and English.

Other stories by Pratishtha Pandya
Illustration : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi