End of an eraAs the birds would come back to their nests, Nancy and her Amma would sit under the banyan tree. And Amma would tell her the story of a myna bird.
The garden was grown by her husband. He was in love with plants and flower beds in the little lawn they owned.
Shree would come from his office, and after his noon meal, he would look after his garden. During this time, Harimaya’s duty was to accompany her husband, bring him buckets of water and help him carry his tools. She used to do this happily, for all these activities gave her time to enjoy the company of her husband. He would take care of the plants as he chatted about his work with his beloved. Harimaya would rest her back on the big, strong trunk of the banyan tree and look at the smiling face of Shree while he drank his evening tea.
Then time changed. Shriram’s accidental death at the age of 60 had compelled Harimaya to live a barren old age. Her other family members are not interested in her life either. In the past two years, Harimaya had felt empty and alone with her husband passing away. How cruel fate has been to take away only her husband, but not her. She missed him every single minute of the day.
After her husband passed away, Harimaya was alone. For 62-year-old Harimaya, life was getting a burden with no one to care for her. Maniram, her only son, was an engineer by profession, and he could hardly manage time for his mom due to his office work. Reema, the wife of Maniram, too had little time to look after her mother-in-law, balancing work at a bank and family life.
Nancy, Harimaya's granddaughter, was quite close to her grandma. Every day, Nancy would greet her grandma before leaving for her school. And Harimaya, in her trembling voice, would always greet her back, and offer a piece of chocolate or candies. After everyone left home, Harimaya used to water the flowers and vegetables in the garden.
Nancy and the dear garden were the apple of Harimaya’s eyes.
Often, Nancy would spend time with her Amma in the garden and would find her talking to flowers. "Why do you talk to these flowers, Aama? They don’t reply,” Nancy would put her logic. “Yes, they don’t reply. But when they wave their heads, they tell me that they listen to me.”
Then, as the birds would start to come back to their nests by sunset, Nancy and her Amma would sit under the banyan tree. And Harimaya would tell her the story of myna bird, who had a beautiful nest on a big banyan tree. This had become a daily ritual for Harimaya.
The only way she could cope with her loneliness was by cherishing the beauty of the sunflowers and talking to the roses and sharing her deep love with Nancy. Maniram always protested his mother’s working in the garden. He thought that she must avoid such hard work. One evening, when Maniram returned from his office, Harimaya was watering the garden.
“Aama, I told you not to do all these things. Go and rest,” Maniram said as he passed by the garden.
“If I don’t, who will take care of this garden? You big man have no time to look after your home,” Harimaya replied.
Maniram stood by as his mother was busy gardening.
“Let these things be. If you don’t want Shankar to come to our bungalow, we will bring another gardener to look after this,” he said. He thought that Aama didn’t like the work of Shankar, the gardener of his colony.
“No! Until I am alive, I’ll do it myself,” she protested.
That night when everyone gathered to have dinner, a "garden talk" arose after Harimaya continuously coughed for five minutes. The wheezing chest sounds was alarming, although they ignored it as routine illness.
“See Aama, it’s because you’re working much these days. Please rest, and don’t you worry about the garden,” Maniram said. “We will bring a gardener."
Harimaya didn’t reply to him. She instead preferred to retreat to her bedroom asking Nancy to hold her hand to support her weak steps.
Although Reema lacked time, she had always been a kind daughter-in-law. Looking at the disappearing figure of Harimaya in the doorway, she spoke to Maniram, “Why don’t you cut this banyan tree. It has begun to swing. I think its roots have become weak. Last week, when there was a storm, I was wondering that it might fall on the balcony of our room.”
‘’I don’t think it would be wasted. We lack good furniture in Nancy’s room. We’ll make of the banyan tree,” Reema also thought fit to add.
“So, you will cut things when they grow old?” Nancy asked surprisingly, with a hint of annoyance, who had come back, leaving Aama in the room.
“What will we do of the old tree? At least, if we cut, we’ll have good furniture,” Maniram said.
“Grandma told me that she had planted that tree 50 years ago. I will not allow you to cut it,” Nancy announced as she stood up to leave, grabbing her dear doll.
Post-dinner, further chit-chat in the dining room kept on going. The night passed, and days followed, but the routine of Harimaya never changed. With time, her respiratory problem developed into severe asthma. She needed care, but her family members hardly had time to look after old Harimaya. Reema always insisted that she should take her medicines regularly. It was a topic of argument almost routinely. But no one separated time to give her the meds.
“Aama hasn’t come for dinner, today?”, Hari asked on the dining table. “I haven't seen her since I came back from shopping."
“You know that I’ve just come back from the office. It was the last day to submit the reports for the closing contract with the client. So, it took a lot of time. I also haven't seen her,” Reema said, stuffing the last piece of chicken. “ Ok, I’ve to check Nancy's weekly academic report. Please go checkup on Aama,” she requested Hariram.
“Ok, I will see Aama,” he replied while putting some soup into the bowl to take to Aama’s room. As he was making his way towards the main door of the hallway, the phone rang. He put the plate on the bowl and stopped to attend the phone call. It was about the urgent submission of the down payment of his new property. He forgot all about Amma, and the bowl of soup.
The following morning when Nancy reached her grandma’s room to greet, Nancy saw her grandma lying prostrate on the bed.
“Good morning, Aama,” Nancy greeted.
Grandma did not reply.
Nancy sensed the worst had happened.
While leaving the room to call her parents, Nancy caught a glimpse from the window of the garden: the banyan tree was lying lifeless on the ground.