FICTION – The Literary Jewels: Vol.2, Issue 1
By PARAMBIR KAUR
Even today the sight of a dilapidated house or a dried up, dead tree standing anywhere transports my mind back to the time when I used to be a frequent witness to the presence of both of these together. This relates to about three and a half decades ago. I was doing graduation at the time and Srishti used to be my constant companion and friend in college. Even her house was merely a stone’s throw away from my parental home. And it was our wont to visit each other off and on, in the evenings for an effervescent chatter. Srishti would invariably take me to the roof of her single storey house, and we would stand near the parapet, our arms resting on it. The adjoining house had a large muddy compound, with only a ramshackle room, standing in one of its corners. Half of the room’s roof was missing and the remaining half could give way any time. A run-down door-frame too stood there as if to certify that the room had doors in its better times.
There stood in the yard of the ‘house’ a large, tall, stark dry, dead tree, devoid of even its bark. The top branches were too brittle to sport even the weight of a kite or crow. Whenever one or two of these birds landed on its higher, thin branches, these would break, thus making the bird fly to another branch but the same would be repeated. It was such a sight to see a number of crows and kites descending on the tree, flitting from one branch to another, only to return disenchanted or probably they made a game of it. The ground beneath the tree was scattered all over with dry twigs. The huge size of the tree did indicate though, that during its heydays it must have been a safe haven to a large number of birds. It must have also provided cool shade and maybe some fruit to the inhabitants of the house!
A very old woman dressed in dull and nondescript clothes could be spotted, very rarely of course, when she moved out of the battered room, on some purpose. It was mostly to draw water from an old-fashioned, rickety hand-pump which stood quietly in another corner of the plot. She walked with the help of a stick, bent with the burden of age and probably desolation too. We never saw her making a sound of any kind.
The fact that I found most incredible about this place, was that all the occupants of the ‘house’ were so identical, all past their prime and in absolute unanimity with each other. They not only looked alike but ‘sounded’ similar too; in fact they were all so silent. What chance must have brought all these together, at the same time and place! The tree did not have a single leaf which at least the wind could have rustled while passing by it; the old lady had probably resigned to her quiet, lonely state and made no sound at all; the room did not even have a door which could have produced some creaky sound and even the forsaken hand-pump was so silent when water trickled out of it! To an onlooker it seemed that they had all got used to contemplating and conversing with their inner-selves. One also wondered where those people could be, who could have thrived and basked in the glory of the old woman’s blessings!