(Telugu Original story “ Chettantha Edaganee” by Dr K. Meerabai)

-Dr K. Meerabai

Kamakshamma , closed the windows and doors of the room where she was sitting but still felt the blows of the axe falling on the tree  hurting her heart.
      Four labourers who came in the morning with their tools like saws,axes,and ropes started their work of cutting the coconut trees. They were cheering  up each other to bring down the tall coconut tree by cutting the trunk.
     Each time the axe touched the tree, kamakshamma felt the impact of the blow and could hear her heart beat loudly .
        Twenty five years ago when kamakshamma and her husband Ramachandrayya visited Sri Kalahasti town, they bought the coconut saplings. The gardener said they were special type of saplings which would give the yield in a short time and that the coconuts would be with in the reach of a tall man.
        Kamakshamma protected the saplings by wrapping them up in a wet cloth during their return journey. As soon as they arrived home, she got them planted by the milk supplier Somappa making sure that he added some red soil while planting them.
     Whenever she watered the plants, her  son, ten year old Sudhakar would follow her carrying water in a small vessel.
       Today the grown up Sudhakar was getting the trees uprooted. Belying the words of the seller, the trees grew tall but yielded very few coconuts. But the whole yard was covered by the big coconut leaves.
      Sudhakar thought, by felling the trees they could’ve more space in the yard to  build two portions which they could rent out for ten thousand.
        After the retirement of Ramachandrayya  they were getting less than half of his salary as pension. That was not enough to meet their living expenses and the medical expenditure for their old age diseases like arthritis and high blood pressure. Sudhakar being their only son, they were staying with him. Their married daughter was in Hyderabad.
      Sudhakar earned good money. His wife Neeraja was not highly educated.They  had two sons whom they wanted to educate in corporate colleges and make them engineers so that  they could go to America.
        Much against the wish of his parents, Sudhakar compelled them to accept his plan of building a  two room portion at ground level and two more rooms upstairs. As Neeraja was doing beautician course she could earn a lot if she opened a beauty parlour in the upstairs.That was their idea.
      Ramachandrayya and kamakshamma suggested that instead of cutting the green trees  they could leave them untouched and build the rooms in the rest of the area.
But Sudhkar was against wasting the area for the useless trees.
        Felling such big trees was not an easy thing. They had to cut them in three parts. Two men were holding the top part of the tree with the help of ropes so that it would  fall neither on the compound wall nor on the partition wall of the neighbour.
      Two other workers were trying to cut the trunk by using the axes.
      Kamakshamma ,who could not tolerate  this butchery locked her self in the room closing the windows  and doors.
      Ramachandrayya went to the near by Siva temple to avoid  witnessing the ongoing operation.
There came a loud sound of the trunk of the tree falling accompanied by the shouts of the workers “ pull it away. Let it not fall on the wall.” Unable to bear these sounds, Kamakshamma  plugged her ears.
           She remembered how the fan like coconut leaves decorated not only the venue of marriages of Sudhakar and his sister Vani, but came in handy for marriages in the houses of many residents of the colony. All these years the trees protected them from  the hot winds of summer by giving them shade.
     The thought that the day brought the cessation of the bond  brought tears to kamakshamma’s eyes.
        Rangaya, the cycle repairer, who had to vacate his shed for his inability to pay rent, begged for the logs to build a temporary shed. A neighbour carried the coconut leaves to be used as fire wood to boil bathing water. By evening ‘kamakshi Nilayam’ , their house, stood like a marriage hall without decoration.
     That night kamakshamma did not touch food. Ramachandrayya went to bed after consuming a glass of buttermilk. The son and daughter-in-law kept quiet thinking that the elderly people would get used to the loss.
      Within two days the foundation work for the construction got started.
That very day Vasu, son of Sudhkar came running to his grand mother  who was moving around listlessly “ come on ! Grandma!
 Come and see what grand father is doing.” He took her to the front door.
       Ramachandrayya was getting four saplings planted by the milk supplier Prasad on the other side of the road in front of their home.
     He had gone to the farmer’s market in the C-camp centre and bought the saplings of neem,peepul, bael (bilva) and forest -fire trees.
       Prasad finished his work of planting the trees and watering them, took the fifty rupee note given by Ramachandrayya and left jubilantly.
    Kamakshamma who stood at the door watching her husband,  became  introspective: “ what an idea at this old age? How long would it be by the time they grow into trees? Would they live to see them grow and spread their branches?”
      Ramachandrayya looked at her and smiled.
   On the other side of the road in front of their house there was a stretch of land meant for a park. But the municipality never bothered about developing it into a park.  Children from nearby school  played there exposing themselves to the Sun. “ If  these trees came up there would be some shade for them to relax” kamakshamma mused. When she turned to go into  the house, she saw Vasu carrying water in a small metal pot for watering the trees. This sight  brought back the memory of her son Sudhakar  getting water to water the coconut trees.
      Next day morning Ramachandrayya went to the collector’ s office and brought ” tree guards “ supplied by the office. He called prasad to fix them as protection to the saplings.
        As he had watered the plants before anybody in the family  got up, they looked fresh ad well-fed.
     There after it had become a habit to Ramachandrayya to water the plants in the morning and kamakshamma in the evening. If any stray goat or buffalo tried to reach the leaves, Ramachandrayya would drive the animal away  with a tall stick.
         The neighbours in the colony secretly smiled at the whims of the old couple.
It took six months for the new portion to get ready. As the walls of the house rose higher, the plants too grew up.
       At this juncture,  kamakshamma’s daughter Vani and son in law had to go to America to attend to their daughter’s delivery. Vani requested her mother and father to take care of her son who was in his tenth grade. She arranged a cook to help kamakshamma.
Kamakshamma assigned the work of watering the trees to their servant maid Savitri, on the understanding that  she would be paid extra money for doing that. Without her knowledge Ramachandrayya asked Rangayya to water the plants. Savitri was none other than Rangayya’ wife.
          During the six months they spent in Hyderabad, kamakshamma and Ramachandrayya were constantly thinking of their trees.Time and again  Ramachandrayya  was talking to Rangayya on phone and was  enquiring  how  the trees were faring.
      By the time they came back to Kurnool, the trees grew up tall and the forest- fire tree was flowering.  Looking at the trees, the couple felt the sin of cutting the coconut trees was partly nullified  and resumed their duty of watering them.
       One day  Kamakshamma’s neighbour Saraswathamma came to say hello to her. She suggested that  by  performing the marriage of neem tree and peepul tree they would be blessed.
       Kamakshamma looked at the labourers sitting under trees and eating their lunch and said , “ The trees are  giving shade to people. That  itself is  good enough.”
Saraswathamma left disappointed.
     If anyone was trying to take the tender branch of neem tree for using it as tooth brush Ramachandrayya would be mad at them. One day Kamakshamma saw the vegetable vendar  Lakshumamma taking a bag full of neem leaves . She shouted at her  whether she wanted to destroy the tree.
   “ My daughter is affected by chicken pox madam.  I was told that these  leaves will alleviate the scratchy feeling on her body. That is why I am taking them.” She explained.
      “ In that case it is okay ..While giving bath to her when the fever comesdown, add these neem leaves and some turmeric in the bathing water so that her skin would remain spotless.” Kamakshamma instructed her.
         All of a sudden they heard that cycle repairer Rangayya was admitted to the hospital. His wife Savitri did not turn up for duty for two days. She came on the third day sobbing inconsolably to inform them that both the kidneys of Rangayya failed to work and that he might not survive . Kamakashamma felt sorry.
     Her daughter- in -law Neeraja said harshly “ you have been  saying that what all he earns  is spent on liquor. If the kidneys are affected  it  is his fault.”
       Sudhakar came home with the news that ten people were severely wounded in the accident that happened near Alampur and four of them were in critical condition.He added that when one junior doctor suggested the kith and and kin to think of organ donation they  attacked the doctor.
        Next morning Ramachandrayya saw  Prasad,the milk supplier, cutting tender peepul branches and rushed to stop him.
     “Do you want to kill the tree you have planted? Why are you cutting the branches?” He shouted at him.
    “ My heels  hurt a lot because of cracked skin sir. My mother says the milk  of the leaves heals them.” He replied apologising.
   “ Oh! If you had asked me I would have helped you to get the leaves.” Saying so Ramachandrayya used his stick to bend the branch so that Rangayya could reach them.
      Neeraja, who was observing this, commented to her mother-in-law sarcastically “This morning that Hanumayamma’s daughter-in- law came and circumambulating the peepul tree three times so that she could conceive. Do people get tamarind if they stand under the tamarind tree and recite holy words? Can one get children by going round the peepul tree?”
      Kamakshamma who was lighting a lamp in front of God’s image replied patiently
“ Our ancestors saw god in trees and animals too. It is believed that Brahma- incharge of creation,Vishnu -in charge of  maintenance and Siva in charge of destruction  reside in the  roots, trunk and the top of the peepul tree in that order.  That is why we bow down in front of peepul tree. According to Aurveda science,  if  a childless lady consumes the powder of dried peepul  fruit mixed with raw sugar, certain disorders  in the womb would be cured . That might help her to conceive. The wise people knew if science is linked with devotion, it would psychologically work.”
      Neeraja kept quiet.
Kamakshamma put the bael( bilva) leaves on the image of Lord Siva, paid her obeisance  and recited a prayer that says “ I worship you with the bael( bilva) leaf which has three leaflets representing the three ‘gunas’ ( namely Rajas, Tamas, Satva ); the three eyes of Siva; and  His weapon so that the sins I committed in three consecutive lives would be nullified.
   Neeraja asked her “mother- in- law! Is it  true that  if we apply the pulp of the cooked  fruit of bael( bilva) tree on our hair, it makes  the hair soft and smooth?”
    “ you have opened a “ herbal beauty parlour.”. Make use of these natural things and show the result.” Kamakshamma smiled.
      After two days  Savitri’s husband died in the hospital.The teary eyed  Savitri who came back  after two weeks told Kamakshamma  “ Amma! my husband  would have survived if someone had donated a suitable kidney. They said my kidney did not suit him.”
        That night kamakshamma could not sleep. She was thinking of Rangayya who died at the young age of forty. “The government sold liquor to get revenue. People in high position were part of the scam and amassed crores of rupees but never cared for the lives of the poor. Can all that money buy one extra minute to the longevity of a man? Kings may be enthroned  and rule their kingdoms but would  they be able to carry any money when they die ? When would men learn this wisdom?”
        “Trees and animals  help mankind in their own way. Fruit bearing trees provide us fruits and even when they are cut down, would still be useful for building houses or at least as fire wood. Cows give us  milk. Dogs have proved to be  faithful to their masters. The dead animal’s skin would be used for making bags and shoes. Man alone continues to be a selfish being as long as he lives and after his death his body would be of no use. But now a days  wth the improved knowledge of science,  the body parts of a dead man could be used to save the lives of others they say.” Kamakshamma went on musing till late in the night.
        The next day morning she complained of heart burn and visited the hospital along with her daughter-in-law.
       When they came back Neeraja said to her husband: “ Do you know what your mother did in the hospital? She signed on papers that she is  willing to donate her organs to the hospital after her demise”.
        “ Why did you do such thing mother? You know our ancient  holy books would never approve such a thing.” Sudhakar said.
    “ Trees and animals which are no match to humans in intelligence, prove to be useful not only during their life time but also after their death. All these years I have lived selfishly for myself and my children. At least after my death let me be of some use to others. Veda and holy books never said no to helping people.” Kamakshamma said in an even tone.
        After this incident kamakshamma grew tall in stature in the eyes of Ramachandrayya.
 “ I have planted just four saplings and assumed it would compensate the felling of the coconut trees. But my  wife has learnt so much from the trees.” He thought.
      That evening when Ramachandrayya was watering the trees, kamakshamma approached him and said in a soft tone “ Till today I  have never done anything without consulting  you. Observing how the trees continue to serve Us when they are living and also when they are  cut down, I too wanted to be helpful to others after my death like a tree. Hope you are not angry with me for what I did!”
       Ramachandrayya looked up at the tree, saw the birds taking shelter there for the night and smiled  “You showed me the way how  a man  could grow tall like a tree if he resolves to be of use to others.”


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