Come Vasant (the spring) and one remembers the flamboyant Palash (Butea monosperma, popular also as Tesu, Dhak or Flame of Forest). Though now-a-days its quite a rare tree in urban areas, we can see many of them just outside the city (not to forget the ones propping unexpectedly in the middle of concrete jungle). Though I fancy with all kinds of flowers, Palash remains to be the all time favourite. Its significant colour and the outward appearance is as well a reason for it as the anecdote behind it. Now, every time I see a Palash, my heart ventures into the past.
It was few years back, when I was just an adolescent. Even then, I had a great liking for Palash. Early in the morning, I wondered on my bicycle with a bamboo basket, up and down the city lanes, just to catch a glimpse of an old Palash. Then, at last, I would find one and, take home basketful of flowers.
But that year, something had happened. Suddenly, a few of the old Palash had vanished into nowhere. It took quite a long time to search one. There was no concrete jungle this time, only a few hutments, a big well and a half-constructed base of a big commercial complex, which would soon surpass the height of the Palash and may even compete with a richer colour.
I jumped off my bicycle and ran towards the tree. My joy knew no bound. I picked up as many flowers as I could. But I couldn’t gather enough to fill the basket even half. I stared up hopefully. But alas! It was so high I couldn’t even climb there. I looked around to get some help. But there was no one in sight. I seemed to be alone on the spot, as if totally isolated from the whole world. I also tried unsuccessfully to climb up. But in vain. I just sat beneath the Palash on a stone and thought about it.
Just then he came. He was watching me from the moment I entered the scene, he told. He was curious as to what a girl like me was doing there. He volunteered to climb up the tree and bring flowers for me. I was so desperate for flowers, I had no choice but to say yes. He scaled the tree smoothly and started throwing small and big bunches of flowers. Then, after my basket was full, I asked him to come down, thanked him and went away cheerfully.
Then, this became my routine for a few days. Every morning I would come ringing the bell of my bicycle and he would appear out of nowhere and get a lot of flowers for me. This very characteristic of his increased my affection for him and I felt the feeling was mutual. He would leave all his work and come forward with a broad smile to receive me. Then he would climb up the Palash and I would gingerly gather the bunches thrown by him. We developed an intimate relationship, though I wondered what that would result in.
But one day, as I came ringing the bell, an elderly woman approached me. She looked gloomy and barely uttered few words. What I learnt from her was simply devastating. He was no more. In this big bad world, he was the only one who cared to bring a handful of Palash for a small girl. And I was the one responsible for his demise. He had a fragile heart and was warned not to climb. But out of his love for me, he never cared for his illness. He had climbed up the Palash for countless times and that had resulted in a heart fail that morning.
The woman, who was in her fifties, happened to be his wife. A grand old man who climbed up and down the tree to collect flowers … for me!!! But alas!!! What remains now is a sweet memory, the fragrance of which would keep my heart glowing and warm forever.
(The article was first published on March 18, 1993 in The Hitavad, Nagpur. )