Sunday, 30 May 2021

Harshita Nanda, Prose 500 2021 Longlist

 Hope

The tree was old, very old.  It had seen wars and floods and famines. 

When the tree had been a young lad, he had his family standing strong with him. Slowly his family had been lost, one by one, replaced with fields. The crops would vary with the seasons, becoming friends for a short time, while he provided shade to men who tended to them. Slowly the fields were replaced by mud houses. The tree became a focal point. It became home to generations of birds and squirrels. Lovers met under its leafy branches as did children, to play, so did conspirators and old men to while their time away.  It stood quietly listening to the travails, tribulations, celebrations, and arguments of those who called the cluster of huts their home. The huts were soon replaced by houses made of bricks, and still, the tree continued standing strong.

A mute spectator, the changing seasons brought changes in him but never changed his core. 

The sounds around him had always soothed him. Earlier, it used to be the rustle of the leaves fluttering in the breeze, and then, as people had moved in, there had been songs of birds, chattering of animals and noise by the humans. 

In the past few years, however, the changes had been more rapid. 

Now he was surrounded by the non-stop cacophony of metal monsters that belched grey smoke night and day, obscuring the blue sky. The monsters tore through the Earth, ripping out its heart. The monsters continued unaffected as the animals and birds perished in their flight to escape the massacre. 

Yet, the tree stood silent. 

Then one day, red ribbon encircled the tree, fluttering gaily in the breeze. He stood still as the steel monster with jagged teeth came closer. For the next few hours, the monster bit and cut through the tree, limb by limb. Until at last, with one single groan, the tree fell. As the tree was captured in chains, the tree looked one last time at the blue sky and then closed its eyes for one final time. Soon, the place where the tree had once stood, was covered with a grey substance, which hardened and burned under the sun, obliterating all traces of the tree. 

The years passed. The people started complaining of the rising temperatures, of the foul air, of bad water. But once in a while, a soft breeze would blow, reminding them of the green leafy shade. A shade, that used to provide relief and succour. The people searched high and low but couldn't find that shade anywhere. Until, one day, at the same spot where the grand tree had stood, something green was seen.

It was a tender green shoot with a few leaves. 

 

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