Sunday September 9, 2012
Half a tree
WHEN I came to Malaysia in 1968, I found this sapling that was planted in front of our home on the grass verge alongside the road.
My mother-in-law took good care of the sapling, watering it and supporting it with a sturdy twig to help it grow straight. In time, it grew and became a handsome, shady tree.
Over the years, the mango tree has borne fruit so many times that I have lost count. But it does have a mind of its own!
Once, a fruit-plucker passing by saw its laden branches and asked if he could harvest all the fruit for an agreed amount of money.
Without much thought, we agreed. We did, of course, take what we required for our own consumption before allowing him to take the rest.
The next season, the tree refused to bear fruit and “sulked” for a few years!
We learnt our lesson and realised that while other trees bore fruit for commercial purposes, our special tree was most certainly unhappy about us selling its fruit.
We decided never to do so again. Predictably enough, the next season we had fruit aplenty!
The Tenaga Nasional Bhd lorry came one fine day and its workers decided to lop off several branches that could cause the electric wires to get entangled.
There was nothing we could do; those people were doing their duty. Our poor tree looks lopsided now, but then that’s life.
The tree has had its good as well as lean seasons. It has provided my family ample quantities of raw mangoes for pickles and chutneys, and ripe ones for fresh juice and fruit.
Our neighbours too have enjoyed its produce over the years and we’ve even shared ripe and raw mangoes with passers-by.
My children, like their grandmother, are very protective of the tree and have often chased away naughty schoolchildren who threw sticks and stones to get the mangoes to drop.
“It must hurt the tree to have stones thrown at it,” they said.
They also never disturb it after dusk. “The tree must be asleep,” they explained.
Home-made pickles and chutneys followed the children to India where they went to medical school.
And my daughter would fill a flask with fresh mango juice and lug it to Malacca where she attended the Melaka Manipal Medical College.
Gradually, over the years, our neighbourhood became a commercial hub and most dwellings were turned into offices and shops.
But they’re a friendly lot. Right next door is a Chinese family dealing in motorcar spare parts. They love our tree for the shade it affords and for keeping the glare out. We love the chirping birds that greet us when we wake up every day.
Not long ago, we had a new neighbour who dealt in furniture. He wanted to trim a branch so that his signboard could be seen from afar. We agreed.
One evening we returned home from a drive to find that almost half the tree had been chopped down with electric saws!
Of course we were hurt and angry. We are now left with only half a mango tree.
But what happened most recently is unimaginable. Someone had drilled holes into the roots and trunk of our tree in an obvious attempt to poison it!
In such a time of gloom, I could not help but notice how the incident has brought people together.
The spare parts dealer’s family and workers, as well as other residents in the neighbourhood, have come a-visiting to offer help. Everyone is trying to save the tree.
An Indian friend told us of an antidote that might work.
Yesterday, as I stood on my balcony watching my daughter administer the antidote, I was touched to see a group of Chinese people and a Malay customer who had PDRM printed on his shirt gathered around the tree that now stands in front of a Punjabi family’s house. They were all hoping that the tree would respond to the treatment.
It was comforting to see the whole neighbourhood rallying around to save our community tree!