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Babul Tree

(Thumma Chettu)

Original in Telugu by
Tripuraneni Gopichand

Translated by
GRK Murty
Tripuraneni Gopichand
(1910-1962)

Tripuraneni Gopichand of Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, India, is a Telugu short


story writer, novelist, editor, essayist, playwright and film director. His
writings exhibit an exceptional interplay of values, ideas and ‘isms’—
materialism, rationalism, existentialism, realism and humanism. He is well
known among Telugu literati for his psychological novel—Asamardhuni
Jeevayatra (The Incompetent’s Life Journey). He was posthumously
presented the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel, Panditha
Parameshwara Sastry Veelunama (Will of Panditha Parameshwara Sastry),
in 1963. Radical humanist, profound thinker, philosopher, social reformer
and an inveterate votary of truth, Gopichand was a versatile genius,
which reflects well in his scintillating stories that are told in crisp
language. His stories pose many questions that challenge the wit of
readers.
Looking at me, you might laugh! You might wonder: “What,
reminiscences? For a Babul tree?” You are all youngsters. You can’t but
feel that way. Looking at the grandpas, grandchildren think that they
were always like what they are today. How will grandchildren know of
the grandpas’ experiences? What does the chick-crow know about the
power of the sling shot? So, you can’t but grimace looking at me. That
too, I am not simply a babul tree, but a black babul tree.

You forget all the past events. I won’t say you should not learn new
things. But why forget the old? After all, where from the new came? Isn’t
it from the old! Aside of our pondering, the ignorant may not know even
the new.

If you want to know about me, do ask your grandpa and grandma. They
know about my greatness. They brought us, selecting the best and
planted us on the field bunds. Indeed, hardly was there any field in those
days without me! Valuation of a field that had babul tree on its bund was
always high. Fields sans us were valued less. Farmers might give off their
life even, but not us. In claiming their right over us, they even fought
among themselves bitterly. Such was their attachment to us. What do
we mean for you today? We have simply become a useless black stump.
So, you could as well casually say, “Cut it off.” How unfair!

My habits are quite petty. I need neither much water nor fertilizer. If you
provide me a little space, I can live on my own. No one need to labor to
put any fence around to protect me. I can protect myself from the cattle
and others! You are seeing the thorns that I have all over my body. It is
these which protect me from many threats. They ensure that nobody
dare touch me.

It’s true that once in a while farmers encounter pain because of my


thorns. Why pain? There is no place in their feet that my thorns have not
pricked. Yet, they won’t leave me. You know why? ‘cause, they know my
value. They know I am their well wisher.

Farmers gain many advantages out of me. Many plants and trees are
known to suck nutrients from the soil making the fields less fertile and
less productive. I am not of that kind. My soil becomes more fertile and
productive. Why do you stare at each other like that? Not able to believe
my words? My words are true. If you want to be doubly sure, you may
ask the wise. You might have seen many bigger trees than me. Might
have seen trees that marvel themselves at their big leaves and large
inflorescences. But, farmers are more interested in me than such trees.
For, nothing lives under such big trees. Theirs is a highly self-centered
life. I am not like that. Mine are petty small leaves. Intentionally I put
forth such small leaves. So, I can be sown anywhere, even on a field
bund. No crop suffers because of my shade. You don’t know these
things. Your relationship with the land has totally been cut off. Hence,
you say in a disgusting tone, “Why farmers plant these thorny trees on
field bunds? These old-fashioned farmers don’t understand!”
You may of course ask me: Are there not less harmful trees than you?
Yes, there are. But, I can say with certainty that there are no trees that
grow giving least disturbance, and be of immense use to the farmers.
You children—you may not know of it. Enquire with your grandpas.
There is no single part of mine that is not useful. My timber is used by
farmers for making carts. It comes handy as a handle for the sickles that
the farmers use. You might have seen the gum that oozes out of me.
Would there be anyone who hasn’t heard of ‘arabic’s gum’. You know it’s
useful for pasting things together. But you do not know that my gum is
highly useful in making many medicines in a variety of ways. My fruits
make a good feed for cattle. They help in strengthening their bodies. You
may not know today how the cattle hanker for my fruits. You enquire
with the cowherds.
Otherwise, you may rear a
lamb to know. By the bye, I
have forgotten, even my
bark is not useless. It highly
helps the leather industry.
There is no other material
better than me to clean the
hide and restore its
temper.

You may however say that I do not appear pleasing to your eyes. True!
Maybe. Mine is pomp-less appearance. Even my habits are such. But,
have you ever seen my flowers? Might have seen just like that. Might
have not seen them attentively. Your not having love for me might have
crept onto my flowers too. If you happen to see me again, forgetting me
for a while, look at my flowers. Like the stars, they glow in their yellow
shade. They spread a fragrance that delights your mind.

It’s based on these flowers that I have been described by the Sanskrit
poets as golden flower. Which means, I am a golden flower. Why are you
looking at me so surprised? For sure, you might be wondering, where am
I, the smoke-colored tree with petty leaves, thorns and crinkled fruits,
and where is the golden flower? No wonder even if you think that the
Sanskrit poets who gave me that description might have said in their
senility. When the sight changes, no wonder it might seem so!

It’s not only here, I am everywhere in the country. In Punjab, they call me
kikar. In Tamilnadu, they say karuvelam. In Karnataka, they call me by two
names—the first one is gobli and the second is ball. In every place the
earlier generation used to grow me with lots of affection. I used to
express my gratitude to them by helping them in very many ways.

True, I do have a life of my own. And I do have my own longings. At the


same time, I have my own pleasures and pangs. I do wish that my race
should flourish. Whatever might be my wishes, I am always willing to
sacrifice myself for the good of those farmers who love me. Is there
anything more to be said of me, while I am offering myself—even at the
cost of annihilating my very uniqueness—to protect other plants, other
beings taking the form of a fence? Helping you in these many ways, what
is that I desire from you? One kind word, one kind glance! But today, that
has become extinct.

Normally, it is not my nature to speak high of myself. I do not like


speaking high of me. But, it has become a must now. The farmer who has
nurtured me this far like his own child died recently. It was a sudden
death. That evening, after overseeing the farm work, he, sending away
the cattle along with the undertenant, sat on the bund for a while and
later pulling four twigs from me for brushing his teeth the next morning,
he left for home. Next morning, I came to know that he had died in the
night itself. Lying on the bed after having dinner, he was said to have
died in the sleep itself. What a blessed death! A death which every one of
us could desire—but, my heart quivered. Anyway, what is that one could
do! Retaining the sorrow within, I remained quiet.

My master had no male children. Had only one daughter. I know her from
her childhood. In those days, my master used to bring her to the farm
once in a while. She loved my flowers and gum. Looking at her I used to
feel as though I were seeing my sister. After growing up, she stopped
coming this side. She got married last year. This morning her husband
came to the field. You know, how proudly he stepped in? His disposition
gave me a feeling that he had never come to the fields before. Hoping
that his daughter would lead a happy life, my master got her married to a
government employee. Standing on the field bund, he stared at me for a
while.
He asked, “Why this stump here?” His words made me feel as though a
knife had pierced through my heart.

The undertenant who stood by him, explained my uses.

“Those are all beliefs of old times. Now, whatever type of timber is
required, it’s available everywhere”, said the new master.

“It seems the land gets enriched with this kind of trees”.

“How is it that a land gets productive by virtue of trees growing?” said


the new master smilingly. “Is it greater than fertilizers?” said he.

“If not anything, it shall at least come handy for the madam in her
cooking”, said the undertenant.

“It would be alright if we get enough firewood for a year’s cooking from
the town,” said the new master.

“Dora was thinking of getting a new cart made for the use of new
cattle”, said the undertenant.

“If at all we need to have a cart, we shall get teak timber—first let this
stump be removed with roots”, said the master.

How indifferent! He is not having even an iota of pity on other living


creatures. Otherwise, speaks about all great things. Claims to have
invented many new things which their ancestors did not know. Talks
about the invention of scientists that plants have life and they do sleep.
Claims it as the invention of the new generation and the ancestors are
not aware of it. Though the earlier generation did not know about this,
they did treat us as though we were one of their family members. Now
the present generation says that every living creature has life. But do not
hesitate to annihilate that life.

I do not fear dying. I was born to die in the use of my master. I would
gladly sacrifice my life for the man who knows my utility. But, for whose
sake is this death? What for? Moreover, my new master is ordering to pull
me out along with my roots. He doesn’t like my very race.

Here they come! New master—coming with two laborers. Look at the
axes in their hands! Have you seen the gait of my new owner? Fearing
that his feet might get soiled, he is stamping his feet carefully. It made
me amused even under the current duress. His disposition appears as
though he was coming to win over a life-long enemy. I pitied his
ignorance. For a minute, I felt like telling him a little of myself. Even if I
say, would he be patient enough to listen? Even if he hears, could he
understand? Let it be, I felt it’s better to die than to live this life. Closing
my eyes, I stood there. Am I a man to do something or the other in my
longing for the life to save it!

****