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I said, "The gardener has to be informed; he will remove it."

Bolai was alarmed. What a terrible thing to say! "Oh no, uncle," he begged, "please don't have it uprooted."

"You don't know what you are saying, Bolai," I said. "The plant has come up right in the middle of the pathway. When it grows into a tree, it will scatter its cotton all around and create a nuisance."

When Bolai realized it was no use arguing with me, the motherless child went to his aunt. Sitting on her laps and wrapping his small hands around her neck he sobbed inconsolably. "Kaki (aunt), you tell uncle not to cut down the plant."

It was the right strategy. His aunt called me and said, "Please, let his plant grow."

I allowed the plant to grow. Had Bolai not shown me the sapling, I probably would never have noticed it. But, now, it catches the eyes every day. Within a year or so the plant had shamelessly grown into a big tree. It was Bolai's favourite.

To my eyes it appeared like a ridiculous tree which had grown at an inappropriate spot, and growing taller every day without the least thought for anyone. Whoever saw it wondered what it was doing there. On few other occasions, I proposed the death sentence for the tree; I tempted Bolai by promising to get him some lovely rose bushes to be planted at the site.

I said, "If you like silk cotton plants so much, then I will get another sapling and plant it at a convenient place. It will look good."

But the very suggestion of cutting down his favourite tree would cause Bolai to flinch, and turning to his aunt he would say, "Oh, it doesn't look bad here."

My sister-in-law had died when this child was still in her laps. I think it is owing to grief that my elder brother became negligent, and he went abroad to study engineering. The boy came to our childless home and grew up in his aunt's laps.

My brother returned after about ten years, and with a view to educate Bolai in the Western manner first took him to Shimla; he planned to go abroad later.

Bolai cried and cried while leaving the safe havens of his aunt's laps, and departed; our home was left empty.

Two years have passed since then. Meanwhile, Bolai's Kaki surreptitiously wipes the tears that keep welling into her eyes. She goes to Bolai's sleeping room continually, and arranges and rearranges a worn pair of shoes that belonged to him, his torn rubber ball, and the picture book about animals. Bolai must have outgrown these symbolic representations and grown very big, she ponders in her mind.

The good-for-nothing silk cotton tree exceeded all limits and grew incongruously. The growth was so incongruous that it couldn't be shown leniency any more. One day I cut it down.

Around the same time Bolai sent a letter to his aunt. "Kaki, send me a photograph of the silk cotton tree," he requested in the letter.

Before moving abroad, they had planned to visit us; but the plan did not work out. So, Bolai wanted to carry away a picture of his friend along with him.

His aunt said to me, "Please, get a photographer."

"Why?" I asked her.

She showed me the letter with Bolai's childish handwriting.

"But, I have cut down the tree!" I told her.

Bolai's Kaki went without food for two days, and did not speak with me for many days thereafter. Bolai's father had snatched the child away from her as though tearing off the umbilical cord, and the boy's uncle had uprooted her Bolai's favourite tree and erased it from the landscape forever. That shattered her world, and wounded her heart. For her, this tree was Bolai's own image; his alter ego.

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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
  • IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu