Continued from The Leaf Plucker
Before I decided to pick up my father’s axe and become a woodcutter, I was a shepherd. My family possessed multiple herds of cattle. It included sheep, goats and buffaloes. We lived among many other families and moved places after every few months. The main reason for such nomadic lifestyle was to keep our cattle alive and be able to feed it. When the number of animals grew more than we could handle, we would sell them. The money helped us relocate. It would take months before we decided to settle in on a new location. It irritated me to leave our place of living every year and find a new one. My father told me it was not necessary, but it was a tradition. Our ancestors had been traveling all around the country. It was not in our blood to settle down at one location and be able to raise our families in normal human social structure. I always found it difficult to understand. So, when my father died, I decided to break off. I took my share of cattle and set out to find a new place for myself, where I could settle down for the rest of my life.
I moved to the mountains and fell in love with the sheer magnificence of its structure. It stood there, in front of me, as a host of life. Trees, animals, insects, birds, everything seemed to find a resting place in the mountain’s vastness. That moment it dawned on me, I wanted to own a mountain, even a part of it. I sold my cattle and bought a huge piece of land on a big mountain. It was high up, out of the reach of normal life. It was a perfect definition of solitude. I built myself a small home and wondered what to do next, how to survive on a mountain. Over the time, I made friends with some woodcutters who traveled all the way up to the mountain’s top and cut wood for the villages at the bottom and also to supply to the city. I bought myself an axe as well and became a woodcutter.
During one of my visits to the city, I fell in love again, this time with a woman. I was so astonished by her beauty that I decided to marry her. She was a house servant at the house of a man where I used to sell the wood. I asked for her hand and her father seemed thankful to marry her off. I brought her to my house and saw an expression in her eyes similar to mine when I first saw the mountains. She seemed happy. One night, while it was raining, she told me she was happy. She told me she wanted to work as well. As I could not handover an axe to her, I told her to find a suitable work for herself. A couple of days later she told me she wanted to work in the tea garden across the stream. She said she would be plucking tea leaves among various other women. I agreed.
While I would be away in the forests cutting wood, she would spend her time in the tea garden plucking tea leaves. It had been more than six months of living together and still there was no hope of crackling of the sound of a child’s cry in my home. Sometimes I asked her out of curiosity, other times I asked her out of impatience. But the fact stood, there was no such news and every month I was forced to hope that next month, I shall hear the good news. It never came and even today, after twelve years, it hasn’t.
There was a phase in my life when I became frustrated. I couldn’t understand I was frustrated with myself or my wife, but suddenly, I was not happy with my life at all. I wanted to raise a family, I wanted to see my children grow up but I had none. I could not sleep at night. I could not work during the day. I could not eat food. I would go to the forest and see life brimming everywhere and it reminded me of the fact that I was unable to create life. I became angry inside and unleashed the power of my axe on the forest. I cut trees, one after another. I wanted to rob mountain of all its life. I think every man becomes selfish at one point of time in life when he starts to make sure that if there is something he cannot have, no one else should be able to possess it as well. In few months, the crown of the mountain stood naked, that month, I made a lot of money.
I took my wife to a doctor in the city. He told us that we can never bear children. It was something to do with her. She was not naturally fit to become a mother. That day, we decided, we will never talk about it again. In the months that followed, I calmed down and realized that I was destroying the one thing I loved the most, the mountains, my home. I resolved to correct my mistake but growing a forest is no easy task, it needed time and patience. I sowed many seeds, planted many saplings around the stumps that stood lifeless as a witness of the aftermath of my axe. I had killed the mountain. Before the roots of the newly planted saplings could go deep, it would rain and wash away everything. The mud flowed to the stream and turned the water red. To me, it didn’t seem mud at all. To me, it was the blood of the mountain. When all my efforts began to go in vain, I decided to let nature take its time. I decided not to cut trees anymore.
My wife showed no signs of curiosity when I started to bring less and less wood everyday. I was cutting branches of the trees, that too which were outgrown, so it would not affect the tree. I hoped that nature will crawl its way back towards the top of the mountain and cover the red soil at the top with grass at first, and then shrubs and herbs would follow, and later on, the entire forest will grow back and give back the mountain what I had taken from it, ruthlessly. Cutting wood is my livelihood, but I can choose the wood to cut. It took me a long time to understand that nature doesn’t catch up very fast with what it loses. It is ready to lose it all but it comes back as well. We count out life in days, months and years but nature has been there since the beginning. The mountain was here before me and it will be here even when I am no more. Nature teaches the lesson of patience and patience teaches the lesson of love.
These days, sometimes I bring back no wood from the forest. I sit there all day and wonder. I listen to all kinds of sounds in the forest. The chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, the crawling of insects, it is full of life and in a sense, it is the only family that I have. Sometimes I think I should leave my axe at home and just be in the forest, without any purpose. But then I think about my wife. I think about all the labor she goes through during the night while dulling my axe. I think she doesn’t want me to cut trees anymore. I think instead of leaving my axe at home, today I should leave my axe in the forest, and tell her that I lost it.
To be continued…