Kids Corner


The Mulberry Tree





Back in Quetta, before the Partition of Punjab and the sub-continent, my “nana ji” (maternal grandfather) owned a gold souk and did roaring business.

My mother recalls those happy days when the family hired a truck, complete with “khansama” (cook) and helpers, to take off for a picnic in the nearby hills and jungles. Nana ji was a gifted cook and would occasionally dish out gourmet meals for the family during these sojourns.

The eldest of five children, my mother, all of 10, revelled in languid luxury. My naani ji (grandmother) had her silk taffeta and heeled black belly shoes imported from England and a woman came bi-weekly to aid her in her toilette; to wash, plait into “medis” and adorn her long hair with ornaments befitting royalty.

When the massacres around the partition started, my grandfather remained in denial till the morning when he came to open his souk and found two bodies lying across the entrance. He was finally persuaded to leave immediately for the newly created country of India by the local Muslim police chief who was also a close friend.

In a daze, my shell-shocked grandfather asked the womenfolk to wear and hide as much gold as they could on their person to see the family through till they returned. This parting broke his heart and more fatally his spirit. He cried silently, letting the tears drop while the family locked the house and piled into the police jeep waiting to transfer them to a train to India. He covered his eyes when one of his baying cattle broke its chain and ran after the jeep.

He had also brought with him a mulberry plant, his favourite fruit which grew in abundance in his Quetta backyard.

He enjoyed looking at the long wine red shahtoot dripping with delicious goodness, more than he liked to eat it. Coming from the cold hilly arid land bordering Afghanistan, the family found Delhi hot and stifling.

Miraculously the mulberry plant survived the long journey and Nana ji planted it lovingly in front of the tiny quarter allotted to him.

By now he knew there would be no return. He grieved, unable to come to terms with the reversal of his fortune. When the family had long exhausted its gold reserve, what had erstwhile been a pleasant hobby now became a means of livelihood.

He opened a dhaba where he cooked and served food from the North West Frontier Province.

Unable to bear the indignity, my Nana ji would not sleep in the night and took to wandering around the railway station seeking out trains to Pakistan. Many a times his sons would bring him back from the station forcibly to return to the drudgery and derelict conditions which were now their lot.

As his dhaba prospered and grew into a hotel, Nana ji withered and shrank within.

Meanwhile, the mulberry tree bloomed, grew quite large and showered its largesse around. In season, local urchins climbed to shake the tree while neighbours gathered mounds of shahtoot in “thaalis” (platters) and “chirimchis” (large bowls, cisterns).

Nana ji tended to the tree like he would tend a baby. It was his sole link and reminder of his glorious, happy past.

Long before I was born he passed away at a comparatively young age of 57 after a heart attack.

The mulberry tree still stands, but it is a matter of time before it shrivels up and dies.

And with it will end my family's last tangible link with our roots and troubled history. I, too, grieve deeply for the mulberry tree and for the stoic sufferance it was witness to!


[Courtesy: Tribune. Edited for]

May 18, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Harminder Singh  (Jalandhar, Punjab), May 18, 2013, 7:50 AM.

Very interesting and touching story.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 18, 2013, 9:57 AM.

Talking of "The Mulberry Tree": We did have a patch on the plantation that would yield a bucket full of those 'shatoots' now and then. My good lady Upkar would turn them into mulberry juice that used to be the rage with the visitors. I too carried the cuttings and after retirement in 1988 still have two nominal cuttings growing on my table-top patch in the present home. It has to be pruned now and then to produce mulberries.

3: Simran Gupta (Kolkata, India), May 20, 2013, 2:25 AM.

Enjoyed reading your article, Gurvinder. So beautifully written. We had a mulberry tree at home in the early 80's and how much we enjoyed the fruit. Mom made mulberry jam and juice. We would just pluck the fruit off the tree and enjoy it. Thanks for sharing this lovely piece.

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 20, 2013, 6:06 AM.

I had touched 'The Mulberry Tree' in its physical entity. It didn't touch on its poignant tales behind it, brought about by the senseless tragedy of Partition. The dwindling survivors and eyewitnesses would soon cover up in the dust of history. The Mulberry Tree would go away letting its progeny to keep bearing fruits and perhaps give a bit of taste of the gone bye era. "Nature repairs her ravages - repairs them with her sunshine, and with human labour. Soon there was very visible trace of the desolation wrought by the flood". ['The Mill on the Floss', by George Eliot].

5: Harinder Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), May 21, 2013, 2:50 PM.

Very expressive article. Sangat mama ji, remember at the back of 31 Ghumar Mandi, there used to be a bagh of phalsa. A shahtoot (mulberry) tree stood along a tube well. My visits to naanke house had the attraction of phalsa and shahtoot - not to forget the bathing beauties at the tube well! Shahtoot has a place in Punjabi folk lore too, expressed beautifully by Satinder Sartaaj: "haale te saade bagan ch nit kook diyan ne morniyan, haale te chidiyan shahtoot nu aa ke tod diyan / jad saade ujde vehde te bolange ulu jaana ge!"

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