Ganga Talks of Her Children
River Mother Ganga flowed quietly one late afternoon. The day had been hot and muggy, but the soft breeze cooled quickly over the river water, especially because the sun had already turned toward the west. Mother Ganga was unhurried and in a pleasant mood.
I sat down on a ledge on the bank and turned both my ears to the river. My entire attention was in the ears. I heard no clear words I could understand, just a faint hum. But after some time, when I got more tuned in, I sensed that Ganga was watching me to read my thoughts. Like in a dream, she began to talk to me, telling me of her million experiences of watching life on her banks. This is what I heard.
“Son, you seem to be a serious young man. Let me tell you something about trees. They grow all along my course in a large variety and number. I often hear them talk about themselves.
The mango tree is boastful. She stands tall, wide, and luxuriant. In summer she is loaded with fruit. Some mango trees live for 500 years or more. When they flower, bees and other honey sucking insects gather in their millions and feast on the mango’s nectar. The scene is one of a giant mother suckling a vast brood. Then the flowers dry up and fall. Little mango fruits begin to appear and in a few weeks they ripen to the delight of humans and many other animals. Some of them literally subsist on mangoes for months every year. The tree has reason to boast but there is a price to pay.
Another day I watched a Pipal tree. It was huge like the mango but its thicker trunk and denser foliage made it look bigger. It produces no fruit for the humans, but twice a year it is loaded with little figs that the birds love to eat. Flocks of migratory birds alight on their favorite Pipal on their flight path year after year and stay for a few days to build up the fat level in their bodies. Local birds too, feast on the figs of the generous Pipal. The Pipal tree is proud of itself, but also enslaved by its worldly role for which it has to bend all its energies.
One day, I had the opportunity to visit with a Gulmohar (May Flower) growing tall on my bank. It was early April when the winter goes and spring arrives. The Gulmohar was sprouting millions of buds all over its branches. Soon after, these buds blossom into the most gorgeous flowers. There are so many of them that the whole tree appears to be one giant flower. There is no other tree that can match the Gulmohar in beauty. The flowers keep coming for about three months. The Gulmohar produces no food for humans, other animals, or birds; but its beauty gladdens all of them and they come as if pulled by a powerful magnet. Quite naturally, the tree is proud and it shoos all other plants from under it.
I could go on endlessly talking of my observations, but before stopping I must tell you of my conversation with a most unusual tree. It is called Cypress. It is neither big not long-lived, nor does it bear flowers or fruit. Occasionally a bird might build a nest in its branches, but otherwise no one is drawn to the Cypress tree. Yet in Persia they call the Cypress ‘Azad’, i.e. free. It has attracted the attention of poets and mystics everywhere through the ages. Naturally, I was full of curiosity when I got my chance to have the attention of a living, breathing Cypress not far from my shore. I wanted to know what this plain being had to say for himself. The following is what I learned.
The Cypress likes to remain still and unruffled. It takes for its sustenance a bare minimum of food, drink, space, and attention. It is so humble it does not ask for a particular terrain or climate. It grows in the Himalayas as well as in the desert. This strange tree remains green all year round. It is healthy, happy, and content most of the time.
Because it requires so little and thinks for itself, the Cypress chooses to be FREE. It does not dance to the wind, nor sing to the breeze like the Pipal. In the fall it does not shed its leaves. All winter it remains green when all other trees go grey, bare, and bald. Coming of spring gladdens the Cypress, but it does not glow, burst and dance like the others; for by turning inward it had remained cozy throughout the winter.
Cypress is neither stingy nor unloving even though it does not give anything tangible. Yet it gives something priceless—the knowledge of how to remain happy in this world full of sorrow. It is burdened neither by social obligations, nor political cumber. All its life it takes its just share of what is available. And since it does not suffer from the guilt of grabbing what should have gone to others it does not feel indebted to anyone. Perhaps when the Gita talks of stithapragnya, Cypress is her model.”
January 8, 2005