Richa Gupta’s anthology The Jamun Tree and Other Stories analyses a cross-section of society. The stories in this collection contain diverse characters such as an almost-human Jamun tree, an enticing woman on a mission, a family receiving news about their inheritance, a journalist looking for a scoop. An Excerpt:
The Jamun tree, three years younger to Manas, had been reared to maturity with him and had witnessed many events in the family. In its younger years, it had alternatively been used as the wicket stump or the boundary line for four runs when Manas had played cricket with his cousins and friends. A young Manas would don his cap and imitate Sachin Tendulkar’s famous on-drive or dive into the bushes in imitation of Jonty Rhodes, an outstanding fielder in international cricket.
Almost a family member, the tree’s existence had been intertwined with that of the family. At the age of nine, it had started producing ovoid edible berries that had a blended flavour that was sweet, sour and astringent. When the berries matured at the onset of the monsoon season and their colour changed from green to purple or bluish-black, Jayanti would have them harvested. Manas loved to tug at the jute rope, which a servant would loop over the branches of the Jamun tree, causing the ripened fruits to fall.
Jayanti would then use the harvested berries to make black Jamun apple juice, a filling and nutritious drink, or a rich sauce to be poured over walnut cake. Soon, to prevent the abundant fruits from spoiling, she began to distribute bags of berries to her relatives and friends, who awaited this gift each year. She never forgot to send some Jamun apple juice to the Principal of Manas’ school, who loved its unusual flavour.
The evergreen tree provided shade throughout the long Indian summer for the family to sit on cane chairs in the well-manicured garden. As it became sturdy and rugged, its lower branches had been strung with a hammock that Manas often swung in while playing video games, his favourite pastime. When the weather was pleasant, he loved to climb its branches, rest on a nook and listen to music.
Those had been happy days for the family and the Jamun tree; but like the change of seasons and the cycle of life, they had come to an end. The Jamun tree had watched in dismay as a teenage Manas had fallen into wrong company, lolled with vagrant friends under the Jamun tree and secretively smoked rolled cannabis cigarettes. As he had got accustomed to this escape from the world into a haze of euphoria, his dependency on the drug and his notorious friends who sourced it for him had increased.
Jagan Lal and Jayanti had soon discovered that their son was addicted to cannabis and admitted him into a rehabilitation centre. Jayanti had prayed daily to idols placed at the foot of the Jamun tree for the recovery and good health of her son while Jagan Lal had cursed Fate for having such an irresponsible son. Manas had been a reformed and healthy person for six months after his return until one day, he had again lit a joint under the spread of the tree on the urging of a friend.
How the Jamun tree had regretted the event, but all it could do was mourn in silence at Manas’ youthful imprudence and its consequent tribulations for his family. Jayanti too had grieved in silence at her son’s addiction, unable to confide in anyone, and least of all her husband, due to the ignominy or accusations it would lead to.
Extracted from Richa Gupta’s Anthology The Jamun Tree and Other Stories with the permission of the author and the publisher Bridging Borders.