As usual our father was on his new posting and we had just shifted into the new house. That was a great house on the highest hill of that hill town but we were more interested in the garden. The first thing that caught our attention as we crossed the gate were the bunches of some fruit resembling berries hanging from the trees.
Instead of entering the house, we ran towards it. There were many trees on which they were hanging. I was the tallest, but I was not even close to reaching there. Hearing our noise, our elder sister came from inside.
"Pluck it, sis, I don't know what fruit it is! Maybe apricot or plum 'we all started shouting. "
'What are these' she asked, looking up at the tree.
'Maybe it's an apricot, pluck it now.'
'Maybe some wild fruit?' She spoke.
'No, not wild,' we cried, 'give one to me'
She was looking at the bunches hanging above, then broke a piece and kept looking at it, 'Don't know what? Never seen such a fruit ever before.'
We stood in a circle around her and were now trying to get that one from her.
'No, don't eat it. Who knows, this could be poisonous! I will ask the gardener first. Then, looking at me, she said, "Listen, no one will pluck them! " Saying this, she went slowly towards the house.
Everyone was left feeling sad, thinking that no one could oppose her order. But that evening, walking around the whole garden, we counted those trees. This was the first time that we had so many fruit trees in our own garden. Until now, we used to see apricot or apple trees in others' houses and were filled with joy.
Our sister showed that fruit to our father and said, 'I do not know which fruit it is." It is planted in the garden.
The father said , 'It is a cherry, but it is not ripe yet.'
Our excitement increased even more on hearing the name Cherri. We had never seen a cherry tree till today, and now there are fifteen to twenty cherry trees in our own garden, and no one will stop us from plucking them. Wow, that was wonderful.
We were so happy that there was no quarrel over rooms. Every time our father was transferred to a new city and we shifted to a new house, this problem came up. Which room would belong to whom.
When my sister came to my room at night, I was looking at pictures in a book.
'I couldn't sleep.'
'I too couldn't sleep the first night in this new house, as usual.'
As soon as we woke up the next morning, we went to the cherry trees. Somebody would go near a tree and call out to others, 'Look how yellow the cherry has become on the top branch.' Some branches of a tree were bent down, but despite jumping a lot, the hand did not reach them. Then the younger brother got down on his knees and I climbed on his back and started plucking cherries. I could manage to pluck four cherries, so I gave one to each one.
After awhile, my sister came to us and said, "Why break these raw cherries?" You guys might fall ill after eating them. Then, looking at me, she said, 'If anyone now eats even a single cherry, he will get severe punishment." There is a sin in plucking the unripe fruit.
Now if my sister says no, no one will have the courage to eat cherries again. But when we used to sit in the garden, we talked about cherries.
'Now it's turning pink.'
'The upper branches have turned red.'
'Now it will be ready within two weeks, then we can eat it all."
On the trunk of every cherry tree, I had written everyone's names with the tip of a knife. The one whose name was on that tree will now pluck its cherry and eat it. Everyone of us would claim that the cherries on our trees are ripening faster.
That day, a person came to our garden and started circling the cherry trees. He would go from tree to tree, removing branches here and there and looking all the way to the top, sometimes plucking the cherry from one tree and eating the cherry from the other. He was walking in the garden as if it were his house. We kept looking at him, angry at his behavior, but none of us had the courage to say anything to him.
'You guys live in this bungalow?'
'Yes, this is our house.' I said boldly.
On expressing our desire to meet the father, we took him to the father's room. We were disgusted by his face and curious to know who he was.
'It was the contractor who bought the cherry trees from the landlord. From tomorrow, his man will guard these trees. Father said.
We could not understand the point.
'We thought these were our trees, inside our garden. How could someone else buy them?' I was confused.
The father laughed, 'We have rented the house. The right of the landlord remains on the trees.
'Now we can't pluck cherries?'
'The cherries belong to the contractor. How can we pluck them?'
That night, none of us uttered a single word about the cherry. I could not sleep for a long time so I looked out the window towards the garden, 'They are no longer ours.'
The next morning, an old man came with the contractor. They brought with them heaps of ropes, broken old canisters, and bamboo mats. From the mats at the other end of the garden, where both of them laid a carpet inside a hut, we kept watching everything from a distance. Both of them sometimes smiled and looked at us, but we did not give any answer to them.
Small stones were placed in the canisters, which were then tied to trees with ropes. The ends of those ropes were tied to a pilar near the hut. Whenever the old man would shake the end of the rope, the stones in the canister would start ringing and a hoarse voice would echo throughout the garden. Our curiosity was increasing.
After some time, the contractor left after making all the arrangements. We saw a friendly expression on the face of the old man as compared to the contractor. We slowly approached him. He made us sit beside him with great love. When we asked, he said that these canisters had been made to drive away the birds.
'But why were the canisters not tied to all the cherry trees?'
'One canister's sound is enough for four or five trees.' He said.
'Will you sleep here at night as well?'
'Yes, even at night there is a fear that no man might pluck a cherry.'
Gradually everyone got used to the presence of the old man. Playing the canisters by pulling the ropes, 'ha-hoo, ha-hoo' or blowing the birds by whistling. The branches were bent by the weight of the cherry that I could easily pluck a couple of them by jumping, but the old man's eyes kept moving around at all times, so I did not have courage.
Mother would send a glass of tea to the old man on the second or third day. He would sometimes pluck some ripe cherries and give them to us. But climbing a tree and breaking it, then eating it - which we had imagined in the beginning, it remained there in our mind.
A little far from our house, in a small fall where we used to go for a bath every day. Now we concentrate more on the cinema, the park. Gradually, other attractions come into our daily routine. This was probably the first time that the elder sister did not attend any.
One morning, I woke up to the voices of people outside in the garden. I was lying on the bed when my sister came into the room for some work.
What's this noise?' I asked.
'Those people have come to pluck the cherries,' she said.
I ran out in a hurry. The contractor's men were climbing up the trees with baskets. They were plucking cherries from the branches up and down with both hands and filling them into the baskets. I could hear the unpleasant sound coming from the trees when they grabbed a branch and dragged it near them.
We slowly walked around the garden. Standing near each tree for a while, we looked at the men who were climbing up.
A lot of cherries had fallen under every tree. The younger sister grabbed a bunch and then the brother snatched it from her hand and threw it, 'Don't you remember what our sister had said?'
She said, 'We will put a single cherry in our mouths." And then he threw them back on the ground.
The contractor, along with four or five other people, was keeping cherries in a box. Seeing us standing, the contractor wanted to give a handful of cherries to all of us, but we refused.
We kept walking in the garden. There was no desire left to go out in the garden. The cherry trees were slowly getting empty. There was no need to play the canister that day. Bulbul and other birds kept circling above the trees, they did not have the courage to sit on any tree.
We got very angry with the contractor and his men. They kept plucking cherries for a long time until evening. Then they loaded all the boxes of cheery into a lorry, and they all left. There was a sudden silence in the garden; there were only cherry trees but not a single cherry left in them. The strong wind was shaking the branches, as if they were breathing their last. There were fallen leaves everywhere, and some branches had fallen down.
I could not sleep till late at night, nor did I feel like reading any books. I was feeling tired, but even then, I could not sleep.
After a while, I went to the window and stood there watching the shining stars in the sky. The stars look really close here. Why? This place is only six thousand feet above sea level, and the stars are millions of miles away. I was lost in my thoughts when I saw someone's shadow appear under the trees in the garden. I felt scared, but then I saw that it was my sister there. So, she hadn't slept either.
I went out to where she was strolling near the cherry trees.
'You haven't slept yet?' She asked without looking at me.
I was shocked to hear her voice. I thought she didn't. expect me there.
She said, in a low voice, 'No, I haven't been able to sleep yet.'
If the leaves were pressed under her feet, a sound like a hurried voice would reverberate in the silence of the night. The wind had intensified.
I said, 'It's very dark today.'
'It's dark nights these days.'
Then she raised her eyes and looked at the stars shining in the sky.
"Today the stars are closer," I said.
Yes, but the blossom doesn't remain in this garden anymore, she replied.