The chilled dry wind was getting smoother by an inch; the ice on the rooftops were beginning to melt; February was just dusting her shoes off to leave, and a fresh gust of spring was about to fill the frozen souls of Tokyo. A new month, from a far-off land, was about to sell some refreshing energy to everyone in the city and no one could resist themselves to gossip about the arrival of this new stranger in their streets. Some said he was about to bring warm biscuits of sunshine with him, some conjectured he was offering free passes to adore the palace of nature’s beauty, some went out of their way to say that he was a medic too and could heal even your deepest wounds; but again, everyone was just anticipating, no one knew what he would actually bring. But, amidst all these gossips and rumours, there was somebody who was more excited than anyone, more eager than anyone to meet him.
Deep somewhere among the tall skinny trees in Shinjuku Park, not too far from where the usual crowd gathered but not too close that the usual crowd would visit, a young ‘Sakura’ tree was just about to have his debut in the ‘Hanami’ festival. He had heard all about it from the big-old-cherry blossom when he used to go there to play with his branches; when he got a little older, he would eavesdrop on other Sakuras and trespass their homes to catch a glimpse of how they get dressed before the festival. But those days were gone now, it was now his turn to blossom beautiful pink leaves. The very idea of him blooming and people from all over the city rejoicing and enjoying it was like a dream and so, he had kept all his fresh-new-buds watered and made all the necessary preparation a night before. His roots shrunk a little with excitement and that night, he couldn’t close his eyes to sleep.
Within no time, the sun had climbed up the sky and it was a beautiful day. People, not only from Tokyo but from outskirts too, came to Shinjuku to celebrate ‘Hanami’. The park was never livelier before. Our young-Sakura blossomed pink leaves gracefully and expected a crowd to appreciate his beauty. People stretched mats, lied down, talked, ate, laughed but to his surprise, not many visited his trunk to appreciate him. There was a group strolling down looking at trees, but there too none visited him, none but one, a small boy. They visited every other tree but him. He looked around to see his neighbours had blossomed much more than him and looked much more beautiful. He determined to bloom more the next day and then the next day again and then the next day to come. But alas! Being a newbie, he couldn’t compete with the others. And so, a week passed; make it two now. Everyday same result and though his efforts were tireless, it was now time for our mysterious-old-stranger to leave, the months of blooming were over and the park was getting sparse every day.
Summers hustled in and brought a big bag of disappointment for our young-Sakura. His debut was not as good as expected. He didn’t plan his first ‘Hanami’ to turn out like this. He grieved for himself for a few days; even in his wildest dreams he hadn’t dreamt of this but surely, he dreamt something as a sprout and he was too tough a soul to give up on that. As the pink blossom matured to give way to new green leaves, he resolved to take care of them no matter what and flower the best leaves for the ‘Hanami’ next year. That year, the sun went cruel on everyone, the heat wave sucked greenery from around. But the young-Sakura stood up, not once did he waver supplying nutrients to the leaves to keep them green. His resolve outgrew the summer.
At the start of July, some rain showers had embraced him like a blessing. Soothing his burns, they seeped the soil well, and left him with much nutrients for his leaves. His leaves were growing bigger now, they were never this big before. The sun was just warm, the soil was just wet; he rejoiced looking at them all August. But little did he know, that with his departure, his friend August would go ‘Brutus’ on him. That year, strong gale and storms shook the city. Tokyo got caught up in the typhoon ‘Wipha’. Winds moving a speed of 213 kmph uprooted many trees and buildings alike. But Shinjuku had nurtured a very strong soul. On the face of the typhoon, the young-Sakura deepened his roots and held his leaves tight like a mother holding her baby. Again, he didn’t waver. His resolve outgrew the storm and by the time, the storm got over and Tokyo had lost much of his life, our young-Sakura was successful in containing some life within him.
‘All that’s green and young must crumble and yellow.’ Autumn was a bit late because September was busy cleaning the ruins of ‘Wipha’. Well, those who lived after her (the storm), those around our Sakura, were much quicker in painting their green leaves to red and yellow. The park was having a design make-over at once, except for one. Our young-Sakura was still high-spirited, he aspired to blossom the best next year, how can he let them crumble? So, he continued feeding them. The winds that would pass by his trunk would laugh at him, but his will was strong as a mountain. Proudly, when he glammed about his green leaves one day, the big-old-cherry blossom had remarked,
“O rash soul of youthful vigour!
The time has come for the leaves to be shed.
All that’s green and young must crumble and yellow.”
“The storms from the oceans have perhaps made you weak,
Your trunk is raptured and your voice is meek.
I have fought the heat and the storms,
All may crumble but I shall not!”
were the words of the young-Sakura to the old-tree.
By the end of November, Shinjuku had but only one green tree left. The leaves were bigger and the nutrients got scarce. The Sakura had to juice out his own trunk to fuel the leaves.
When naked trees with no leaves was all that the park had left, the Sakura was breathing heavily, trying to save the freshness of his leaves, but failing again and again. By now, turned into a thin-trunked Sakura, pumping everything to the leaves, he asked the big-old-cherry blossom,
“O wise-old-hermit of the enlightenment!
This cold-December has cast which spell?
My leaves which were once green and shiny,
Are crumbling red and crimson and falling.
I’m feeding my own life into them still they can’t live for me!”
“Haven’t I told you, Son?
Haven’t I conveyed this before?
All that’s green and young must crumble and yellow.
You may fight suns and storms but death awaits for each one.
You can’t fight that!”
“But my dream is for me to blossom like you,
If I can’t preserve them, what good will I do?”
“Holding on isn’t the answer to everything, Son!
Letting go has a power in itself.”
“Should I soil my efforts so easily?
Can’t let go for what I’ve fought for so long.”
“Like strength is required to fight so hard,
Strength is required to let go;
Then may that be love, may that be hate,
Equally difficult to leave though.
But fragility is a form of strength, my child!
Not all that is lost is waste,
The resourceful will come back to you,
If you stand back and just wait.”
Listening to those words, something inside him just changed. He didn’t feel as cheerful as before, his dream seemed to fade now. Slowly, his leaves, big and green, turned red and crumbled. And by the stem when they would detach themselves, he would feel an excruciating pain inside. Just like that, one-by-one he saw his leaves turn red and then fall down crumbling. The pain emptied him inside. His eyes went blank. He didn’t think of blossoming anymore, neither dreamt anything. Looking at the fallen sunken leaves at his foot, he cried in silence. When his tears would fall upon those leaves, they would disintegrate into small lights and then disappear.
At the end of December, snow covered his branches and tired by all the weeping he had done by weeks, he decided to sleep. Under the thick snow blanket that winter, the Sakura closed his eyes for a slumber. Shinjuku fell asleep.
It was the first rays of February that melted the snow from his eyes. He woke himself to some kids playing in the park, making noises. ‘The kids are so noisy’, he thought. An year had passed away, the kids were just a reminiscence of how he used to be. But he was grown now, he was gentle, he had experienced the pain of letting go and had stopped expecting much. He was placid and calm, peace perhaps. His eyes were not blank though, they were just silent. They didn’t say much now, just observed the world.
The rumours were heating up again, the gossips had begun. The strange man was returning to the town and so was ‘Hanami’. Unbeknownst to him, some buds had already made appearance on his branches. In the shadow of the anguish in the way his old leaves betrayed him, he didn’t treat the new ones at all. He was ignorant and then went to sleep early.
To the noises of chatters and laughs, he opened his eyes to a group of spectators in front of him, staring at him with awe, some poets describing his beauty. The Sakura was shocked, he couldn’t figure out even one piece of this puzzle and in haste, he looked at his branches; milk-pink to white leaves had blossomed. The gradient of the colour with the dense canopy illuminated by the sunlight made the Sakura as beautiful as the full moon in the night sky. He was amazed and for a while, couldn’t say anything. He looked at the big-old-cheery blossom who smiled at him,
“Now you’ve known fragility, now you’ve known strength.”
The crumbled leaves of December disintegrated into fresh nutrients in the soil which was used by him to produce the new ones which shone as beautiful as gold. The Sakura stared the old-tree in utter awe and silence. He felt like thanking him enough but for some reason he didn’t. The sun reached the mid-sky and his glare got intense. The group of spectators had left but one had stayed behind, a little kid, he thought to himself. “No, wait! He’s the same kid from an year ago! He has grown! Has he recognized me?”
While thoughts frazzled his mind, the boy took silent steps towards the tree, supported himself on the trunk and fell asleep. The Sakura calmed his thoughts looking at the boy. The sun rays seemed to trouble his sleep. Quietly, he pulled a branch sheltering him from the rays. As his eye brows eased, the Sakura eased too, closed his eyes in silent whispers and listened to the voices of people coming from afar.
“So that’s what they celebrate here, Impermanence, ‘Hanami‘.”
Written By: Anurag Sarkar, Chemical Engineering (2017), B.I.T. Sindri.