Elegy to an old sentinel

Before the next floods hit him or the storm fell him our Ungu tree (The Indian Birch tree) was called to sleep a few months back. Nature would have taken his thousand emerald leaves to her bosom, his strong sturdy trunk and bark would have lit someone’s hearth.

“Now that I have opened that bottle of memories they’re pouring out like wine,crimson and bitter sweet’ ~ Ellen Hopkins

We don’t remember our Ungu in his young days, for us he was always there , strong and stout spreading shade in all seasons. We love and hold tight to the memories we share under the shade of the tree.. The happy family time when chairs were pulled out to sit in the the courtyard and evenings were spent talking and discussing countless topics sitting under the tree. That time of the day was the most favourite time of our father..


The tree was a solace, a comfort after our father has left us. The tree was a symbol, the shade that achan gave us literally and metaphorically.

At a time when this tree was not so common, achan got the sapling from Neeliyad, where a beautiful Ungu stood spreading his arms giving shade to the wayfareres. I can’t recollect the young tree however much I try and I always love to visualise the tree in his majestic form.


Hot summer afternoons of April-May would be filled with chirps and cries of jungle babblers, rufous treepies, drongos, bulbuls and many birds that perch on the branches. Among his boughs he provided sanctuary to all these winged friends. As years passed the pretty antigonon started stiffling the tree and smothred him by decking him with bunches of her fuschia pink blossoms. The tree hosted a variety of swiss cheese plant, thadiyante valli as we called it, that never troubled him but added grace. The murmur of the leaves, the mild scent of the blooms, the sometimes profound and sometimes tender green of the leaves, the energy that emanates.. all could bring an unexplainable calmness to the mind while sitting in our balcony staring at the tree.


The tree became synonymous with our home Kousthubham, The Ungu stood next to the entrance gate like a sentinel, rooted firmly in the earth, a silent witness to our joys and sorrows; he has witnessed all the goodbyes, all the jokes we shared sitting on the veranda, all the games our children played. As Ungu was right in front of the house, he could peep into the house, could listen to the activties happening upstairs, he would have known the feelings of the inmates, would have laughed and cried with us; he has seen our children grow, the changes that came over to the house. Ungu was our achan’s presence.


He stood seasons of time, elements did not dare touch him; he never did bend or break in the heavy Kerala monsoons all those thirty plus years. He was as old as the house, the house changed, he aged gracefully, remained more or less unchanged. He welcomed and received the first rays of the sun that touched Anakkara, he bathed himself in the milky beams of hundreds of full moons as he majestically stood facing the east, as nothing hindered his view but the shallow paddy fields.


Antigonon or Coral Vine, the usurper

His presence was taken for granted, until the floods that happened two consecutive years. Being a small town, everyone in the neighbourhood has an opinion about everything ; how the Ungu is going to be a threat to the house was a heated topic of debate very soon. Blake rightly has said ” The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way...” As the compound wall crumbled down with the flood that struck Anakkara last year, pros and cons were weighed ,decision was taken to cut down the tree and rebuild a new wall ….


With a silent prayer in his heart the tree would have fallen down, heart broken. He would have sadly smiled at the hasty decision, also at the non-intervention of those who love him. He would have sighed and reflected upon at the similarity between the brevity of his master’s and his life. He would have closed his eyes with the assurance that changes or loss, this would remain their home and that he was part of those memories that Time would not be able to erase from their hearts.

Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it~ Lucy Maud Montgomery

14 thoughts on “Elegy to an old sentinel

  1. How we do love our trees, and grieve at their loss. This is a beautifully composed tribute, and a poignant reminder of the transitory nature of life — all life. I’m sorry your tree is gone, but I’m so glad you have these memories: touching, and sweet.


    1. Thank you so much Linda. Back to my blog after an interval. Appreciate your kindness and encouraging words. Yes, memories can be heartwarming and heartbreaking. Trust you’re doing fine. Stay safe and healthy!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rethy, I was literally under the tree (He) after reading this. I could visualise you are all sitting under the tree especially you and GK Sir. In the same note I am also visualizing the tears that shredded by him. It clearly indicates your emotional attachment with him.
    Very nicely written, further complimented by those crystal clear picture.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully expressed as always! For some of us these trees and elements of nature around our dwellings go from being parts of our life to parts of ourselves. But then I guess there are different perspectives as you point out. The battle of wills is still going on between us and locals regarding various trees at our premises. Some perfectly healthy trees that have no chance of falling are perceived as threat to neighboring structures, and in another case, there are repeated suggestions to fell a tamarind tree that is standing peacefully in one corner!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Uma, thank you so much for your constant support. Here the people were concerned about the safety of the house and the inmates. Unfortunately, the reconstruction of the wall demanded the cutting of the tree, Uma. Sad!


  4. Dear Rethy
    Its really a blessing to have a personal intimacy with the Nature around us.And your expression about the involvement of Ungu as a family member is marvelous. Just keep up this spirit. Congrats.
    I could read your work peacefully only today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dear Girija chechi, am so touched! Thanks a lot for finding time to read this. I know how busy you’re! Thanks for the encouraging words and also for commenting here. Take care. Love, Rethy


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