Balai : by Rabindranath Tagore Story in English

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      Far ahead of the Chipko Movement, Tagore had written about conservation of plants and the intimate connection between man and Nature. In Bolai - The Boy and the Tree, Bolai is a gentle, imaginative child who feels one with Nature. He develops an attachment to a plant and does not let his uncle axe it down. But in his absence the deed gets done and his childless aunt takes long to forgive her husband for it.


In my brother's motherless child Bolai, plants were the dominant element.
Bolai : The boy and the tree

Short Story :-

Human being is the end-product of a long process of evolution. There are elements of birds and beasts and even plants and other living organisms in a human being.

In my brother's motherless child Bolai, plants were the dominant element.

From his very childhood, he had the habit not of running around but being still and staring at the world around him - like the plants do. When it rained, his entire body seemed to hear its pitter-patter. When the afternoon sun rays fell on the rooftop, he bared his body to it and walked about. He was not a talkative child. He had large eyes and silently looked out of them at the surrounding nature.

Once I had taken him to the hills. In front of our house there was a grassy slope going down the hillside. It thrilled Bolai. He rolled down it, as though he was part of the slope going down. As he went down, the grasses would tickle the back of his neck, and he would laugh merrily.

When it rained in the night and the morning light fell upon the tall trees of the mountains, Bolai would go and stand quietly among them in wonder.

His eyes were lost in thought. It is not that they were always looking upwards - towards the sun or the clouds. They were often cast down as if looking for something. They were keen to see the new saplings raise their heads out of the earth, and seemed to have a conversation going on with them. Perhaps the young shoots asked Bolai: "What is your name? " Or, "Where is your mother?" Perhaps Bolai replied: "My mother is gone." It hurt him when people plucked flowers from trees. He had realized that this made no sense to others and so he tried to hide it. Kids of his age threw pebbles up at trees to bring fruits down. Bolai could not say anything to them openly but he turned his face away and moved elsewhere. To tease him, his friends, while walking through a garden, would swing a stick at the flowerbeds on either side or unnecessarily break off a branch from a tree. Bolai felt like crying but was embarrassed to do so in case it was seen as madness.

The days he suffered most were those of trimming the lawn. Everyday he spotted tiny flowers among the grasses, yellow and mauve and without any names. Everyday he found new sapling shooting up from seeds that had perhaps been blown there by the wind. How pretty they were! How delicate! But because they were not fancy plants, there was no one to hear their cries as they were cut down by the ghasiara (grass-cutter).

On some days, he came and sat on his aunt's lap and put his arms around her neck as he appealed: "Kaki, why don't you tell the ghasiara not to cut off my plants."

"What nonsense you speak, Bolai", my wife would say "They are wild growth and must be trimmed."

And so Bolai had gathered that there were some feelings that were entirely his own, that he could not share wit anyone else. Bolai seemed get a message straight from nature that every blade of grass, every sapling, every bit of creation wanted to live, survive and grow. We had laughed a lot at this absurd idea.

One day I was reading the newspaper when Bolai excitedly took me to the garden. Right in the middle of the gravel path across the garden, a sapling of Shimul (silk-cotton) had shot up.

Alas, Bolai had made a mistake in calling me out and showing me the sapling. He had spotted it right from the day it had sprung up from the ground. He had watered it everyday, watched over it morning and afternoon. Silk-cotton trees grow fast - but not as fast as Bolai's keen interest in its growth. When it had grown about two feet tall, and sprouted a wealth of leaves, Bolai was struck with awe and admiration. Every mother is overwhelmed when her baby makes the first movements that indicate growth. She thinks it is a wonder child that she has got. Bolai had thought the same, and brought me out to get me impressed as well.

"I must tell the gardener to uproot it and throw it away."

Bolai gave a big start. What a terrible thing for his uncle to have said!

"Please, Kaka, no! Please don't uproot it!"

"What nonsense you speak, Bolai! It is right in the middle of this gravel path. When it grows up it will send out puffs of cotton on all sides and create a mess.

When he could not cope with me, Bolai appealed to his aunt. Getting on to her lap, he sobbed, "Kaki, you tell Kaka not to cut off the plant." He had thought of the right way out. His aunt said, "Do you hear? Come on, let his plant be."

I let it be.

Bolai would have done better not to show that plant to me at all. Perhaps would not even have noticed it. But now my eyes fell upon it every day. Within the year the plant grew up in a most unabashed fashion. And it was the tree Bolai grew to be fondest of.

I felt the plant looked most stupid and audaciously out of place. Twice again I proposed its death sentence. I tempted Bolai with cuttings of rose bushes. I offered him a new silk-cotton tree to be planted at another part of the garden, near the boundaries. But every time I suggested cutting it down, Bolai gave a start of horror, and his aunt spoke out on his behalf:" lt does not look so bad, come on!"

My sister-in-law, Bolai's mother, had died when Bolai was but a baby. My elder brother in his grief had gone abroad for higher education, leaving Bolai with us. That is how Bolai had grown up with us, his childless uncle and aunt. After a decade, my brother came back and took Bolai away from us to give him a better education, first in Shimla and then in England. Tearfully, Bolai left us to our emptiness. Two years passed by. Bolai's aunt often wept for him secretly and handled Bolai's old toys and pictures books, which she had preserved in the room that used to be his.

One day I happened to notice that the silk-cotton tree had grown so big that it could not be tolerated any more. I called the gardener and had it chopped off.

It so happened that soon after, Bolai wrote a letter to his aunt asking for a photograph of the tree to be sent to him. He was going abroad and would not be able to see us before he went. So he wanted to take along with him a photograph of his friend - the tree.

"Call a professional photographer", said his aunt to me as she gave me Bolai's letter written in his childish hand.

"Get Bolai's tree photographed".

"But that tree has been chopped off!" said I.

For two days Bolai's aunt did not partake of food and for many days after that she did not speak a word to me. She was wounded to the core - first by Bolai's father taking him away and now by his uncle getting rid of his tree.

For, that tree had been to her a symbol of his life, a second Bolai.

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