Issue #51

Summer 2014

The Enchanted Tree

by Srinjay Chakravarti

Once upon a time there lived a young man named Aniket. He had no one in the world, his parents were long dead, and he had no home to speak of. He was a wanderer, who moved from one town to another, looking for a place to settle in. One day he arrived in the strange town of Advutnagar.

It was a public holiday that day and as the sun was ferociously hot in the summer sky, the roads were deserted. Aniket was fed up with walking and was feeling weary, hungry and thirsty. At this point of time, he chanced upon a large, beautiful garden, more like a park. Its gates were locked, so he simply clambered over the fence and went inside.

Inside the garden he found that there was only a single large, shady tree, a peepal tree, and he sat down below it to rest. He did not know it then, but the tree was a "Kalpa-droom" — a tree that fulfills all wishes.

After he had rested for a while he looked up at the tree, attracted by the sweet fragrance of its flowers. He was amazed to see that the blossoms were of every color conceivable, from white to red to pink and blue and yellow and orange, even green and black. Some were golden and silver, and some variegated and checkered—a very strange assortment indeed. He had never seen anything like this before.

Aniket was now feeling too thirsty to wonder much about the flowers. He murmured to himself, "If only I could find some water..."

He got up and started looking around. He went around the garden, but there was no water anywhere. Suddenly he saw an earthen pitcher on the ground behind the tree, which he had not noticed earlier. He fell on the pitcher of water and at once drank his fill from it. He was too thirsty to care where it had come from.

After he had slaked his thirst with the deliciously cool, refreshing water, he felt acutely aware of the pangs of hunger. "If only there was something to eat," he mused.

Unbeknownst to him, a large bag had materialized from nowhere on the other side of the tree, opposite to where he was sitting. As he was looking all around, hoping to find some fruits, his eyes fell on the bag. "Strange!" he thought, "I didn't notice the bag when I was sitting there just a short while ago! Let's see what's inside it."

It contained delectable fruits, just as he had sought: mangoes, bananas, guavas, apples, litchis, grapes, pears, plums, apricots, oranges, cherries. He ate to his heart's content; he was famished, and ate hungrily, greedily, without worrying whose bag it was and how it had suddenly appeared there.

He wandered about the empty park for some time, but felt so drowsy that he came back and lay down in the shade of the magic tree. He fell asleep and did not wake up till late afternoon.

He felt refreshed and alert when he woke up. He said to himself, "Now if only there was something to drink, and a nubile young saki to serve it, then life would be good indeed."

The magic tree, of course, granted him the wish. A few minutes later a very beautiful young girl, as lovely as an apsara or nymph of paradise, came walking towards him with a tray laden with drinks. "You asked for me, master," she said, matter-of-factly.

"Who are you?" asked a wondering Aniket.

She replied sweetly, "Your saki, master."

He was nonplussed. But before he could say anything, she offered him a glass, which he gratefully accepted. It was like nothing he had ever tasted before. He asked her, "But how did you know I wanted a drink?"

"Your wish is my command, master," came the reply.

Aniket's head began to swim from the effects of the bhang, and he felt light and carefree. He did not quite know what to say, and burst out laughing.

"Do you mean to say that whatever I wish for will come true?"

"Yes, of course, master."

"How can that be possible? What place is this, anyway?"

"This is the town of Advutnagar, master."

Aniket laughed cynically. "If I say I want a bagful of gold coins, will I get it? Of course not!"

Very soon, however, there was a tinkling noise behind him and he turned, astonished, to find a bag of gold mohurs spilling over on to the grass.

Aniket sobered up. He was delighted, absolutely delighted, and grabbed fistfuls of mohurs and tossed them in the air, whooping with joy as the pieces of yellow metal rained down on him.

At last Aniket calmed down. "Do you mean to say that I can get whatever I want here?"

"Yes, of course, master. The more you wish, the more you get."

"Anything at all?!" He was startled. "Suppose—suppose—let's say I want to meet a wild tiger, a man-eater—would I be granted my wish? Won't it attack me?"

"Certainly, master."

"But how could that be possible? Surely you are joking!" Aniket creased his brow thoughtfully.

He sat in silence for a few moments, trying to puzzle it out with his slow, befuddled brain. Suddenly the girl screamed, then turned and ran for dear life. In the distance, there was a harsh growl, and a flash of golden yellow, striped with black. A tiger was indeed coming toward them. It jumped over the fence and started running toward the tree.

Fortunately, Aniket still had some of his wits about him, and quickly clambered up the tree and took refuge in one of its high branches.

The tiger roared and prowled around the bottom of the peepal tree, but the youth was beyond his reach. The saki had made good her escape.

Our hero sat on the tree and screamed for help. The tiger was too large and heavy to climb up the tree, but it gnashed its teeth and snarled up at him, its twin feral eyes blazing, frightening him no end.

People from nearby houses came running on hearing the tiger's roars and the youth's screams. As soon as they saw the tiger, the townspeople got hold of a large net, trapped the wild beast, and encaged it.

The mayor of Advutnagar, who had himself come to supervise the rescue operation, told Aniket, "You can come down now."

Aniket was trembling and panting; sweat was trickling down his body in rivulets. The official asked him, "What happened?"

Aniket asked him instead, "Does everything one wish for come true in this town?"

"No, not at all; why do you ask?"

Aniket then narrated the day's events.

The mayor said, "Do you know what the tree you are standing under is? It is a 'Kalpa-droom,' the only one of its kind! It is a tree that grants you all your wishes, whether you like it or not. A wizard had enchanted this tree and had turned it into a Kalpa-droom, but died soon afterwards. Whenever someone from our town wants to make a wish, they come and stand under the tree and think very carefully about what they want."

The official pointed to the blossoms on the tree. "Each flower represents a wish that has been made under this tree. That is why they are of so many colors. Look, you can see a golden yellow blossom with black stripes there—that's the flower which bloomed when you asked for the tiger."

Aniket exclaimed angrily, "This tree has brought me nothing but trouble! How I wish I had never set eyes on it. I don't want to see this tree ever again!"

But alas! Aniket was still standing under the shade of the tree, the only one of its kind in the whole world, and it vanished at once.

Author Bio

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Srinjay Chakravarti is a writer, journalist, researcher and translator based in Salt Lake City, Calcutta, India. His literary creative writing, including poetry, short fiction and translations, has appeared in over 100 publications in nearly 30 countries. A former journalist with The Financial Times Group, he has worked on the editorial staff of an international online financial news service. He has also worked on the editorial staff of an Indian daily newspaper. His short story "Thief of the Moon" appeared in Issue #26 of The Cafe Irreal; his translation of Sukumar Ray's "Drighangchu" appeared in Issue #28; and "The Magic Bucket," also based in part on a traditional Hindu parable, appeared in Issue 47. "The Enchanted Tree" is partly based on a traditional Hindu parable, narrated by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836–1886), a great Indian saint, mystic and spiritual leader. The story can be found in Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna (Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, India: second edition, 1947). The parable has been recast and retold by Srinjay Chakravarti.