By Deepa Kaul
In the dry, dusty, intense heat in the summer of 1982, Dr. V. N. Khanna, Jyoti, Dr. U. P. Singh and I were keeping a promise to the villagers of a small hamlet of Rampur village of Amethi in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. We had assured them a visit an year ago during the 1981 bye-election.
The wheat in the fields had been cut and brought home and now the fields waited to be irrigated by the monsoon rains. So was the man-made deep pond hopeful to be filled up also.
Seeing our brand new white Ambassador car, in the early hours, the village children came out to surround us and slowly some men also came out. We stopped our car near the pond, under the shade of a majestic Mahua tree (a typical Indian tropical tree found in plains and forests).
Its branches, heavily laden with edible oil-bearing fruits, were touching down on all sides. For many areas of this region Mahua is a cash earning tree. It be understood with all genuineness that a Mahua tree has to be spoken about with unspoken love and dignity like one would talk about a Peepul, a Banyan or an Oak.
One does not call a Mahua a tree; it’s just Mahua. Its leaves are big and round and when young, keep changing its pinkish tones to light green. The fragrance of its flowers fills the air with every bloom. Poets and story tellers have written much about it. Many girls are also named after the beautiful Mahua.
When we stopped to meet the people, we thought it best to get out of the car and go round with them. We told the driver to follow us from a distance. After spending some time with the villagers, we thought it best to come again later but there was no car behind.
In fact, our car had not budged at all. The driver, a mechanic, had tried to start it but to no avail. The two ladies were thus asked to get back to the rest house and the two doctors were given two rope cots and they opted to sleep under the open sky. Our driver slept in the car. Slowly the night had passed with the Great Bear changing position in the sky. Not knowing what was in store for us, we all rested well.
At the break of dawn, Dr. Singh thought he heard a creaking sound. He sat up, for all was still dark and he waited. All hell broke loose … it seemed … when … with much different sounds … crashing … came down the Mahua tree. Without any lightning or thunder it had split on three sides.
One over the cots and doctors. One over our car and the driver. The third crossed the wide pond and its branches reached out to touch the hut of a villager asleep with his family and cow in an open courtyard.
Jyoti and I had reached early and the sight – oh… it was a time stopping moment … our heart thumping with shock and dismay. We rushed forward. Oh! Surely, there is an almighty definitely!!!
Soon, people with axes and saws were getting Dr. Singh and Dr. Khanna out from under the branches, not a scratch on them! The new car was though completely smashed but the driver too was saved as the front seat kept the load of the branches from him. Dazed but safe, he came out. What about the villager? He, his family and the cow too were safe. The branch that fell on their side was at such an angle that it did not touch them or break their mud wall.
It took us all some time to register what had happened and I wonder… is there a God up there really or was it all coincidence?