From 60 feet altitude, the ground beneath appeared beautiful. It was a view from the top of the oldest palm tree and it left me mesmerized. It was a bit cold at early dawn. The sun was about to rise. The huge rock lying near the palm tree was the most ancient thing I could see from the top. The river flowing nearby was the other one.
The numerous palm trees standing along both sides of the river bank formed a zigzag pattern. I looked at the palm trees on the opposite side. They belonged to the village situated on the other side of the river. Summer was about to depart. There was little water in the river. The boundary of flowing water shrunk itself towards the center of the river. It was not the usual case. Last monsoon, the heavy rain had extended the river boundary beyond the huge rock. The half-submerged rock was the only shelter which saved the life of five goats for one whole day till water receded.
Shifting my attention from the river, I checked the clay pot tied to the oldest palm tree that I was climbing with the help of a rope. It was filled with the palm juice. The pot tied to the palm tree got filled with palm juice overnight. Slowly, I untied the pot from the tree and held it safely as I climbed down. Collecting the palm juice in the small pots from the palm trees was a tedious task that I had mastered last year. Not everyone wants to climb them. But now, I am the only one left in the family to carry on this tradition. Sometimes, I proves that somethings can always be extracted from each and every living and non-living object. It gives me a sense of hope to utilize everything. Nothing in this world is useless!
I climbed down the oldest palm tree and went near the huge rock. My other clay pots, already filled with palm juice, were kept over there. They were all collected from different palm trees. Very carefully, I emptied all the palm juice from the small clay pots into the two bigger clay pots. The quantity collected was the maximum for this season. The smell of the fresh white and clear liquid was tempting. It filled me with joy. I looked around and realized that I was the first one to collect the palm juice this morning. The other tree-men had not arrived yet. I covered the two bigger pots and tied them to each end of a bamboo stick. With the help of the bamboo stick, I put the weight of the two huge pots on my shoulder and started my daily journey towards the village. The sun rays were about to spread over the horizon. Birds were flying towards the west in search of food.
I started moving fast. passing through the un-ploughed paddy fields, soon I was in the outskirts of the nearby village. As I entered the village, my eyes looked for prospective customers.
The weight of the juice-filled pots reminded me to sell the palm juice quickly, so that my shoulders could relax. I turned around in the direction of a female voice. I followed the sound and stopped at the doorstep of a house where an old lady was standing. She was my first customer for the day! I smiled as she asked for some palm juice.
She just took a little quantity of palm juice, which I poured in her round circular vessel. I sold the juice to her despite her bargaining. She put two coins in my hand and thanked me for the fresh juice she purchased from me a few days back. I slipped the two coins in my pocket, smiled and moved forward.
The empty village road was slowly filling with villagers. I could clearly hear the footsteps of the people moving around. All of them were in a hurry to start their daily activities. A group of women fetched water from the big village well. A few men took their cattle for grazing. The smell of smoke emerged from the houses and mixed slowly in the air. It was the time for early morning cooking with the help of wood and dry cow dung.
The juice which I carried was sweet and cold, but I was burning with heat. My legs wanted to reach somewhere faster. I followed different routes daily as I couldn’t find customers for my palm juice in the same route every day. However, whichever route I took, I made sure to arrive at a particular destination each day – the small house at the corner of the banyan tree. It was at the center of the village. Every route of the village led to there.
I reached the spot and kept my pots under the huge banyan tree. The long branches of the tree were spread in all directions. It provided cool shade to those who rested there during day time. During night, the branches provided shelter to numerous birds. It was my regular halt. I found many customers under the banyan tree.
I waited for the customer from the small house to come for my palm juice. My eyes focused towards the entrance of the house. My wait was not long. She came out with a vessel in her hand. Our eyes met. She gave me a smile. I tried hard to limit my smile. She came near and enquired about the juice. Some days, I did not have enough juice in my pots when I reached the banyan tree. But today, I had enough juice for her. I filled her container with the juice. Our eyes met once again.
The morning moments with her caught on me slowly. I sensed somethings as sweeter as the juice in my pot. I felt that my heart hung like a pot on the palm tree and received some signals from her eyes.
She handed me a few coins for the juice with a smile. There was somethings in that smile which I could not comprehend. The only think I knew was, somewhere deep inside me, I wanted to cross through this particular route, which led to her house, every single day. The other thing I enjoyed was pouring the juice in her vessel. The banyan tree and the adjacent house were my favorite destination.
One day when I was late, her mother had purchased the juice from some other juice vendor. She asked me why I was late, the next time I went to her place. There was something in her way of complaining which made me remember her often. That day I noticed her beautiful face for the very first time. It was hard to forget that moment.
That particular incident acted as a catalyst for me to wake up early, every day. I wanted to reach her house before any other juice vendor. However, though I put in a lot of effort, I was not successful in selling my palm juice to her daily. But today was a lucky day!
Many of my other customers came to buy the juice and I filled up each container as desired. The quantity of juice in both my pots reduced considerably. I happily moved further. I sold my juice to many other customers in the village.
I walked ahead. The clay pots made a rattling sound. The calculated sound reminded me of the amount of juice left in the pots. I moved ahead happily humming a folk song of the village. But my happiness did not last longer. I could not find any other customer in my path.
The sun had risen up and the bright sunrays were generating heat. It made me worried. Finding customers for the juice was not easy. The tedious job of climbing up the palm trees twice daily was much easier. Every evening, I climbed up the palm tree and tied the pot with a hope of having plenty more juice than the others. I had collected good amount of juice today, but couldn’t finish selling it.
Shifting my focus from the juice left in my pots, I kept walking. The entire village path was measured under my foot by the time. Chances of finding customers for my juice became less. I stopped and rested for a few moments near the road side. I took out the coins from my pocket and counted for the total sale of the day. It was one hundred and twenty three only. My mind made some calculations.75 rupees would be spent on daily necessities. 45 rupees would go to the potter. There was a constant remainder running on my mind to pay for the three new clay pots I had borrowed from the potter last week. One of my old pots had cracked while handling. The other two were stolen from the palm tree a few days back.
The day grew older. I checked my pots. The palm juice left in my pot fermented and turned slightly alcoholic. It was not fit to be sold anymore. It was time to return home.
I walked back slowly. Soon I was out of the village. When I reached the paddy field, the weather started changing. I encountered a strong wind which carried dry leaves and dust with it. The sky became hazy. The sunrays diminished by the arrival of the clouds. The hot air became cool at once. Dark clouds covered the sky. Soon, the black clouds started spraying water. Propelled by a gush of cold wind, rain drops splashed on my face.
The monsoon came two weeks early this year. It was time for the dry paddy fields to receive some rain and fulfil their thirst. With the arrival of monsoon, I knew I had to look for some other seasonal occupation.
The date palm juice could no longer be extracted. The clay pots would no longer collect the drops of palm juice. Rather, they would all be now hung up on the wall until the next season. The mesmerizing color and flavor of the palm juice could no longer be witnessed till monsoon was over. Something inside me slipped, and my heart skipped a beat. I would now miss the silent eye contact which blended so well with the fragrance of palm juice. I wanted to stop the summer and push away the monsoon. Somewhere deep inside, I wanted this summer to last forever!