The apricot tree and the spring of coronavirus

The wild apricots are fruiting once again; the iris is flowering; but this time, spring seem less promising than others that have gone by.

The wild apricots (malhei) are fruiting once again; the iris (kombirei) is flowering; but this time, spring seem less promising than others that have gone by. However dark and gloomy it might seem, let us face it together. Let us not be engulfed in darkness and not lose our humanity. All across the nation, across the globe, the news of the pandemic of coronavirus has been spreading. Preventive measures have been shared but as the Indian experience seems to indicate, the preventive measures seem a luxury that many can ill afford. Yes, it is worrying.

At such a critical time, I consider myself fortunate to be at home with my parents. The apricot tree that stands in our compound is heavy with fruits and I am reminded of something that I once wrote some years back with the longing heart of someone who has not visited the spring season at home for a long time:

“The first blossoms of the apricots must have begun. it is the middle of winter. Winter at my hometown at Imphal (Manipur in India’s Northeast) is cold and dry but sunny. The grass turns yellow. The paddy fields are barren. The trees shed leaves. The mornings are foggy. As the sun begins to shines, the ponds weep out as mist. The powdery snow spreads out like a thin veil that slowly disappears as the sun grows in strength. The dew drops glisten over the blades of grass. From late morning till about early afternoon, the sun shines bright. The cold winds begin their sway from early afternoon onward long before the sun rays have a chance to cast long shadows.

My last visit home was a couple of years back in the middle of winters. The apricots had just begun to peep out. there is only one apricot tree in our garden. It stands near the gate. It is the first thing you would see if you ever happen to visit my house. As you open the gate and look towards the house, your vision will be partly obstructed by some branches – that would be the apricot. The tree spreads out its branch towards the pathway creating a sort of an arch on the west side while on the east side its branches are absorbed along with the other plants (cedrella/chinese mahogony, persian lilac, wood apple along with pink hibiscus and lantana creating a bush closer to the ground). Together they compose a green veil that blocks the view of the front garden to its north.

The apricot has been a sight to take in. it stands like a gentle testimony to the passage of time – of seasons but also of memories. It stands bare as winter approaches. Then like the irresistible toothless smile of a newborn baby, it twinkles with its initial sprinkling of blossoms in the middle of winter and soon turns white with its blossoms. The tender greens peep in like adding a punctuation mark but as the white flowers drop off, the green foliage graces the tree. Hidden among the tender green foliage are the young green fruits popping out. They would mature in spring in time for the Cheiraoba festival to welcome the beginning of another seasonal cycle. Yes, the coming of malhei mapaan as it is called in Manipuri, is an early signal for yenningtha the season of hope/spring.

The apricot blossoms precede the plum blossoms lined up along the pond. I spent many a dreamy lazy day looking out at the blossoms carried to the pond where it created a carpet of white petals that danced as the breeze teased the water in the pond creating ripples. The musical rhythm would be the whispers of the breeze to the leaves and the chirping of birds and bees. Unfortunately, the plum trees are no longer there but the apricot still stands. The two remain associated with some of my fondest memories – moments to which I return to for inspiration and calm when I feel restless.

If yenningtha/spring represents hope, that hope has to be nurtured through the seasons. Some say, when winter is here, can spring be far? But is not spring enjoyable because of the winter that preceded it and the summer that follows it? Afterall, it is change that is the one thing that remains constant.  The apricot tree seems to tell me so.

As spring approaches, the fruits begin to mature. They turn a lighter shade and then yellowish-orange as it ripens. By spring, the fruits on the southern side that is unobstructed from the sun starts to show blushes. The lovely yellowish-orange is speckled with red. By late spring to early summer, the tree looks hearty – yellow fruits dusted with speckles of red blush on a background of lush rich green leaves.” (read the original article at ingallei@wordpress.com)

Autumn better known locally as nakentha quite literally refers to that time in the seasonal cycle when the leaves shed. The paddy fields turn golden ready for harvest while the apricot tree sets to welcome fall by shedding all its leaves. As the days get shorter, the dry chilly winds of winter are fast approaching. Winter to spring; spring to summer; summer to autumn; autumn to winter: its yet another seasonal cycle of life. 

What happens to the apricot tree in the autumn? Perhaps, it has gone to sleep; but then perhaps sleep is not quite the metaphor for it. Perhaps it is rejuvenating. Without its leaves, flowers and fruits, the tree could very well be turning inwards to build its strength, to refuel itself to burst out in glorious colour when the season changes yet again.

Matamgi tantha matung inna’ literally meaning, in tune with the rhythm of changing time. The phrase had once been associated with aesthetic beauty and poetic language of changing times. Today, it stands hauntingly in an anomic relation to a question mark threatening to suck one and all into a vortex of fear and despair. The apricot tree could withstand the seasonal routine of rebuilding itself. In certain parts of the world, there are happy news being shared that nature has come back to reclaim itself but what are the costs that those who can ill afford to have to pay? This spring in indeed a wake-up call.  

First Published:May 22, 2020, 12:58 a.m.

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