In the backyard of the house where Ricky, Jonak, Monpi and Tinky lived, stood a lovely Jamun tree. It was a tall and stately tree, with dark green leaves and twirling branches that clawed into the sky.

The Jamun tree was a source of joyto the children. They loved to climb its
knotty, gnarled branches and play hide and seek among the foliage. During the sweltering summer months, hot and tired after playing in the backyard, the children took rest under its welcome shade.

During summer too, the fruits of the Jamun tree ripened. At first these appeared in tiny, unripe green clusters which gradually swelled into juicy, purple-coloured fruits.

The branches of the tree drooped with the weight of their luscious burden. Their greatest joy was to eat the ripe Jamuns while sitting on a long, sturdy branch of the tree. The tree bore so much fruit that children from the neighborhood dropped in too and ate as many Jamuns as they could. The backyard always resounded with the shrill cries of happy children.

The syrupy sweetness of the Jamuns invited other visitors too. A pair of squirrels, who lived in a nearby bamboo grove, came regularly to nibble at the fruits. Scores of beautiful bluebottles flitted around the tree settling every now and then to drink nectar from the fruits. Honeybees, who seemed to be forever busy, filled the air with their urgent buzzing. Ants arrived in great numbers, marching in straight lines to carry off the
fruit which had fallen onto the ground. The children would spend hours watching the ants. They marvelled at the discipline with which these hardy little creatures toiled, carrying loads many times their own weight.

But the visitors that the children loved most were the birds—squabbling magpies, chirping sparrows and squawking parrots being the commonest. Ricky and Jonak built a bird bath and their sisters, Monpi and Tinky filled it with water. The birds enjoyed splashing about in the cool waters.

The month was January. The Bihu festival was fast approaching. There would be much feasting and merriment during the festival. Each household would build a mejhi -a pile of firewood stacked neatly together in their backyard. On the first morning of the festival the mejhi would be set alight invoking the blessings of Agni, the god of fire.

“Let’s build a champion mejhi this year.” Ricky suggested a few days before the festival.

Jonak, Monpi and Tinky warmed to the idea. Monpi, the most practical one, saw the difficulties ahead. “But where will we get so much wood from?

Father might buy some firewood but that’ll be just enough for a tiny mejhi.”
“True,” agreed Tinky. “Mother uses a gas stove in the kitchen. There’s no
firewood in the house.”

For a while the children pondered over the problem. Then Ricky’s gaze fell on the Jamun tree and his eyes lit up.

“We can chop down some of the biggest branches of the Jamun tree!” he
exclaimed. “It’ll provide us with so much firewood, that we can easily build a giant mejhi.”

Jonak clapped Ricky on the back. “Good idea!” he said approvingly. “Our
mejhi would be the envy of all our friends in the neighbourhood.”

Monpi and Tinky were equally enthusiastic. How could they cut down those
enormous branches? If their parents knew they would surely be angry. And even if they were four of them, cutting down a tree so large would take them at least two days!

But the chance came one day just before the festival. Their grandmother had fallen ill in Calcutta and she wanted their parents with her. Before they left, their mother gave them very clear last minute instructions.

“Don’t forget to get the milk in the morning. And remember to do your homework every day. And if you have time, go to the woods and pick up twigs and sticks that have fallen on the ground. You can add that to the wood we will buy for the mejhi.”

The following day, happily for the children, was a Saturday. Borrowing an extra axe from their neighbours, they divided up the duties. Ricky and Jonak, being older, took on the heavy job of cutting the branches. Monpi and Tinky were to stock the wood in neat piles on the ground.


Ricky climbed to one of the top branches. It wasn’t easy getting there but he
managed it. When he had tucked himself between the huge trunk and the thick branch,he looked around. What a magnificent view! There in the distance the deep, placid river flowed past the temple. A train went toot-toot, leaving a trail of ash-grey smoke. In the Jamun tree itself birds twittered happily. But he was forgetting the mejhi! Picking up the axe, he began a systematic chop-chop close to his body.

Suddenly he could hear a shrill, high-pitched scream. It was the hawk-kite that used to nest in the tree. He could only see one—did that mean the other had gone off to hunt for food for fledglings? Were there little ones in the nest?

Curious, he climbed a little further. And sure enough—there were two nearly fullgrown chicks. In fact, they were so big, that they looked almost like their parents, only lighter in colour.“Hey, Jonak!” cried Ricky climbing down. “There is a nest with two young hawk-kites here!”

“And look, Ricky—there! There’s an enormous beehive. Must be two years at least!”

Sitting astride two branches they wondered what was to be done now.


“Obviously, we can’t cut that side of the tree down. What will happen to the

“Nor this side. And think of all the effort that’s gone into the making of that

“And there must be many others nests that are used regularly by the birds.
See, that’s the hole that the barbet uses.”

“And look—this hole is obviously a squirrel’s home! I can see peanuts inside!”

They climbed down slowly.

Down below Monpi and Tinky were gathering whatever sticks and twigs they could find. They were surprised to see the brothers down so soon.

“What happened?” they asked.


Somewhat embarrassed, Ricky explained, “You see, this tree is a home for so many creatures that we couldn’t bring ourselves to cut it down.”

“Oh, that’s not fair!” cried the youngsters together. “What’ll happen to our mejhi?”

“Well, let’s think,” said Jonak. “We can’t cut the tree, that’s obvious. How
would we feel if someone burnt our house down?”

“Hmmm …” said Monpi, looking thoughtful.

The four of them sat in the shade of the tree, leaning against the gnarled trunk.
Finally Ricky spoke. “I think we have to forget our plans for a big mejhi this
year. Maybe next year …?”

Jonak had an idea. “Look, in our class we have a social forestry project. They are giving us subabul saplings to plant in February-March. I think I’ll ask them for some. These trees are specially grown to be cut so that older trees can be saved.”

Ricky said, “What a good idea, Jonak! Get some saplings. We’ll plant them
along the boundary wall. In two years’ time, when they are grown, we can cut them down and have a grand mejhi!”

When their parents returned, Monpi and Tinky told them about how the Jamun tree had nearly become a mejhi.

Father smiled. “I’m glad you didn’t cut it down. Think what would have happened.

You and your friends climb the tree, eat its fruit, play in its shade. If it weren’t there our courtyard would be silent.”

He stopped for a while, then continued. “It takes years and years for a tree to grow, mature, bear flowers and fruits. To cut one down takes just a few hours.”

Then he smiled and said, “Come, I’ve brought each of you a gift. They are lying in the backyard.”

The four youngsters rushed to the back of the house. To their delight, four
saplings—one each of Jamun, mango, guava and jackfruit—were propped up in polythene bags against the bamboo fencing.

The children lost little time in digging four holes in the four corners of the backyard and planting the saplings. They promised to water the plants morning and evening. It would take some time for the saplings to grow up into trees.

And these, they decided, they wouldn’t cut down. They would grow into big, tall trees. The eucalyptus and subabul, they could be cut.

That night as the children got ready to go to bed, Jonak said, “We may have a small mejhi this year but I’m glad we didn’t cut the Jamun tree.” The others nodded happily.

Arup Kumar Dutta

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