Deep, deep in a dense forest, there was a small mango grove, just five or six trees on a broad ledge at the side of a hillock. Wild trees–no one had ..
By Deepa Agarwal
Deep, deep in a dense forest, there was a small mango grove, just five or six trees on a broad ledge at the side of a hillock. Wild trees–no one had planted them–they had sprung up on their own. But someone did watch over them. It was the spirit of the mango grove, who tended them carefully.
When spring came, clusters of pale lemon blossoms crowded the branches of the trees. Bees swarmed about the clusters, sucking their sweet nectar and carrying pollen from flower to flower. In early summer, tiny green mangoes replaced the blossoms. As the sun’s heat grew, so did the mangoes, ripening into a warm golden yellow.They dangled from the branches, plump with luscious juice.
The sight of the mangoes hanging from the branches filled the spirit of the grove with joy. This wild fruit was a feast prepared by nature for all living creatures. And in no time at all, word spread that the mangoes were ready to eat.
“The mangoes have ripened, deep in the forest,” the people of the jungle sang as they danced around their fires at night. And before the first streaks of light appeared in the sky, they padded down to the grove. Effortlessly they shinnied up to the highest branches of the trees and ate their fill of the choice fruit.
The spirit wafted among them in the form of a breeze. “Eat as much as you like,” she murmured. “But remember this fruit is for everyone.”
Children came from the village near the forest, yelling, “The mangoes are ripe, the mangoes are ripe.” They clambered all over the trees, or stood below and knocked off the heavy fruit with well-aimed stones. The juice ran down their chins as they sucked the mangoes. There were quarrels, of course. But the breeze that cooled their hot cheeks seemed to whisper, “Don’t fight. There’s enough for all.” And immediately they realized that it was true.
Men and women came from the village, too. The women collected the fruits that had fallen on the ground and carried them home tied up in the loose ends of their saris. The men came in the evening. All day they had toiled in the fields, in the heat, so the breeze was like a blessing. The mangoes revived them, made their weariness fade. And they all heard the spirit’s voice, “Take only as much as you need.”
Parrots and crows squawked and fed among the trees, and packs of monkeys often visited the grove, chattering busily as they ate, hurling half-eaten mangoes to the ground. Wild hares and strolling deer nibbled on the leftovers. Even at night the grove remained busy, with bats swinging soundlessly from the branches as they nibbled and sucked at the fruit. And always, the spirit floated around, content.
But, one morning, just when the darkness was beginning to dissolve, the spirit sensed that something different was afoot. And then she saw a man on one of the trees. Nothing unusual, except that he carried a bag. And was filling it as fast as he could, stripping the branches, without leaving a single mango behind.
The spirit floated towards the man at once and blew against his ear in a short, sharp gust. “Take only as much as you need,” she said. But the man didn’t seem to hear. He just went on picking, and when his bag was full, he climbed down and emptied the fruit into an even larger sack.
The spirit tried again. “You can’t eat all these mangoes, surely,” she reproved him. “Remember, this fruit is for everyone.”
The man seemed deaf to her voice as he turned toward another tree. “Stop!” the spirit cried. “You’ve got enough!” Still, he went on, unheeding.
But no sooner had he placed his foot on the next trunk, when there was a sound, like something falling. The man turned and saw his sack of mangoes rolling down the slope, all on its own.
“Who pushed it?” the man shouted. There was no one around that he could see. He scurried to pick up the mangoes. They were already far ahead of him, hurtling down the slope. He ran faster, but the mangoes remained ahead, out of reach.
“They’ve got to stop somewhere,” he muttered. “I’ll get hold of them then.” But as soon as he said that, the mangoes speeded up, as if they were trying to escape.
The man quickened his pace, too. Little by little he started to catch up. The mangoes were barely a hand’s length away from him now. “Got you !” he cried stretching out his arm.
But at that very moment, he tripped and rolled headlong down the slope, like the mangoes. Tumbling, he managed to grab hold of one of the fruits, his fingers closing around it. But his cry of triumph died on his lips. The mango slid out of his grasp, jerking away as if it had a life of its own. Dumbfounded, the man lay there, catching his breath. And then his eyes almost popped out with surprise. Because one by one the mangoes began to rise into the air! Higher and higher they floated, little black wings sprouting out of their sides and carrying them away.
“This can’t be happening,” the man cried. “It’s simply not possible.”
But there was not a single mango left on the ground. Only a flock of birds, some yellow with black wings, some green, flying off into the distance. And a sort of a sigh came from the breeze that whirled around his head. The man could have sworn it was a sigh of relief.
And that’s how, the legend says, the mango birds were born. Better known as the golden orioles, these birds love to fly and to rest in the mango groves. But unlike other birds, they never eat the fruit.
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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