Jamun is the most inviting of trees — sprawling and beautiful, fruit-bearing and shady. Growing up in India, I lived in three houses at different stages. All three houses stood in close vicinity to a jamun tree. Though luscious and leafy all year long, the trees would come alive in spring when they flowered, the scent of their blooms wildly infusing the air in the months of March and April. In May, the green berries would pop up, ripening in the summer sun to turn a deep purple by July.
Come monsoon, the berries would be plump and juicy, leading birds, bugs and humans to crave for them. Tangy and sweet, tart and sour, the berries were the colour of monsoon clouds. And much like those dark clouds, the berries, too, seemed laden with the promise of the many flavours of life.
Jamun trees continue to speak to me so much that when visiting friends and family, I invariably ask them if there is a jamun
tree growing close to their homes. Somehow, it seems impossible to imagine Indian streets without jamun trees, intrinsically Indian as they are.
Indigenous to the subcontinent, jamun trees shine through in our scriptures, folklore, herbal medicine, childhood memories and our mythology. One myth has it that Megha, the Lord of Rainclouds, descends to earth in the form of jamun fruit during the monsoon, thereby rejuvenating all life on earth.
Another myth has it that Krishna’s beautiful, dark complexion is the pristine colour of ripe jamuns. He is even said to have had four symbols of the jamun tree on his right foot, testifying to the life-sustaining ability of the tree, which is believed to be as old as eternity.
Although there are no jamun trees in the US, where I live now, a jamun tree grows in my mind at all times, flowering in the spring, bearing fruit in the summer. A remnant of India in my being, it connotes the wisdom of the ancient civilisation from where I come, forms my mindset, reinforces my belief in the value system of old, influences my decision-making, enhances my emotional and physical well-being.
Nurturing my aesthetic, it speaks to me as a symbol of freedom, to sway and bend but stand strong in the face of a storm. Most of all, it is a reminder to revel in the many melodies of life. On breezy days, it ruffles in my head, making me smile and croon.
Life is an old jamun tree, impervious to time, remindful at once of our fragility and majesty, its one timeless lesson reverberating across the cosmos to trill in minds and hearts: What we give is returned to us in manifold measures. The life we save is our own.
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