The Wishing Tree
It stood in the village and had always been there, had been there from before living memory.
The mighty banyan tree was like a mother to her children, the villagers, and under her spreading branches the women sat and gossiped, children played and the merchants conducted business selling their wares, bartering and trading the basic necessities of life.
But there was another activity that went on in the shade of its cathedral-like branches.
All the villagers had grown up instilled in the knowledge that the tree had magical powers. If the rains were late the people went to the tree and wished for rain. If the rains were too heavy and brought floods, they went to the tree and prayed for respite. If the crops failed or sickness struck the little community or if hurricanes approached and threatened to destroyed their houses, they went to the tree and murmured their supplications and came away confident that the tree spirits would listen to their wishes.
The nearest village to them was a day’s walk away and did not have a wishing tree. There was no all-protecting mother to listen to their needs, to grant their wishes and protect them from the ravages of nature. But that village did have something else – a mosque – and the villagers took their wishes to the mosque and beseeched Allah for his mercy and help in leading a good life in safety and prosperity. They sat down with the mufti and discussed the needs of the people and he instructed them to recite the holy Quran and accept whatever Allah should ordain.
And a day’s drive from the village with the mosque was a small town and all the townsfolk were from many diverse parts of the land. There were the light skinned ones from the far north and the darker ones from the south. There were the western people who favoured tattooing their bodies and spoke with a different accent. Then there were the ones from the east who prided themselves on being highly educated and holding positions of power. They were in favour with the Central Government and held important positions and many of the other townsfolk were careful what they said in their presence.
But all these people, regardless of their origins, believed in the power of a greater being. And this town also had its own banyan tree and its own mosque. It also had a temple and even a church which had been established by the missionaries a hundred and fifty years ago. The people would take their problems and offer up prayers to the gods they trusted, the gods they believed in – under the banyan tree or in the mosque.Those who believed in other gods took offerings to the temple and made their wishes known or knelt before the cross in the chapel and murmured prayers. And if the gods were kind, they listened and were benevolent and granted their wishes. But if the gods were displeased the people had to suffer the consequences and accept that their god knew what was best for them. One year produced bounteous harvests but yet another year brought famine and drought. They praised god for his goodness when a new clinic was built with aid from the first world countries and then beat their breasts when great portions of the population were struck down by Ebola and malaria but they accepted it blindly and knew that god was being just in punishing them for their wicked ways.
And so it went on year after year, decade after decade and for many generations. There were plagues and famine, war and destruction, floods and fires all interspersed with times of peace and plenty and the people accepted their fate at the hands of their gods.
And when mosques and temples and churches were burnt to the ground or flattened by nature’s fury, the banyan tree in the little village survived and it gave shelter to the people and they continued to pray to the spirits and accepted their fate at the hands of the greater powers that dwelled within the wishing tree…