Friday, November 08, 2013


When I was a child I believed that the hazelnut tree growing on the side of the dirt road just past the cemetery was actually a mystic portal, a secret door to other worlds. When I was eighteen I knocked three times on the side of the tree and walked, through the trunk, into Bombay. It was still called Bombay then. I was immediately cheated by taxi men and put on a one-way non a/c bus to Hyderabad. Some people will know exactly which tree I am talking about. Two-thirds of the way down the dirt road, with the farmhouse behind you and orchards on both sides, there is a solitary hazelnut tree that juts out from the right side of the road, that stands there like a sentinel. The wide smooth space on the side of the trunk of the tree is actually a secret door, though there is no telling when it will open, or for whom, or where it will lead. The smooth space extends between hip and eye level. When the secret door opens it is just big enough to squeeze through. It is possible the hazelnut tree was struck by lightning many years ago. A not unreasonable possibility, considering the tree’s height and position. More likely it is only a space from which a wide branch fell long ago. It took the bus sixteen hours to get to Hyderabad. I sat in the very back of the bus, in the middle, and was thrown into the air with each bump. I knew that I had made the very biggest mistake of my life and now would most probably die. I got off the bus only once, at a roadside dhaba where men sipped tea out of clay pots, then crushed them beneath their sandals. I looked around. The only thing that was familiar was the Moon. Even compared to most eighteen year old boys, I was quite exceptionally helpless. Nothing prepared me: I had only walked through the trunk of the hazelnut tree. I was not in any way brave, strong or resourceful. A lot of what gets called accomplishment is just accidentally not dying. A circumstance for which I cannot take credit. Many years later, not yet old but with white in my beard, I returned to the farm, to the dirt road, to the hazelnut tree. At least it appeared to be the same tree, on the same road, on the same farm, but it could not have been because I had passed through the door in the tree to the other world, when the other world was still called Bombay, and it occurred to me that in all the years following I had never passed again through the door. I had never returned. I considered it. But what could be done with me now in the world I had left long ago? I would only be in the way, like an oddly shaped tool with no obvious use. (What is it actually? I think it’s a pineapple knife.) Nothing that came out of my mouth would ever make any sense. Just the same I rested my cheek on the smooth place on the trunk and listened to the hazelnut tree, breathing heavily as it dreamt.

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