Something there is that doesn't love a wall - Robert Frost
One day, while stepping out in the afternoon sun, my gaze falls on the garden ivy in my landlord's house. I see it arduously making its way through the slit in the dividing wall to reach the neighbour's side. I am reminded of a conversation that happens a few days ago: "We need to mend the wall", says the neighbour to my landlord.
Suddenly, flashes of another incident from the past come to fore. I go down the memory lane to see a guava tree being chopped down. I go back further. It is my naniji's courtyard. The guava tree grows in the neighbour's house, but most of its branches lean towards ours, crossing the un-cemented little wall of loose bricks that separates the two houses. Every year the rows of loose bricks on the wall increase. Every year the tree, unmindful of the increasing division, bears and shares its fruit. This season, the tree looks more generous than ever. We are euphoric as we look at the countless fragrant spheres dangling from the tree - luscious and inviting - in colours of green and golden yellow.
As the initial excitement settles down, I gradually register some conversation filtering in. I hear naniji's neighbour planning to pick all the guavas from the tree and distribute it among the neighbours. I am confused. I don't like being confused, so I am unhappy. I do not want to eat so many guavas at one go. I do not want them to be given to me. I want to climb the tree to pick them. I want to beat the branches with a stick and catch the guavas before they hit the ground. There is no fun in eating a guava, all on your own. Why don't these grown-ups understand? I try to concentrate on what the neighbour says. They want to increase the height of the dividing wall. They want to cement the loose bricks. Even as a child I know what it means. Filled with a deep sense of foreboding, my eyes well up.
My beloved guava tree is gone. There is a high wall in its place today. The courtyard is empty except for a nostalgic shadow.
Last month, I happen to meet two friends from school after seven long years. I realize, as do they, that we have changed - for each other and within us. We have changed in the way that distance changes us; in the way that time offers replacements. We know that we have not kept in touch. We know that each shall blame the other. Yet, we know that silently each feels guilty about blaming the other. Understandably, there is an initial awkwardness due to the physical and the emotional barrier that has crept in. A mysterious and invisible wall has come up. But soon enough we drown years of separation in the lemon flavoured ice-tea. The ice melts, the barrier breaks. So does the misunderstanding that has accumulated over the years. grudge and complaint. In our giggles, we hear once again, the three best friends who sit eating lunch on the first bench, while our History teacher discusses the first World War.
Time comes. We bid adieu over promises of staying in touch.
We have accepted the replacements that time has given us. Still, in these two-hours of re-lived memories – of the extended sessions of curfew phone calls, of the concomitant mischief, of the first rushes of teenage love, of the silly insecurities, of the shed tears, of the reassuring words, of the knowing smiles, of the shared laughter – we are irreplaceable for each other.
I remember reading Robert Frost’s, ‘Mending Wall’, in standard X. Frost’s context is universal. It is as human, as it is socio-political. We set this wall between us: A wall, which is much more vicious than that of concrete – of assumption, competition, ego, insecurity, intolerance, judgement, misunderstanding and perception. As I think of my naniji’s neighbour, of my landlord and his neighbour, of my friends and me, I can not help but laugh at our hypocrisy. We speak vehemently against division in society. Yet, we erect this unspoken and treacherous wall in our everyday lives and relationships. What is it that we are trying to ‘wall-in’ and ‘wall-out’? I wonder!
There are things that do not love a wall. They are shared times, shared spaces, and shared memories. Sharing is such a beautiful thing.
I look at the garden ivy in my present. I climb the guava tree of my past. And, they smile.