The Neem tree spread its branches, and through the branches, the rays of the sun passed making the leaves looking translucent green. Underneath a man slept wearing a tattered blue sweater and grey trousers. He had a shock of white hair, a wrinkled face, and long gnarled fingers. His hand was placed over his eyes, maybe to block the light, as he napped.
At a distance a young father, held the hand of his son while his wife, a few steps behind, held a small baby girl in her arms.
As the two and a half year old boy passed by the flowerbeds, a riot of colours, waved for his attention. He left his father’s hand and ran to inspect them all.
And came back, out of breath saying, “Papa! Red, Yellow, Purple, Orange, so many!” The indulgent father smiled.
The roses, in different shades of pink, peach and red, the marigolds, a beautiful sunset orange, the purple chrysanthemums, the sunny yellow daises, all lovingly nurtured and cared for, by the gardener.
The little girl decided it was her turn to inspect the green grass and decided to crawl on it, all the while gurgling.
The boy, fascinated by the colours and the play of light on the petals, kept repeating the names, furrowing his brows asked, “Why don’t we have them at home?”
The father, seeing the interest of the boy, decided to ask the maali, the gardener about the flowers which could be planted in Spring.
Of course, he didn’t know how the man looked like. No one had ever bothered to find out whose green fingers had lovingly created the beauty they came to see, admired and left.
The young father called out in an uncertain voice to the man sleeping under the tree, “Maali? Aap maali hain? Are you the gardener?”
The man woke up with a start, “Haanji. Yes.”
“Bade aachey phool hai. The flowers are very beautiful”.
“Itney saare colours hain, ” piped a voice. It was the small boy, clutching the father’s leg, peeking from behind and looking at the man.
“I was thinking of planting some flowers for the Spring season... Which ones do you recommend?”
The gardener had an incomprehensible expression on his face while he was thinking. Someone is asking my opinion and appreciating my flowers too.
47 years of working here, he had grown old, giving his life to working in this park. Yet this was the first time someone had made a genuine effort to talk to him.
“Sirji, you can plant tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, irises…,” his voice trailing off.
The father nodded and thanked him.
After a while, as they were about to leave, the gardener came running and plucked out the most beautiful flower and handed it to the boy.
The boy shyly said, “Thank you, Uncle.” And waved him goodbye.
Of course they didn’t hear him say thank you under his breath or the lone tear in his eye, now streaming down his face.
* Fiction story inspired by observing a real life incident