This winter there are many reports that the wild apple trees are fruiting abundantly. That can only mean one thing. The wild apple tree has wed and given ‘birth’ to many children. In the village, that is how they put it poetically. In the years when the wild apple tree is barren, they say she is a divorcee that year and hence, cannot bear children. It’s a charming way of explaining the rhythm of the wild apple tree’s fruiting pattern. A wild apple tree weighed down by fruit is a beautiful sight: in the glow of sunshine, its full glory comes out as the yellow, green and red fruit literally sparkle in sunlight and appear irresistible to the onlooker.
The wild apple is so much a part of our landscape. It is the seed of many stories. It has the capacity to infuse magic into the ordinary. In the folktale of an ill-treated orphan boy, his stepmother was found guilty of serving him boiled wild apples and letting him believe it was pheasant meat. She of course, served delicious pieces of meat to her own children. This is the core of a rags to riches story which propels the story into action: the boy’s ill-treatment does not stop at this point of discovery of the stepmother’s treachery. It escalates to such an extent that the orphan lad has to run away and live far from his ancestral village. Every time the lad experienced success in life, the stepmother would not be far behind to ruin it all for him. In the last attack she burns his crop of a hundred baskets of grain which he had harvested. The harvest had also earned him the title that goes with the harvester of a hundred baskets. One wonders at this point why the wild apple trees do not simply fall upon the wicked stepmother and finish her off, because she is really so very wicked. She has by now committed a great taboo violation by burning down standing grain and should be apportioned death by the spirits. Hosabhi de.
The narrators of this tale abruptly leave the wicked stepmother behind after she has burnt down the boy’s harvest, and they focus hereon only on the fortunes of the boy. The protagonist is just a young lad and although he was sheltered by a kind, old widow for some time, he has to flee his village areas when his stepmother destroys his cache of food. His story ends well for he is taken in by a rich man in another village and he grows up as a son of that village, and ends his life as a man of title. His hard-working nature and his pure heart ensured that he got to live a good life in the end. The last we hear of him is that he has been holding feasts of merit and become the honourable ancestor of a clan in his adoptive village.
And then we have left the wild apple tree far behind along with the stepmother and all the reminders of a terrible childhood. But have we? Not really. The bridal tree is alive with potential and opportunity. The pragmatic way that the villager approaches it is to harvest the fruit and use it in different preparations – as sweet dried fruit, as wine, as folk medicine for some indigenous ailment, et cetera. At the same time, the dreamer is not deprived of its magic either for the wild apple tree contains within itself the seeds of the supernatural. It is metaphor, it is symbol and it is bridge.
January is a good time of the year to take that trip out into the countryside, our wonderful countryside which morphs into all shades of green and yellow and brown in winter, and hunt down a few wild apple trees. Not only for consumption, mind. But to be fed by it spiritually, to be inspired by its beauty and generosity. Few other fruit trees bear fruit as generously as the wild apple tree. I think that in itself is a lesson for life. Once the fruit is ready, the tree spares us the trouble of climbing its thorny branches, and the ripe fruit fall to the ground beneath. As though it were saying ‘give and it shall be given to you.’ If I believed in reincarnation, I would want to come back as a wild apple tree. Maybe.