The Ghosts of Jamun Trees

Jamun Tree Ghosts

Jamun Tree GhostsBefore he died, Karamuva was the best tree climber of the village and the clusters surrounding it.  He loved to clamber up anything green with stalks and leaves, planted to the earth and capable of withstanding human weight. From the bark in the grass, he could race to the top of the canopy within seconds, rubbing shoulders with the mint fresh growth and hanging on to tender shoots like a feather. His horizontal movement above the land was equally breathtaking. Part trapeze artist and part gibbon, he flitted effortlessly among branches and trees in seamless locomotion.

Few fruits grew on those lands that were untasted by Karamuvah but his heart harboured a special love for jamuns. Being part of an enormous household whose children were perennially scouring the pots for more food, he had turned to the juicy purple-black berries to quench his pangs with a vengeance. Come summers and he would tie two large pouches to the left and right of his waist and disappear into the dense foliage of jamun trees that lined the meandering road to our village. In contrast to the clamour of the ground-borne children armed with stones and sticks, and the lesser climbers on the branches below making do with small change, he moved quietly from clump to clump at dizzying heights, balancing precariously on tapering boughs. All this while the black bulbous berries would find way to his right pouch and the less perfect ones in shape and ripeness would vanish to the left. Within an hour or so, he would be moving around with kilos of jamuns, fit enough to feed a king and his party. He would then descend softly with the adroitness of a squirrel, careful not to lose even a shriveled one from his booty. Many times, his descent was wrapped in mystery as he was known to have returned to the earth several trees away than the one he took the way up.  Karamuva had elevated the humble act of plucking jamuns into a fine art not often witnessed in humans.

Every time Karamuva returned to the earth from these sorties he was mobbed by the boys. Smiling broadly, He would share the exploits out of his left pouch, trying to be judicious in his charity. After the hullaballoo, he’d produce some really good ones for the girls standing around; it was clear he had a soft corner for them. Being a girl, my sister immediately qualified for the plum juicy ones. But since we used to be the guests from the city, come to spend the summers in our paternal village, he’d gingerly pass down better stuff to me too from his right pouch. We soon learnt from our cousin that Karamuva would sell off the finer berries in a nearby market and sneak off to the nearby town to watch ‘films’. Once, he pushed me to pay a two rupee note for a part of the premium lot. But his conscience got the better of him and he came to our house to restore the rupee in the evening.

It was not as if Karamuva had never taken a false step in his myriad simian escapades. In fact, he had slipped countless times off the unshapely boughs and broken stalks but he had always managed to catch hold of a life-saving twig here or there. Yet, there were times when he had fallen straight to the terra firma after knocking around in the trees but he had almost always landed on his astonishingly rubbery feet, smiling away his wounds like a weather-beaten warrior.

No one in the village believed it was possible to master the trees the way Karamuva had without the intervention of unnatural forces of this Earth. My cousin Indar firmly held that Karamuva was being watched and guarded by a colony of ghosts that had haunted the jamun trees alongside the street since times immemorial. He had an easy explanation for the uncalled for benevolence of the ghosts towards Karamuva. Some years ago, when Karamuva’s father met his untimely end after being bitten by an angry cobra, his soul had flown straight to the legion of ancient ghosts. It was the father who had managed to earn the good wishes of the unrequited spirits in his son’s favour. How else could a human glide like that among the trees as if treading an invisible web spread under his toes? Other children were only too eager to corroborate his theory, adding a few quirky twists of their own.

We didn’t come to know about his fall for one long year as the communication channels were not very different from the Stone Age in those days, and that was not such a long time ago either. But, by the time we returned to the village for our annual summer escapade, the manner and reason of Karamuva’s fatal landing had assumed the status of a legend with several contrasting versions. Many children swore that he had stolen money from his poor mother to repeatedly watch his favourite film ‘Sholay’ for an entire week, thus upsetting his father’s ghost who had caught him by the toe and hurled him to the ground, ensuring he landed skull first. Then there were some, including our cousin, who held that Karamuva had coaxed a girl years older to him up the jamun tree to kiss her on an afternoon full with dust devils. It was a damned nasty thing to do for a thirteen year old boy and he couldn’t have chosen a worse moment than that. No wonder the colony of ghosts in the jamun trees had felt endlessly outraged. So they first shooed away the idiot of a girl who leapt to the ground miraculously and ran for dear life. Then they hung poor Karamuva upside down in mid air before dropping him to his gory end in the same state.

Many years later, after I grew up to have a family and a car of my own, I was driving through the neighbouring districts of my native town in a sweltering May afternoon. It was that time of the year when the first batches of jamuns had already started mellowing on the thick umbrellas of trees. Sure enough, the bitumen-starved road to Lucknow was pock-marked by the splattered purple berries here and there. Thick with the memories of the childhood summers, jamuns and the legend of Karamuva, I was feeling tempted to stop by the roadside and pick a few of them just as I would do in the good old days. My wife and daughters were dozing deeply on the rear seat and they were least likely to object to my earthly craving. However, my reverie was being punctured again and again by a spanking new Volkswagen Polo, which it seemed was being driven by several nincompoops who would stop and change the driving hand every few miles. They would fall back with every stop but would rush to overtake me quickly.

As I started passing through a sparse market alongside the highway, my eyes lit up when I noticed a wiry boy desperately trying to sell jamuns to the passersby. I thought it was best if I stopped and indulged myself in an old pleasure, reminiscing the long bygone moments. It would also put enough distance between us and the idiots driving the Polo who were getting intolerable by the minute. The boy was charging ten rupees for a bunch of jamuns put in dry leave cones and I took only one, aware of the disinterest of the others in the berries. When I could not find a lesser denomination than a hundred rupee note in my wallet, the boy rushed to the nearby hutments to get the change. I kept waiting for him for the next five minutes, the engine of the car running. Just as I started to think he had conned me for good, he emerged from somewhere and came back running to the car. I looked long at the dark, scar-marked face of the boy as he stood with a bunch of ten rupee notes in his hand extended towards me. He wore a tea-shirt of indeterminate colour and a pair of trousers with lop-sided legs.

“What is your name, boy?” I couldn’t help asking.

He snickered nervously, “I am Karamuva!”

I couldn’t believe what I heard. I must have kept staring blankly at him for a long time.

“Here, take your change back,” the boy broke my trance.

“What did you say was your name, again?” I wanted to confirm what I’d just heard.

“Why, Karamuva, saheb!” He half sang it in annoyance this time.

“Fine, Karamuva!” I said, trying to steady my breath. “You can keep the change.”

It was his turn to get shocked and gawk at me with a gaping mouth. I propelled the car ahead.

Immediately afterwards, the potholes gave way to a newly laid patch of asphalt and I pressed the accelerator with gusto. However, barely minutes into a decent drive I thought I saw a giant tree lying astride on the road ahead. As I moved closer to the spot, I could make out the huge trunk filling the entire road with its dense branches and foliage. Suddenly, my pulse quickened as I caught sight off what appeared to be the rear of a car, peeking from right under the prostrate tree. As I parked my car to a side and ran towards the spot I could see countless pieces of shattered glass sprayed all over the road along with bits of plastic interspersed with twigs and leaves. ‘O, my God! O, my God! O, my God!’ That was all I could think! It was the very same car, the Volkswagen Polo, that had been driving neck-to-neck with us minutes earlier but all that could be seen now was a barely recognizable mass of jumbled, twisted metal. It must have happened seconds before although I was sure I’d never heard a thud or a roar of a falling tree probably because I had the  music on. Flattened to mid-riff, the car now sat very squat, compressed amazingly low into the road. The bonnet had ripped open and its contents had lodged into the trunk to become one with it. It had probably met the falling tree bang onto its face and the roof. A pale green liquid had started seeping out of what was once the front of the car and mixing on the road with the deep scarlet streak oozing out of the driver’s location. With a sickening heart, I realized that nothing much could be attempted there without a crane and a rescue team with gas-cutters.

‘Accident! Accident!’ Someone shouted behind me. I looked back to realize I was no longer alone there. Another car had come to stop along with a state transport bus. I could see many people running towards the wreckage now.

Even as some men started tugging away at the old knotted branches of the tree, my thoughts were all a whirlwind. I looked towards my car which was neatly parked to the side of the road and realized how perfect in shape it was, its contours shining in the sun; and how beautiful its inhabitants looked standing on the road now gesticulating madly at me, mouthing words that I could not comprehend. Suddenly, the image of Karamuva flashed before me with a stunning clarity and his face smiled broadly as he extended jamuns from his right pouch towards me. I almost caught myself extending my hand to receive them and shook myself out of the daze with a vigorous jerk to my head. I wondered whether I had been dozing and dreaming it all while I had driven. I felt my tongue thicken and I realized I was perspiring. I ran towards my car and jerked open the front door only to find the cone containing jamuns stuffed in the cubbyhole under the steering wheel.


  1. And I thought it was to be some escapade with jamuns. What meets me here is a brilliant piece of writing which not only brought Karamuva before my eyes but also the invisible ghosts who saved your lives. You amaze me afresh with every tale spun so beautifully.

    1. Zephyr, last Sunday I saw an old lady selling jamuns outside the local railway station. It brought back many memories, old and new, and here we are. I am really not sure how well I could put it all together but I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there forever. Thanks for the encouragement.

      ps. I did buy the jamuns from her.

  2. I agree with Zephyr about the twist part. I thought the WW Polo was a nagging company and you mentioned to give life to the scene but no…It was an awesome. Also now I have realized that even you post on Mondays.

  3. There was a 25 year old jamun tree in my parents garden, and I believe in Karamuvas. I have reason to believe the trees have a mind . I kept thinking of that tree while reading this totally amazing post . You could write an entire anthology of posts dedicated to your childhood stories. Please do so soon !

    In the meanwhile , you must make do with this :

    There is a time
    in the lives of men
    nature senses
    a prodigal’s return.

    The wind whispers,
    and the old geriatric jamun tree,
    splattered at its feet
    with a vivid purple
    languidly weights it branches
    to bend
    and observe the road,
    shocking even the
    ageless ghosts
    keeping watch.

    “Leave, Karumava”
    they beseech,
    “your time is now;
    go forth
    with the fruit
    in the right handed cones,
    for he has come back
    steering his memories
    the winding road.

    He meets the Karamuva
    of his mind,
    the juice of the Jamuns
    full in his eyes,
    as he searches for his
    Wallet of the bygone days.

    Some say
    it was an accident
    some say
    it was fate,
    but really,
    it was an old excited Jamun tree,
    simply bending too far
    to see
    the Prodigal return,
    and losing its balance
    crushing below it
    who lived
    with so little of it……

    He leaves
    and stops,
    shocked by the blocking tree.

    He looks back
    at his family, waves
    and returns.

    What he doesn’t see
    are the ghosts
    scampering across the fallen tree
    into an evening oblivion

    1. Suranga, I am proud to be a recipient of the patronage of a poetess like you. That is a breathtaking poem with a story of its own, beautiful in its flow! I thank you for your confidence in a lesser scribbler like me.

      1. USP, Please, patronage/poetess doesnt figure anywhere. :-)) Feels Oudhish. Reading what you write is like discovering layer upon wonderful layer of a dessert, trying to imagine what delicious stuff makes up the base. Then you wait, keep savouring the taste, and sometimes, in a mind-satiating moment, a poem happens. Waiting for the next amazing dessert…

  4. That’s a mesmerizing piece of work. When I reached the last para, Karamuva appeared before me and offered jamuns from his right pouch towards me. I simply got lost in those lines being a part of the story.

    1. Leo, Karamuva offering you jamun from the right pouch was a wonderful way to compliment me! Thank you so much for your continued support.

  5. before i started reading this, i had a feeling that this is going to be a blockbuster post. and blockbuster it is!!! you are the best writer in the blogsphere.

    i hope it’s a story and not a real life incident.

    1. Deb, Life is a story, after all! That said, those horrible things actually happened.

      I do not know if I will ever be able to thank you for that blockbuster of a compliment! That is an ill-fitting garb you have honoured me with.

  6. This is a perfect Indian story–with materials and folk belief systems from the Indian landscape. And it manages to transition between the psychic and the material excellently as it does the rural and the urban, the old and the new, the environment and machine. This is simply a wonderful wonderful narrative!!! The best that I have read so far from your collections…:)

    1. Thank you, Bhavana. I am glad you were able to see so many linkages between the psychic and the material, the urban and the rural and the old and the new in my post. And thank you for believing it to be the best so far.

  7. The highlight of your short stories are the twists in the end apart from the brilliant narrative…Loved the caricature of Karamuva..revived some memories of picking Jamuns from our old railway bungalow in Moradabad.

  8. USP this was more a work of art and the flow of words was just brilliant! A very captivating narration and a very slick ending! Keep writing and you raise the bar each time:)

    1. Thank you, Deepak. I’ve been missing photography a lot these days. Luckily, I can still indulge in my other love: writing. I am pleased as plum at the compliment.

  9. Hmm….plate full of breakfast even without getting up from my bed and brushing my teeth.:)
    Got lost and confused. I don’t know why. May be you got me carried away way somewhere else by your story. I wish I could write a percent like you…:) so happy to have found your blog . Never stop writing.

    1. Honestly, Latha, I have no words to thank you for the honour bequeathed upon me. I must be blessed to have readers like you. A million thanks to you.

  10. This is going to be a longish comment, so I ask for your patience :). Jamun is my most favorite fruit that I really miss in Bangalore. I lust after it, and my husband ensures that he buys it anywhere that he sees it here, but the taste is not the same. I also love shahtoot. Do you know that fruit? My nana’s house had a shahtoot tree. I remember this old jamun seller who used to frequent our locality in Lucknow. He had a sing-song way of selling jamuns. So, he would spin a song on seeing everyone. He used to sell his jamuns in a dona. Once, there was a boy and a girl who were going on a scooter. He saw them and sang something to the effect of their jodi staying salaamat. The boy alighted and gave him a good thrashing, as they were brother and sister :). But, that man was back the next day, selling jamuns the same way :). I have never seen a jamun picker in action , but your Karamuva was quite visual. I could see him in my mind’s eye. And, the end was so unexpected. How will you continue to churn out tales because now all of us expect unexpected endings? Great tale as always!

    1. I was all ears, Rachna. Its so nice to learn that I am in good company (of jamun lovers). That was a hilarious anecdote and I appreciate the resilience of the poor hawker!

      I am glad to learn of the warm reception of my post. Thank you, so much. I am hoping to continue the streak just like Karamuva till one day I drop upside down….

  11. Once again a flawless narration. Very gripping and as usual seems so plausible that the readers is left wondering if it is reality or fiction.

  12. Good write up. Serious one…Looks like u r an aspiring literary prize winner…I can see the deftness of text book story here! Kudos.

      1. I did…I loved the title which drew me to ur blog and then I loved ur blog name too. quite creative.

        My only prob is that am an impatient reader (however expect readers to read my long long blogs hee hee) and read little.

        But I liked ur work. Commendable job. keep writing! I am blogrolling you!

  13. I have been trying to read this post since the past two days but I was always getting interrupted with something or the other – rains, power failure, internet connection loss (all while reading this post, maybe the ghosts of jamun trees didn’t wanted me to read this post :P) . After two days I finally finished reading it and I have to say I have mixed feelings. Definitely a great post, stunningly engrossing narrative with a ‘twist’ ending which I have come to love in your posts.
    As compared to few other brilliant stories I have read of yours, I would rate this much below them. But I am so glad that you stopped to buy those jamuns which probably saved your and your loved ones’ lives. 🙂

    1. Akshay, the ghosts of jamun trees are for real. You may have taken two days to read the story but it took me more than three decades to finally put those thoughts on paper. And hey, it was just a piece of memoir from the life on an utterly ordinary man. It was not supposed to impress you! Cheers and thanks for your kind support.

  14. This was one hellava story! Kept me hooked on right till the end where as usual you delivered the punch. You should stop publishing these stories for free on this blog! Publish a book .

    1. Ha ha ha! Richa, even though I don’t want to, these stories are forcing me to write themselves! Many thanks for your approval.

  15. Umashankar,

    Fantastic tale .. kept me engrossed all the way. Reminded me of my own childhood and the stories our dad told us as we we lay in bed wide-eyed and terrified; tales that had about haunted tress and leprechaun type characters … I still am annoyed that I could not retain those stories in my heart and the narrator is no longer with me.

    You can tell a story well. Look forward to visiting your blog again.

    1. Many thanks and welcome to my blog, sir. Your comment reminded me of my father in turn who is no more with me too. Weren’t they all such amazing narrator of tales? May their souls rest in peace.

  16. The very picturesque first paragraph drew me into the story and everything that followed kept me arrested till the very end. Loved the imagery. You really did transport me to this green summer retreat of yours. This story is such a masterpiece, USP.

    1. Thanks for your golden words, D. It is comforting to learn you found the story so engrossing. Sadly, the verdant greens of yesteryears have yielded to ugly brick and mortar clutters .

  17. Dear Mr. Pandey ,
    Your extensive range (from metro cities to back-water areas) is eminently remarkable.
    Your whole gamut of human experience , emotion and imagination is really formidable .
    What I like most in this story : Your stupendous success in creating panoramic view of rural life
    Your narration is as luminous as ever .

    1. Dear Professor Verma, I am grateful to your kind heart for the effusive praise. But I wish to humbly point out it was more of a passing vignette rather than a panorama. Thank you, again for appreciating my narration in such luminous words.

  18. It let me remember a jamun tree near my old home, where we as a kid, used to through stones and the owners would chide us alot…:)

  19. Dear Mr. Pandey,
    I’m not a professor but a learner of English in your benign company.
    Word panoramic came out from me with a manic urgency keeping your that article also in mind which reminded me of Phaneeshawar Nath Renu . Probably that blog bore the title Bikharate Gaawan .
    You feasted me with a ‘vignette’ but i found a panoramic view of rural life effortlessly flashing before my eyes . Sometimes a single word conjures up a different domain .

    1. How kind of you to remember my older works, Professor Saheb. You make my shallow chest swell with pride! 😀

      May God bless you, sir!

  20. Very engrossing tale, beautifully written!!! We used to have a huge Jamun tree in our backyard at my childhood home. Many people used to take away bags full of Jamun from it. The Jamuns were of sweet and big variety. Jamuns are very nutritious but leave bad stains. The tree’s branches are not very strong so they break easily. My brother once broke his lower arm bone after falling from it…..

    1. I am glad to have triggered so many memories of your childhood. What you have said about the jamun trees is true. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  21. lovely story.. brought some memories of home sweet home.. where there use to be a bog ground near to our house and it had three jamun trees.. and when it was full of jamuns the fun it was climbing it and eating .. waiting for the mali to come , then running with him yielding his stick behind us , cursing us.

    I do wonder why he did that, it was not as if he could eat all the jamuns or he was selling or anything , he just did not like us having them i think.

    memories I wonder if i go home now those trees will still be there …

    1. Thank you, Bikram. I can see that mali running after you in my mind’s eye! 😀 Sadly, those jamun trees seem to be vanishing from the face of the earth everywhere.

  22. ‘seamless locomotion’ – fantastic.
    was seamlessly engrossed, later found myself looking in the market for jamuns, memories refreshed.

  23. I stayed in Lonavla for a few years in a locality overgrown with jamun trees. Our own house had about 3 jamun trees. Every year during summers, adivasis from nearby villages would come to our area and offer to de-jamun the trees for us. They would give us some and take away the rest. It was an arrangement that suited us fine. More than the jamuns, i would look forward to the stories they would tell of guardian spirits and legends associated with the jamun trees.

    Your excellent post brought back those memories.

    1. Its interesting how I keep hearing about more and more jamun trees that were haunted! The fact that you used to wait for the adivasis more for their tales than the fruits from these trees, confirms my old convictions about them. Many thanks to you.

  24. Rich language and beautiful narration… When first I looked, I thought I cant read it in one go as it appeared long. Now that I’m writing this comment, never knew when I finished it quickly.

    Keep writing sir, really exquisite piece of expression. 🙂

  25. Took a break from work to read something after a long time and as usual you writing did not disappoint. Tempted to read the ones I have missed in the last couple of months. Hopefully i will do it soon.

  26. ever since i had read the email alert for this posting, i wanted to read it. the title was a bit interesting coz of the word JAMUN. finally made it today. well, i have never been fan of those dark colored jamuns. but more of the white ones. in my maternal aunt’s garden, they had this tree and we used to spend time in vacation plucking them. coming back to the post, it always goes smooth if its a USP written. I have never seen a Karamuva, your post helps me to paint something in my mind. the way that polo encountered the accident, and the smoothness of your words while detailing is amazing. damn! i can never be that smooth due to the impatience in my mind. and the green fluid that flows from under the car, is an amazing green. 🙂 this is the only thing i have witnessed frequently in Mumbai, on various lanes and highways! 🙂 🙂

    1. I am pleased to have introduced Karamuva to you. Thanks for appreciating the post and recognizing the amazing green fluid. They summon depressing memories to my mind, however.

  27. I was looking for some of your older posts to read and I am glad I stumbled upon this one. It would have been a huge loss if I hadn’t read this work of yours. This one was brilliance personified. A beautiful story told in a masterly fashion. Every time I read your lucid narrations, I am fascinated by the fertility of your mind. You have taken your gift of story telling and elevated it to a fine art that cannot be matched by many.

    P.S: In addition to all this, you had me craving for some jamuns as well.

    1. Raj, it would have been a huge loss to me too had you not come to the ghosts of the jamun tree. I am pleased as plum to delight you yet again. Do have some jamuns when they appear next summer.

      Thanks you, so much.

  28. Ah ! After reading so many incomplete stories on many blogs …felt wonderful reading this complete story 🙂 Reminded me of my childhood although I was a “Ber” fan and yeah Suranga’s poetry says it all 🙂 Breath taking work both of you 🙂

  29. This is like reading the works of a literary chronicler of small-town life. Such a gentle, understated quality to your work that draws the reader in and demands their attention. Brings memories of this other place – Malgudi.

  30. What a beautiful post and tribute to Karamuva. I see that you originally posted this a year ago and I am glad it was reposted; I thoroughly enjoyed it. I admired Karamuva’s adroitness and passion, and love for this special fruit. You wrote this piece so well I believe I could see him in those trees, a vision darting adeptly from branch to fruit-filled branch. Such an interesting belief by your cousin Indar that Karamuva was being watched over by ghosts of the jamun trees.

    I was so engrossed in the story and Karamuva’s skill that when I got to the words “fatal fall” it stopped me short. Even though I had just read the previous sentence about a “fall” I still wasn’t expecting it to be a fatal one. It felt heartbreaking. Years later, when you met the boy named Karamuva selling jamuns by the road, that was a breathtaking moment, and then the stunning development with the accident ahead of you. Perhaps I am a dreamer but I believe you were saved that day by the ghost of the Karamuva you once knew. Beautiful story!

    1. Jarsey, if you could see Karamuva darting across the trees, I seem to have done my job. I had to slip in the news about his fall quietly and I trust that worked too, along with the end.

      Many thanks for the detailed and thoughtful input, and the huge encouragement!

  31. Loved it, Uma. I had a feeling that the invincible, jamun-loving Karamuva was going to meet a tragic end, but how wonderful that his spirit was reincarnated in his cheeky successor.

    1. Well, Kris, you are quite a story spinner yourself and you have that gut instinct common to writers. Thank you for appreciating.

  32. Hi, Congratulations on winning the IBA award. It was curiosity that got me to visit your blog, (since I had nominated mine for short stories too) and I am very glad I did. 🙂 It is a very deserving win.

    Jamun trees and ghosts, well, can never fail to get my attention and hence this the the first of your short stories that I read. Brilliant, is all that I can say.

    You’ve just earned another follower. 🙂 and now I shall get back to reading the other stories.

    1. I am sorry you missed the award, Diptee. Hope you make it the next time.

      I am fortunate to have earned your readership. Do leave your feedback on other stories too.

  33. your was one of the blogs appearing on the side bar of my page of”blogs I follow”, suggested by wordpress and I am happy that I clicked on óne grain……..”
    The village setting, the jamun tree and even karmuva…..I related to all of them.I too am part of the same kind of setting.
    The benevolent ghost….he too is part of the stories of villages.
    For me it was a wonderful trip to my own bygone days.
    loved your narration.I was glued to the story from the beginni g to the end.
    I shall come back for other stories.

  34. Welcome to One Grain Amongst the Storm, Namita. the honour is mine. I am glad the story touched you so. Do read some more.

    Many thanks to you.

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