The dusty, old traveler found respite from the heat under my black mulberry tree. He had neatly folded his sweater and put it by his shoes on the picnic blanket. But it wasn’t just shade he sought. He removed his cap so that he could see me better; hands raised high in the shape of the lobed and toothed leaves he was looking through, he asked me, “Oh, Aranyani-ji, are you the Goddess of All Forests or only those in India?”

I said, “I am wherever there are trees. Indeed, I am the trees and the trees are me.”

The foolish amateur botanist squinted, thinking that if he squeezed his eyes just so, he would see me. I believe he also doubted if I was with him in Buckingham Palace Garden. Of course, we Goddesses and Gods are omnipresent.

The tottering botanist was almost run over by toddlers circling the tree and singing an English nursery rhyme:

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

Competing with the children’s laughter, he tested my divine identity with a shout. “Do you recall that several weeks ago we met in Kolkata’s Botanical Garden?”

I replied, “Of course. You were shivering by one of the prop-trunks under the cover of the Great Banyan. It should have been unbearably hot, but you were wearing a sweater to ward off the unseasonable chill. I recall you protected your bald head with a funny little hat your sewed out of the tree’s rope-brown branches and leathery-green leaves. What brings you to England where the unreasonable heat has chased away the fog?”

This is the way we wash our face,
Wash our face,
Wash our face.
This is the way we wash our face
On a cold and frosty morning.

He still wanted to make sure that I was truly the Goddess of All Forests. “Aranyani-ji, in my final years, I hope to visit all the great trees of the world. Next week I will be back home in San Francisco speaking to the Botanical Garden’s pohutukawa tree. Will you also be there with me?”

“Surely I will be there. I live not only in the Great Banyan and in this particular mulberry that you are sitting under, but rather in all the trees of all the forests known and unknown to all of earth’s children. Though people cannot see me, I see them as they go about their industrious ways. Some of that industry is of substance; much of it is folly. King James 1 was a rather industrious old fool. In 1609, he planted 10,000 mulberry trees in the hope of beginning a British silk industry. But he planted black mulberries, and because their hardy leaves are too tough for silkworms, his project failed.”

This is the way we comb our hair,
Comb our hair,
Comb our hair.
This is the way we comb our hair
On a cold and frosty morning.

His shoulder slouched. “Oh, dear. I hope my project of seeing the world’s great trees does not fail. Please do not punish me for destroying the Silicon Valley’s orchards. You see, before I turned to botany, I was an electrical engineer with a penchant for starting up one semiconductor company after another in the fertile, dark soil.”

I reassured him, “Mind you, I have no qualms with industry. But you should know the pure meaning of that fine word: hard work. Long before the industrial revolution, people were doing hard work. Writing a book is industry, as is reading one; raising a child can keep one busy, just as being a child can be a full-time occupation singing songs and circling trees; making a meal keeps a kitchen humming, just as consuming that meal keeps a stomach churning; and praying can be a full-time job for devotees, but, of course, we Gods and Goddesses are fully occupied hearing all of those prayers.”

This is the way we brush our teeth,
Brush our teeth,
Brush our teeth.
This is the way we brush our teeth
On a cold and frosty morning.

Shoulders relaxed, he said, “So why do you call King James 1 ‘an old fool?’ After all, as a Goddess, you must appreciate that he sponsored the translation of the Bible into English.”

“Yes, but he also sponsored the torture of women accused of being witches. I imagine that if he were here in this garden hearing our dialogue, he would insist that you were under the spell of a witch.” I cackled at the royal nonsense while the children continued their singing.

This is the way we put on our clothes,
Put on our clothes,
Put on our clothes.
This is the way we put on our clothes
On a cold and frosty morning.

The traveler gathered his sweater, put on his shoes, and folded his picnic blanket. He said, “One more thing, Aranyani-ji. What do you make of Queen Elizabeth II?”

Like a cooling breeze, my smile made the mulberry leaves dance. “Oh, Lilibet was a lovely child who loved to clamber up the many trees in this garden. Later in life she translated that love into The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy that crisscrossed the globe with a network of protected woodland. The Canopy’s legacy is that of millions of trees. Elizabeth’s should be long remembered for personally having had a hand in planting some 1,500 trees. While she, her odd family, and doddering empire had many troubles, for 70 years she exemplified what I mean by industry. She understood her royal duty and fulfilled it with the steadfastness of a centuries-old tree.”

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

Rajesh C.Oza

Dr. Raj Oza has written or contributed to Globalization, Diaspora, and Work Transformation, Satyalogue // Truthtalk: A Gandhian Guide to (Post)Modern-Day Dilemmas, P.S., Papa’s Stories, and Living in...