Teak Pretending To Be Plam
The forest is dark. The old moon has ebbed and the new moon has yet to show his face. There is a whisper as the wind dies down. “Mom, I am scared, it is so dark out,” the tiny sapling raised his head and looked at the taller tree. Mother looked down and brushed her child with her arm of large leafs. “Child, don’t worry. In time you will grow up and see the sky, the moon and even the stars,” said the mother with a loving voice.
As she looked away, however, tears started dropping from her eyes. In her heart, she had no way of knowing whether her child would ever grow up as tall as she. Looking down at her own girth, marked with a white ring, she knew her own days were numbered. “Is it raining, mom?” The small voice asked. The mother quickly wiped her tears and looked down again. “No my child, it is just a few stars falling,” she said with a gentle smile. She must keep her child’s imagination alive.
As the night grew older, cloud moved in and the wind stirred up. The giant teak leafs started waving and flapping noisily. But mother has a hard trunk, standing firm and straight against the wind. In a moment, a tropical storm kicked up and rain started pouring down. The child was still weak and tiny, and braced himself closely to the foot of his mother. Some palm leaves, rather large pieces, began falling. Mother quickly brushed some aside to help cover her child. She thought, perhaps with the camouflage of a palm, her child would be spared. But of course that was wishful thinking, as the child would someday outgrow the palm. “The faster he grows, the sooner he will be cut down!”
Mother has been raising her child as a widow for four years, ever since her mate was taken down by a troupe of loggers. Cutting had accelerated recently as word had spread that soon there would be a ban in logging. But that story had been told many times over, each time instigating a new round of speed logging, racing for time. Of course, the tallest and strongest would go first. For decades, trees, in particular teak, had been felled at their prime, never being allowed to grow old like in the old days in the old forest. Chainsaws replaced the axe, further speeding up the process of the forest’s demise. Now, even the elephants were gradually disappearing, replaced by heavy machines and tractors.
The river and stream that Mother knew as a child had turned from turquoise to muddy yellow, resembling what was known in this land as Burma tea, and more recently, as Myanmar tea. Top soil was washed off, carried by torrents from the mountain during the monsoon season, joining the Irrawaddy on its way to the ocean. Debris and driftwood floated down with the current, being collected by rafters and villagers along the river. Such tidbits were still up to the task of a simply cooked meal, especially for those living in plain thatched and bamboo houses.
Bamboo is for the poor, wood for the common folks and teak for the regal, or those who pretend to be regal. In the old days, tribal chiefs, even mountain and forest tribesman, could afford teak for their homes. That was when Mother was a child. She had seen the British man, someone she overheard called ‘Sahib,’ leading troupes of men and elephants into her forest. Soon trees started falling like dominoes, and before long her grandfather and grandmother, as well as her parents, were gone. Next came her generation, they were never given a chance to live out their lives, let alone to reach old age.
Logs used to float down the Irrawaddy as rafts or barges, or in what were called flats, tied to a tugboat. Today larger and faster barges and boats with logs stacked high go from timber yards to multiple destinations lower down the river. These logs, dead relatives of Mother, were all destined for foreign markets.
A last bright lightning in the night sky followed by a huge thunder clap spelled the end of the rain, at least for this night. The child snuggled out of his mother’s shadow and looked up again. Momentarily a cricket started chirping, and soon the forest was filled with a chorus of insect songs. It seemed a moth had overheard some loggers chatting over a bonfire at their camp.
“Gossip has it that the camp would be pulled this weekend,” said the cricket. “There has been a change of government in the country and suddenly all logging is banned,” he added. The message was relayed quickly among the army of night singers. The bat who helped relay the message chimed in “All timber yards, what some called the Cemetery of Teak, will also be closed,”. Upon hearing this, Mother turned her head to heaven and made a prayer. “Please let my child grow. Let him be strong and be sturdy, so he would rise again with the beloved forest around us,” Mother whispered quietly from her heart, as a smile broke out as a tiny wrinkle on her face. At that same moment, she moved her branch of gigantic leafs and brushed off the palm covering her child.
The teak sapling just woke up from his sleep and asked, “Mother, what’s the matter?” “Nothing is the matter, just go back to your sleep, baby!” Mother answered with a sweet tone, and began singing a lullaby into the darkness.