The Tree. Which Tree?
By Sohini Basak.
The tree that used to be growing from a house became a house that grew from the tree. A young woman living opposite this tree and this house and both intertwined could not remember when this enormous growth had taken place. Unexpectedly struck by the shape of the roots spreading into the narrow brick lane, she wondered how surreptitiously the tree had taken root, for this tree started as a weak sprig on the side crack of the rooftop, slowly climbing down the water pipe no longer in human use, letting everyone believe that its frail leafy heady would not survive the next summer, or the excessive lashing of the monsoon winds, but slowly slowly taking root, climbing downwards, striking a balance between leafing and rooting… Looking up at the house and the tree, the woman admired its leaves, how large, how dark green with spring, and so venous it reminded her of the man she had almost told everything to, the man with very large hands and she wondered if anyone in the neighbourhood had noticed that the pipe, the great drain pipe running across the length of the two-storey house, originally collecting water from the rooftop as well as the first floor balcony and rooms to carry such superfluous water to an underground network of sewage was no longer a pipe but the root of a tree… Ceci n’est pas une pipe. In any case, how alive how alive. Would she be able to slowly surreptitiously cultivate an aliveness in herself too? How long would it take? What was the weak sprig thinking, braving the seasons of rain and heat? Did the tree remember being watched by a human such as herself for years?
It was then, looking up at the tree and the windows of that forsaken house, that the young woman realized that all this while she had been looking at the sky as well. Looking at it, but not seeing it. It had reduced to being a coincidental presence in her visual frame. She realized that she was no longer moved by the sky, or by the leisurely movement of the clouds. And this confirmed for her that which she had been considering for a few days: that she was hardly alive any more. Two days ago, she slept through two consecutive nights of rain and storm, unafraid, unchallenged by the thunder and the paleness of the windows of her room. She even forgot to bring indoors her little potted plant whom she had five months ago named red. Now red was dead, or was dying. It grew a tiny purple flower as a last wish, a last collision with spring, and now it was dead. I want to live inside a pipe, the young woman thought and looked at the sky without feeling any feelings before walking away from the tree, the house, and that street.
Before the young woman walked away from this story, a sparrow inhabited it. The sparrow was promised a home amongst the strong leaves of the banyan tree, which was then not a full grown concrete-defeating vegetative force, but not a weak crack-a-boo pipe-ling either. The sparrow had returned to the town where the house with the fading blue windows stood for years, even before the story was conceived. But why was the story conceived? What was the point of its invention? What occasion? Because so far, it was not a story, but a few facts arranged and rearranged with style. Apparent style. Was there a point to the story? Who is moved by the sky anyway? Why would any tree want to remember? We must stop projecting our own sorrows onto trees, onto young women, we must refrain from shoving our stupid dreams down someone else’s pipe, we must stop taking photographs of another person’s house. We must stop projecting our own sparrows. Protecting. There are other things to be done. We must start doing the other things. What was this story about before the sparrow left, before the young woman feeling too dead to be fictionalized or alive enough to abandon all metaphors, all semblances of truth? Whatever this story is or was about, it cannot stop being about directions. Look at the pipe. There are lines going sideways, look at the root, the branches, the wind making the thin plastic kite shiver. Perhaps you cannot see it. But be generous, at least think about it. The shivering kite. The thinness. The wind. Think about the lives you are not living. Always, some amount of superfluous waters flowing downwards, underground. Superfluous water, now maybe that is the fiction. A real fabrication from the collective throats of a thousand thirsty sparrows.
You zoom in, see the flakes of whitewash coming off the walls, you zoom out and it could be the sky flaking off next. You keep saying that you love windows, from both inside and from outside. You mean to say you love frames, but you don’t. You could love houseflies, hovering in between, but you don’t. You have become too shallow. A short tunnel with a sure end. The treachery of pipes is no different from the treachery of dreams. They say that one thing leads to another because everything is connected and there is flow, but you soon realize that everything is disconnected, there is only pressure. A pressure of being. This is not a lie. You miss an ‘f’ and find it later, decaying green and limp at the bottom of your soup bowl. You could live inside a pipe and still feel more hollow. Nothing moves you. Nothing moves you anymore because you are too thin, someone says. You eat like a sparrow, someone else says. Come, be loved, another whispers. A denial, in triptych. Spare the sparrows. You miss a ‘p’, misplace an ‘a’ and the house groans with a large sadness. The room is too bright. It was always too generous, letting so much light pass through. From inside your room, from inside your body, you can hear the outside. A dog barking. A dog barking incessantly. Or would it be more accurate to say: An incessant dog, barking. This is not a story. This is treachery.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sohini Basak has poems and short stories in journals such as the Missing Slate, Ambit, Lighthouse, Ofi Press, Muse India, Paris Lit Up, as well as in print anthologies of Emma Press and Poetrywala. She won second prize at the inaugural RædLeaf India Poetry Prize in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Melita Hume and the Jane Martin poetry prizes in 2014. She studied literature and creative writing at the universities of Delhi, Warwick, and East Anglia, where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury continuation grant for poetry, and currently lives and works in Delhi.
ABOUT THE ARTWORK
All images are by the author.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, December 8th, 2016.