PORTRAIT OF A TREE
Like many, I too once desired a painter as lover.The alchemy of love— adolescence pampers the notion of love as chemistry—would rid me of my imperfections and his portrait of me would make me beautiful to him and to myself.When I began drawing leaves I began to wonder whether such an impulse would attend this love. If I were a tree— and I hoped and believed I was turning into one—would a painter lover feel the urge, or even the need, to turn me into something else, someone else? For what is beauty and perfection in trees? I turned to the man I had married. He had been an amateur painter once. Only three drawings survived from that period in his life: two were portraits of women,copied,as he explained to me,from a magazine that was common in Bengali households: Soviet Nari. He had been taken by the beauty of two women in those hormone-rushed teenage years and thought this the only way to create a relationship with them. The other painting still hangs on a wall in our living room. In it is a tree trunk with many branches. From a distance it might look like a many-handed goddess, as it first did to me when I visited this house for the first time one winter afternoon more than two decades ago. This rectangular canvas has less tree and more shadows in it. One must guess the shape of the branches above from the shadows scattered on the ground. It has the likeness of a game. Before we got married, in one of those moments in which we tried to act like the adults we wanted to be in the future, I asked him about the painting. I did not consider it special, but it was his way of looking at something I loved, and I wanted to be made aware of how he looked at it. It was one of the most difficult portraits he had drawn, he said, and when I asked him why, his answer made me look at the painting in a completely different way. It had taken him days to get the correct proportion of shadows of the branches of the tree. From those shadows a viewer could guess the time of the day, perhaps even the season. But it wasn’t that which interested me. In my future husband’s gaze at the tree I wanted to find a clue to his way of looking at the world. He might as well have been looking at a woman, and in that gaze I wanted to find an estimate of his world view. All I wanted to know was whether he thought the tree an equal. And so his use of the word ‘portrait’ came as a happy surprise to me. For who had ever heard of tree portraits? Weren’t they reserved for men?
Excerpted from ‘How I Became a Tree’ written by Sumana Roy, published by Aleph Book Company.
Increasingly disturbed by the violence, hate, insincerity, greed and selfishness of her kind, the author is drawn to the idea of becoming a tree. ‘I was tired of speed’, she writes, ‘I wanted to live to tree time.’ Besides wanting to emulate the spacious, relaxed rhythm of trees, she is drawn to their non-violent ways of being, how they tread lightly upon the earth, their ability to cope with loneliness and pain, the unselfishness with which they give freely of themselves and much more. She gives us new readings of the works of writers, painters, photographers and poets (Rabindranath Tagore and D. H. Lawrence among them) to show how trees and plants have always fascinated us. She studies the work of remarkable scientists like Jagadish Chandra Bose and key spiritual figures like the Buddha to gain even deeper insights into the world of trees. She writes of those who have wondered what it would be like to have sex with a tree, looks into why people marry trees, explores the death and rebirth of trees, and tells us why a tree was thought by forest-dwellers to be equal to ten sons.
Mixing memoir, literary history, nature studies, spiritual philosophies, and botanical research, How I Became a Tree is a book that will prompt readers to think of themselves, and the natural world that they are an intrinsic part of, in fresh ways.
About the Author:
Sumana Roy writes from Siliguri, a small town in sub-Himalayan Bengal. Her first book, How I Became a Tree, a work of non-fiction, is published in India in February 2017. Her poems and essays have appeared in Granta, Guernica, Drunken Boat, the Prairie Schooner, Caravan, and other journals.
Her website: http://sumanaroy.in/