By now, I should have found the answer. My friends and family are worried that I am struggling with words, unlikely for an author, they say. Everyone’s going to ask you the same question — Why did you decide to write a book revolving around trees? ‘For many reasons, familiar and strange,’ I’d like to tell them. When did you fall in love with trees? ‘It’s personal,’ I’d like to add. But then, I guess, it’s too late. The words are now as much theirs, as mine. It’s time I confess.
I am in love and this is just the beginning.
I don’t have a solid, romantic backstory to share, at least not an exciting ‘butterflies-in-my-tummy’ type of story. There are a few honest ones, though. I can talk about them. Like how as a child I wondered why my dad went to the barber, who sat under a tree? And how I’d sit there with my sketchbook and draw a picture of the chair he sat on. The lever for adjusting its height was long gone, with no prospect of being replaced; bricks worked just as well. I was intrigued. Or how I was surprised when a friend told me about a paanwala, who’d left his village home to pursue his dream to be an actor. A decade later, he still sleeps under the same tree in the city, in harsh summers and unbearable winters. He’s not giving up. Or how not very long ago, many Indian homes had a mango tree overpowering their verandahs and how many of us used to read books under its umbrella of branches. Or how I broke down at a funeral when I saw a loved one lying on a bed of wood.
Perhaps then, my love is less about the fruits and flowers, and branches and barks. It’s about comfort, about the way the trees have touched my life and of those around me. Maybe I fell in love with them when as a child, I spotted a makeshift swing hanging from its branches. Growing up, I had many cups of coffee at a stall, set up under a tree on the university grounds. The spot turned into our space of sharing stories. On my wedding day, I’d absorbed the aroma of hennaed hands and realised that I’d never actually seen a henna tree growing. Does it bear flowers? If yes, what colour are its flowers—orange or white? Are its leaves a light or a dark green?
Our love is unique. Ask me to recognise a tree by its leaves and I’d fail. Neither can I estimate the age of a tree by looking at the rings on the trunk. Our love is simple. The tree asks nothing of me, just as I take what it gives me on its own. We’ve been in this together and the love has only grown. It hasn’t transformed me into an environmentalist or activist. Or got me to press leaves in between the pages of notebooks. It’s made me a listener and given me a chance to reciprocate this love.
Don’t you too ever think — if trees could talk, they’d have so much to tell?
Now, I spend my time interacting with individuals whose lives have been nurtured by the trees. I make notes of stories of surrender, warmth, greed, passion, sins, secrets, faith, hope, anger, disappointment, and pain. I stop by at highways and speak to the fruit-vendor, whose sky is the tree. I visit public parks and wonder why someone would hurt the tree by engraving a heart on its trunk? I watch people tie threads of faith across its bark and hope their prayers are heard. I listen closely and then share the tales, widely. Will we last? Yes.
For, this tale is an honest one. And I am not writing it alone, it’s the trees that told me so.
Purva has debuted as an author with a book of short stories, The Trees Told Me So