Author : Sumana Roy
Publisher : Aleph Book Company
Genre : Non Fiction, Memoir
Source : Publisher
Rating : 3 Stars
The desire to read this book stemmed from my absolute awe and enjoyment of The Vegetarian by Han Kang. That, if you haven’t read it, is about a south Korean woman who has suddenly decided to become a vegetarian because of a dream she has had. This desire slowly turns into an obsession with plant life and somehow, she slowly starts losing touch with reality. The book is told from three different points of view, her husband’s, her brother in law’s and her sister’s. It is never shown from her point of view and is what I thought was lacking in the story, for me. So when I spotted this book in the Aleph new release newsletter, I couldn’t help but request it and hope that it would satisfy my cravings.
It did, in a way, and it didn’t in other ways. Let’s get into it!
Sumana Roy loves trees. From the time she was a child she has been obsessed with them, their various forms, from empty branches to their feelings, to what they give us and what they take away. I’m sure you can gauge the level of her obsession from the title itself but it’s safe to say that she would, one day, like to become a tree and that day can’t come soon enough. You might consider this daft but this book offers a different point of view. Trees are something we take for granted, we see them everyday, we don’t even examine them, yet when we need them they are always there, offering shade, food and comfort.
When the cyclone hit my city, almost every tree had fallen don in the floods the year before. we were particularly proud that the strong trees in my neighbourhood withstood every onslaught yet, when the cyclone hit, most of them broke, most of them were bent over double, blocking the way and we lost majority of our shade and our mangoes. We let it be for a while, the bend trees stooped over our gates. We thought we’d cut it later, but then, the resilient little darlings started growing again, green shoots emerged on every side and before we knew it, we didn’t have the heart to cut it anymore. We just couldn’t do it.
Sumana Roy takes this love a hundred steps further and thoroughly examines trees and tree based literature. The book is divided into different sections and short chapters with relevant headings. That way it is very nearly, clinically done. But what is inside is quite the opposite. It is organic, artistic and filled with love.
She fills the books with little snippets from famous authors and poets, from a school play that didn’t quite turn out like O’Henry’s The Last Leaf to Indian authors, especially from Bengal, who have written poems, odes even, to trees and leaves to sculptors or artists who create them. She mentions some amazing things that will blow your mind and takes you through her thoughts about them, like The Willowman Project or Beth Moon’s Ancient trees : A portrait Of Time. (PS, if anyone wants to gift me a book, Ancient Trees is a good idea, thanks).
The entire book is filled with so many gems that you will leave it with a long list of something to read, buy or just admire. She talks about how her need to become a tree has turned her into someone who lives by tree time. And this is reflected in how this book is written. While I personally thought it could have been half the size, she probably couldn’t bear to cut off a branch.
She has taken her time, slowly and peacefully, filling it with research and her favourite works, her favourite memories, finding plant life everywhere, whether it be at a funeral or whether it be when taking family photographs, and that is how much time you must take to read it. Read a chapter a day, maybe two if they’re short. Ingest this slowly and steadily since it is meant to be read in tree time.
In this remarkable and often unsettling book, Sumana Roy gives us a new vision of what it means to be human in the natural world. 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.