Friday, December 7, 2018

The Trees in My Life

Jamun Tree

I was suddenly jolted by the memory of it 23 years and four cities later. My mind raced back to the seven-year-old me, as I frantically scrambled for vestiges of the remnants – of the Jamun tree and my memories of it. It was a huge, tall tree, with a magnificent canopy. It rained its lush, purple berries on to the untarred road from time to time, whenever it was in season. It strikes me now, as I do a frenetic search on the internet to remind myself of how it looks – the tree and its leaves, that Delhi is not a tropical region, as my internet research tells me of the geographical regions where it grows. 

The first memories that rush forth are of purple stained tongues and the violet juice trickling down the corners of the mouth of my friends and mine. The taste was sometimes bitter, but that’s of the unripe ones, my mother would point out. Bigger than other berries and fleshier than them, the ripe ones that fell on to the ground fell splashing their fleshy goodness, creating a small wet, purple patch around it, like some exotic bird had splattered its exotic purple droppings.

Some of the years of those seven years of my life were spent most happily under that Jamun tree. Whether playing games – stapoo, Red Letter, pitthoo, badminton; just sitting under it and talking away for hours  (I now wonder what it could have been about, at the age of seven!); or my personal challenge to myself of staring at the setting sun without blinking, until it turned a perfect sphere of orange, wondering why adults said that one should not look at the sun directly lest one risks losing eyesight; the world below the Jamun tree was one of pure bliss, togetherness, fun, and innocence.

Guava Tree

It is at the age of 30 that I realise my deep and long-lost connection with the guava tree, that can be traced back to when I was three years old. There were two of them in the backyard of my childhood home. A small one and a big one. Like my sister and I, my mother used to say. Though I have always hated the fruit, I loved the two trees. The bigger one, particularly, which had a distinctive branch growing from the main trunk, giving it a ‘v’ shape. I learned to climb trees because of this guava tree and found the ‘v’ spot perfect to perch myself upon, for hours together, during those years of my life. It was ‘my’ place. A not-so-comfortable spot where I could sit or recline for hours, indulging in various quotidian activities. From having lunch, being fed by my mother, to reading, studying, daydreaming, birdwatching, catwatching; that spot formed an important component of my daily life, which my mother pruned and smoothened to keep it shining and smooth for me. ‘The guava tree is the residence of the “koku” (ghost) after dusk’, my mother used to try to scare me futilely, in vain attempts of trying to bring me down from the tree after sunset. The sturdy and faithful branch later served as a beam from where my father hanged a thick, light green plastic rope, to form a swing for me. He even got our neighbourhood carpenter to create a wooden seat to attach to the rope-swing.

Forest Red Gum Tree

One of the most daydream inducing trees from my childhood, this tall, sky-high, white-barked tree birthed several philosophical thoughts in my young mind. But I realise now that like a sage, who makes you think, without drawing attention to himself; this tree filled my mind with reflections, but I never once thought about the tree per se. This tree was most striking visually, marked most prominently by the vultures that perched atop it. Early mornings and evenings, the scavengers flew down, and even while to my unsullied mind they were birds of nature just like the other feathered ones, the experienced adult minds introduced the idea of the vicious nature of the birds to me, compelling me to perceive them, like they did, as malicious creatures that fed upon carcasses. The late evenings thus gave the trees an appearance of menacing contours, with the tips of their tops silhouetted against the darkening sky with the hooked beaks of the sinister fowl.

But during afternoons, the gum trees were completely different. Gleaming in the bright white heat of the searing sun of Delhi’s summer, the tall, slender trees, with their peeling white barks and the smattering of light green on their sparse leaves at the top, presented a relieving sight against the light blue sky. The vultures vanished somewhere during the daytime to escape the heat, and in their weightless absence, the meagre branches of the trees danced with abandon, seeming to fan themselves in the arid breeze.

Chir Pine Tree

I have had the fortune of coming in contact with these trees only very briefly during my life, during early childhood. The numbered mornings when I have woken up early and accompanied my father for his early morning jogs, took me through paths that were lined with them. And my only pastime was collecting the pine cones. I took them back home as prized souvenirs, as rewards of having woken up early. I painted some, and kept them as decorative pieces around the house, only to realise that they look better in their natural state. I am happy that my young mind was amazed by the wonder of the cones and their mesmerizing patterns.

Purple Jacaranda

I thank my fourth standard class teacher, who introduced us to this beauty that was right before our eyes in school but we had never bothered to take note of. The Purple Jacaranda is as regal as it sounds. A tall, heavy tree with small, delicate purple flowers, it casts a glorious beauty. Capable of turning our class expedition within the school premise into a ‘nature walk’, the tree has surely left its trail of memories in me; though I forget if it has a fragrant trail as well.

Ashoka Tree
Another specie I was introduced to in school, this ‘Christmas tree-like-tree’ was grown all along the perimeter of my school grounds.  Their conical, tapering shape stamped their beauty in my mind and I took note of them wherever I spotted them around Delhi. They seem to be the ‘model’ trees, that are planted in manicured gardens and official spaces, owing to the neatness and sense of propriety that they lend with their naturally well-groomed look.

Peepal Tree

My only connect with the people tree is the each and every single day I have stood beneath it for 14 years of my life, awaiting my school bus in the mornings. From being a shade to a play area till the time the bus arrived; the Peepal tree was an inconspicuous entity in my life. Sometimes, I collected its leaves and placed them in between the pages of books to obtain its skeletal state after several weeks. That it’s called ‘Fig’ in English, is something I learned yet another decade later.

Mango Tree

It struck me little that it is a mango tree during all those years that I lived in that last house in President’s Estate. And that’s because it was right outside the window of the bedroom next to the kitchen. The window itself was beautiful – a French window with wooden frame painted in green. Everything about the view from that window was beautiful – a green view from a green frame. The window opened to the thick torso of the mango tree and my garden beyond it. The ground below the mango tree was always fragrant with the mango blossoms. And it was also full of life – with squirrels and birds pecking around all the time. And thus, it was also always dark from that window, as the thick mango tree blocked most of the sunlight, except very early in the mornings, which I almost always missed. But whenever I did have a chance, the image of the golden sunlight forming patterns through the latticed foliage of the mango tree has remained in my mind. Strange, that I perhaps I had seen the body of the mango tree the most, rather than its leaves or even its fruits.

Chinese Orange

Like a small neighbor to a big mansion, the Chinese Orange tree grew below the towering mango tree, providing an alternative view from the same green French window. With small leaves, separated by sharp, long thorns, I have never really physically touched the tree much. But why it remains indelibly etched in my memory is for a beautiful winged visitor that it played host to. It is a visual wonder to watch the Green Barbet perch delicately between the acute thorns of the Chinese Orange, and swallow down the luscious miniature orange globules that grow on the tree. The fruit is poisonous for human beings, but the way the emerald fowl gulps it down tempts even a fruit-hater like me. The bird and the tree seem to be made for each other; little wonder then, that the colours of the bird are similar to that of the tree – verdant plumage with a tangerine beak!

Crepe Jasmine

The Crepe Jasmine’s presence in those years of my life was like a web of dreams with stars spangled across it. Stars, literally, because its white flowers with yellow centres appear exactly so. And like stars in a green sky, they littered all over my garden. Many an afternoon have I spent sprawling under its floral canopy, stretched out with a book – either a pleasure read or academic literature – lying over a bedsheet. From late mornings to early evenings in Winter, until the warmth of the sun lasted, the Crepe Jasmine was the fount of many a creative prosody that spurted forth from me. It also almost always served as a picturesque backdrop for the innumerable photographs that were taken during our stay in that house.

Coconut Tree

In the third decade of my existence, I have come to recognise the symbol that binds me to my native land of Kerala. If there is anything that reminds me of home, it is the image of the striped patch of blue sky visible from between the green strips of the leaves of a coconut tree.  Whether a rectangular patch visible from the balcony of a Mumbai house, or a square bit peeking from the bathroom window of the rented accommodation in Chennai; that sight of the blue sky streaked with green lends an instant sense of comfort and familiarity.  If I get to see the bunch of coconuts, even better!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Ee.Ma.Yau Unravels The Stark Realities Surrounding Death

Death is an experience that is fathomable only to those who experience it in close quarters. Films across the world have portrayed the end of life in various forms, but only very few may have actually projected what happens in the moments after it.

For those who have not seen death closely, Ee.Ma.Yau is an eye opener. It lays bare the naked realities of those who are left to deal with its aftermath. The film breaks down the immediate moments after demise in the most unabashed and bold manner. After the sudden passing away of Vavachan, the story revolves around his family –wife (Pennamma), daughter (Agnes aka Nisa), son (Eeshi), daughter-in-law (Elisabeth aka Sabeth) and the several other characters of a little fishing village where it is set.

Director Lijo Jose Pellissery strips the veil of solemnity that is associated with death and uncovers the hypocrisy and unguarded realities of people when confronted with another’s death through the medium of black comedy. He dares to make the viewer laugh amid a sober situation.   

Pennamma’s need to display her loss to the villagers, Sabeth’s concern to look appropriate before visitors for the funeral, Nesa’s lover’s sly attempt at groping her while consoling her, are just some of the incidences where the thought of the dead is secondary. While the family members and villagers weep over the dead body, Eeshi’s lack of emotion throughout tugs at the audience’s sense of decorum.
The film spans the duration of a single night, from Vavachan’s death to his funeral the next morning. Pellissery bravely prods the conscience when he shows how the need to honour the dead for the sake of societal propriety takes precedence over honest grief. Even before he could take stock of his father’s parting, Eeshi is propelled into beginning preparation for the funeral rites. The film captures Eeshi’s efforts at giving his father a grand, fitting funeral that they were discussing just minutes before his passing. Despite being penniless, Eeshi is determined to buy a grand coffin, to adhere to his word that he gave his father. His lack of judgement at this critical time is aptly pointed out by his close friend Ayyappan.

Speculation about the cause of death, with the numerous tales that are spun by the thrill-seeking villagers, holds up a mirror to society when Lazar admits that he is doing it for “oru rasam”. The nurse, doctor, and SI’s apathy towards the death, their swift conclusions built upon flying rumours, heeded to by the local vicar as well, expose the indifference of humanity and its delight in base pleasures. Ayyappan is the only pragmatic character who goes beyond himself to help out his friend Eeshi at his time of need.

It is only in the climactic moment that Eeshi experiences catharsis in letting go of all the put up constructs of society, and delivers to his deceased father all that is required towards the dead – a heartfelt funeral replete with pure emotions.

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