“Tree of Life” by Tishani Doshi

Tishani Doshi


“Bengal men self-quarantine on tree to keep others safe”
—Hindustan Times

It could be romantic to sleep in a tree
with all the sounds of the forest around—
insect cacophony, elephants in musth.
I have always loved the word rut. A seasonal
glut. The opposite of looking through
a window to a never-ending view of wives
washing dishes in the sink—Simone
de Beauvoir’s idea of the domestic abyss.
But reader, she had silk curtains and chandeliers.
She had multiple lovers and appointments
with Sartre in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
It is dangerous to romanticize anyone’s life,
especially low to purge the nobility of the poor,
so let me not say how much I cried watching
Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, especially the part
with the kids running through fields of kash
to watch the train of modernity pass.
More poignant if you know the director’s wife
had to pawn her jewels for the film to be made.
The goodness of some women—
they almost levitate, like the girl in the film,
child of the forest, how she picks thorns from her feet
like stones from rice. And the crone, how I love
the crone. How all this sadness builds like a raga
to bring on rain, which the girl rushes into of course—
ripples of water lilies, darting bugs. How all this joy
leads to death. There are no spare rooms
is the point. In the film, or in real life.
There are no spare rooms so these men
who’ve returned from the city are put in a tree
to quarantine, a tree that strangles its hosts
as it walks. Munificent, shade-giving banyan
that throws down roots as trunks,
in whose leaves God Krishna resides. Krishna,
who talked good game about the temporality
of the body, while so enjoying the body, understood
the material world as one big inverted banyan.
But as we’re stuck in this reflection, why not
enjoy the fruits, why not jump from branch to branch
like a bird? Which these men do, I suppose, stationed
as they are. Their good wives leave supplies at the base—
rice and oil, cooking implements. It goes like this
for days, this story of seven men in a tree, living
through a 21st century pandemic. Men who say
they’re happy not to pass on any bad city virus.
And because the news is so full of counterfeits
and horrors, can we for once not be sceptics?
Forget that the tree is moving, that one day
its phantom limbs will tap against our door.
Until then, can’t we stand by our windows
and stare at all the desolation and sweetness?
Can’t we adore the convoluted roots
of our attachments? How they complete
us. My god, how this living is a hymn.

from Poets Respond
April 19, 2020


Tishani Doshi: “Seven migrant men in India were made to quarantine in a tree when they made the long journey back from the city to their village because their houses have no extra rooms. They seemed quite cheerful about it.” (web)

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