A review which appeared in The Wire, coincidentally ‘liked’ by a friend, prompted me to read this book by Sumana Roy. I would remain thankful to that special friend, whose words have always struck a chord with my heart, for being the trigger for such a wonderful reading experience. Sumana Roy is a writer and poet who tries to stick on to ‘tree time’ and writes from Siliguri. The foremost aspect which held my attention was that, the book did not belong to any distinct genre. The author, by writing about nature in a personal manner, has broken the rule which insists on conforming rigidly to a particular style of writing . This book can be tagged as a self refection, a memoir, an essay or even a comparative analytical study of the relevance and predominance of plant life in literature, cinema and religion. Roy’s language is lucid and poetic and many a times reminds you of the fact that she is also a poet. I have never been a staunch environmentalist or nature lover. But some time ago I realised that I would love to live effortlessly and die with the ease of a leaf falling from a tree. In the recent past, I got involved with a lot of plants in my house (Of course, now I realise that one reason for my friendship with plants could be my solitary life, as Sumana points out) and sporadically while watering or tending them, I end up having comparative thoughts about plant lives and human lives. When I read this book, those thoughts became ‘legitimised’! It is reassuring to discover sisterhood in thoughts.
Sumana Roy writes, “Writing is a solitary act and demands painstaking apprenticeship”. With the sort of research done for this book, which is her first one, she has beyond doubt, proved her commitment to writing. Her effort is evident in the discussions about depiction of plant life in literature and movies. Some of her seemingly innocent observations are original and brilliant. She writes, “For the shadows of trees obliterate specificity, the colour of the bark, leaves, flowers and fruits. Just like the shadows of humans do not reflect race, caste or religion” and this is a valuable statement in the present era. “Inequality seemed to be necessary to keep marriages happy or at least stable” cannot be passed off as a silly thoughtless remark . She observes, “reciprocity is the need that soured many human relationships”, and we cannot expect this from a love relationship with plants. Looking back, I feel I never gave enough importance to Botany as a subject compared to Zoology while in college. Somehow as Sumana points out, animal world or all that moves is the centre of attention than the ‘so-called-static’ plant world. I agree that this book inadvertently glorifies plant life. But this exaltation of plant life is an absolute necessity in this era of extreme violence inflicted on plants by human beings . There is no harm in romanticising the idea of a superior and ideal plant life so that more people come forward to do something about it. Being passionate about plant life is comparable to being passionate about pets or ones own children and should become the norm rather than being portrayed as a deviant behaviour.
I read a review in The Hindu where the author says that Sumana Roy embraces the ‘imaginary tree’ rather than the real one. I have my own reservations about such comments. For somebody to passionately write about a subject, it is not mandatory that they should be practising it in a way insisted by the majority. For a person to write passionately about dance or music, there is absolutely no need to dance or sing. This book without doubt, is noteworthy for its unconventional style and language and some authentic observations which would definitely alter the way you think. And Sumana has evolved into a tree. She just doesn’t write any more for anybody else. For a tree it never matters whether you are an academician, critic or a plant lover; it embraces everyone who comes to its shade.