As a nature lover, I have always felt connected with the flora and fauna. Assessing the passage of time and syncing major events of my life with the trees, flowers, fruits and fragrances has been a hobby that I have been proud of. This was why, when I chanced upon this book, I was immediately drawn towards it.
The book has a captivating, minimalist cover that enchanted me enough to seal the deal and get hold of the book right away. The cover artistically portrays author’s love, longing and connect with the trees that capture her obsession and the innate desire to become a tree.
The blurb on the book reads:
“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.”
I could feel a connection with the author from the minute I was introduced with the blurb of the book. Because of all the things that the trees stand for, the idea of leading a (seemingly) self-centred, self-sufficient life that moves at its own pace has been the one aspect; I have most often been drawn towards.
“If I were a tree – and I hoped and believed I was turning into one – would a painter lover feel the urge, or even the need, to turn me into something else, or someone else?”
In this memoir that recounts moments that fanned author’s longing to become a tree emerges as a book laden with inspiration for every individual, because:
1. It inspires us to seize the moment and live beyond worries of the numbers: The futility of the ‘busy’ lives we lead comes to fore when you join the author in understanding what exactly is the tree time. It’s as simple as the realization of living a life without worries for the future or regret for the past. I couldn’t help but marvel at the simple yet insightful way in which Sumana Roy highlighted the futility of lying about our age or being in awe with the compliments that pronounced us younger than our true age. Just like the trees, we ought to accept them both with sober dignity and cherish the experiences we’ve accumulated in the form of the wrinkles, bulges, and scars.
I couldn’t help but marvel at the simple yet insightful way in which Sumana Roy highlighted the futility of lying about our age or being in awe with the compliments that pronounced us younger than our true age. Just like the trees, we ought to accept them both with sober dignity and cherish the experiences we’ve accumulated in the form of the wrinkles, bulges, and scars.
2. It highlights the importance of being happy in thy own skin: In a world plagued by body image issues, where skin-whitening agents and cosmetic treatments pump up dissatisfaction galore, we can draw inspiration from trees to be content in the way we are. The frivolousness of highlighting our relationship statuses across social media platforms to the glorification of life as slaves of desire, the book offers ample inspiration in thriving happily, as we like without a gap in who we are and who we want to be.
3. It sparks the realization that there’s nothing like an ‘uneventful life’: We so often dismiss our possibly self-contented, slow-paced days with a phrase like ‘an uneventful life’ which is just not right if we closely watch a day in the life of a tree. A tree goes on sucking up the sunshine, the carbon dioxide, preparing food, giving out oxygen and shade without any visible sign of hard work. Yet every day adds to its growth, experience and is full of hidden events.
4. It is a journey into the life of trees through literature and cinema: In every area of life—be it literature, cinema, science, or the arts, we draw comparisons with trees in ways that became highlighted for me after reading this book. From the mention of a childhood favourite, O’Henry’s famous short story, The Last Leaf, to author’s memories of visiting the Shanti Niketan where she finds a connect in the words of Rabindra Nath Tagore and sketches of Nandlal Bose.
From details of the trees at Shanti Niketan, that gifted the Tagore family its way of life, form a refreshing part of the book. Sumana Roy gives us not just mere mentions of the literary works, paintings, photographs, Bengali folktales, movies of Satyajit Ray, scientific inventions (she visited the home of Jagadish Chandra Bose in Darjeeling to get a personal feel of the plants that once formed a part of his fascinating inventions) but painstakingly shares snippets of the stories that touched her, to make it a wholesome experience for the reader.
The author also highlights the philosophies and insights into the world of spiritual leaders, including Buddha, and the stories of the trees part of the holy scriptures to her journeys to meet the famous trees.
5. It provides a mirror to life and its ways: So many known aspects of tree life have been presented in a way that evokes thinking from a new perspective. I could clearly visualize how our lives are akin to plant life in more ways than we realize. It was fascinating to comprehend, how our struggles, our growth, our hopes and so often our vulnerabilities too are all similar to those that of the plants.
“For the shadows of trees obliterate specificity, the color of the bark, leaves, flowers and fruits. Just like the shadows of humans do not reflect race, caste or religion”
Sumana Roy has also delved into the works of those who wondered what it is like to have sex with a tree, shared how trees in Melbourne now have e-mail addresses and receive lots of letters from near and far, she has attempted to understand why people marry trees, has explored the death and rebirth of trees while sharing plenty of resources for further reading.
6. It’s a memoir blended with meditation, philosophy, research, literary history and nature studies: The fluidity with which this book transgresses past the boundaries of genres makes this book a delight for the reader who can’t help but return to it over and over to relive the new-found philosophies. This is a deeply personal memoir that requires the reader to disarm, contemplate, correlate and get personal with the writing.
I spent over a month reading this book in small bites and was in awe with the examples of childless couples often adopting plants (including herself and scientist J. C. Bose), many of whom I personally know but I hadn’t ever reflected on this connection before. The exploration of polygamy in trees, how there’s a connection between adultery and the garden, the bond of creativity with the forests, author’s experiments of recording the sound of the crisp leaves moving in the wind and taking x-rays of the plants to get a glimpse of their inner lives made for a reading experience that has been quite intriguing yet calming and meditative where rushing is nowhere an option.
7. It has a simple, flowing prose and offers relatable life experiences in an impressive form: My favourite parts of this poetic memoir with a lucid narration are the ones where the author poses innocent questions like “Are trees freelancers or salaried employees?” “Are trees kind or they survived only on self-interest?” that left me marvelling at her observations that spell sheer brilliance.
Another favourite has been where the author shares what her first name, Sumana means. As against the popular interpretation, Suman = flower, the author argues her name stands for Su Mana = a good mind. Rightly proving it through her writing and philosophies. The book is anything but preachy and thrives on discussions and depictions of the various aspects of plant life. The book grows onto your mind, spreading branches of its philosophies, making you tirelessly reflect on the various aspects of life in the current, violent world that we live in.
“People like to think of the forest as a patched green quilt, but I know that the color of the forest is blue. On a moonlit night it is this that rises to the surface. And it is this that makes it a relative of the sky, not a mirror image but a kinship. the way one parent is related to another, not by blood but by relation and responsibility. Not green but blue is the colour of this wonder and magic.”
There is no denying that the book at times comes across as inadvertently glorifying plant life, but in the light of their alarmingly diminishing numbers, it can only lead to a positive impact on the readers.
I highly recommend this refreshing, sensitive book to everyone, that left me inspired to look at the flora beyond the glamour of its flowers and the greed for its fruits. I feel as if I have been infected by the author’s desire to metamorphose into a tree with the determination to step back and mindfully connect with the natural world I’m a part of.
About the Book:
Title – How I Became A Tree
Author – Sumana Roy
Publisher – Aleph Book Publications
Genre – Non-Fiction/ Memoir
Pages – 236
Price – INR 599 (get the best deal at Amazon)
ISBN – 978-93-82277-44-6
About the Author: Sumana Roy writes from Siliguri, a small town in sub-Himalayan Bengal.
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