• Pragya Tripathi

"To the Banyan" by Chris Mooney-Singh

Today the law of five convenes beneath the panchayat tree, You, the shade-giving seat of each Indian village council. Ancient toehold of roots and hairy down-runners, you rattle fig leaves in the air above a muscular girth of governance, long-upstanding to the people. And no one would dare cut down the dramaturgy tree, The air-con auditorium where yearly Ram Lila actors

Tell eye-and-hand mudra tales below the moon on Divali nights. 


You are the buffalo rubbing tree,

the lie-down siesta of brahman cows, the repose of elders on jute string beds where children ping their marbles; you are the hotel of mendicant sadhus, and rat and vole keyholes for cobras, the fertility tree at Holi throwing out rainbow shudders of chalk dust. No one would disrespect the tree of conception, bobbing with plastic hope-dolls, or plunder the prosperity tree adorned with ornate golden earrings. Yes, you are your own temple by the mandir.

Best of all, you are the shade tree for village schoolyards.

No one in their right mind would want to be reborn as a low-totem worm, causing the death of a banyan.


You are the sunset prayer-time tree ringing with brass god bells. Young women circumambulate chanting Ram! Ram! on fasting nights and marry you, twining red thread about your girth to change their luck when a manglik girl has serious blots on her astrological chart. Yes, you are the festival of lights where the rangoli colours form chalk circles on cow-dung, you the root-shelf for ghee-lamps.


Even Alexander embraced you: one vast banyan tree gave shelter to seven thousand storm-bombed Greeks along the Narmada River, blueprint of empire, the first cosmopolis, rhizome hinterland. Without a doubt you are the Nation Tree, slow epoch builder, the Wish-Fulfilling Tree, Kalpavriksha tap root to the Vedas. Of all your followers, the Indian minah, that little black-hooded fellow  with a yellow beak has always been true and stays your best disciple. Eater of pigmy figs he scatters your seed, kingdom after kingdom.


We, the battalions of Hanuman monkeys cling to your hairy chest replaying epics in the subplot tangle of trunks and down-root runners while you stay firm, eco-umbrella, sheltering us from angry gods —  even as coal mines choke the lungs of jungles that you rule over, even as electric monsoons throw down their El Niño javelins, even as the ozone continues to be shredded like a flimsy blue raincoat, still you remain the solid idea, of permanence, a supreme being able to spread new roots from a single trunk like a city of elephants across the acres. Stretching through time and space like the web-work of milky star-fields I only have one question for you, Banyan. How much time is left to us?


Notes:

  • The ‘manglik effect’ or negative effect of Mars in a Vedic astrological chart can be neutralised should a ‘mangli’ first marry a banyan, peepal or banana tree.

  • Kalpavriksha: the wish-fulfilling or the ‘world tree’ eulogised in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh literature as a symbol of miracles, wisdom, health and happiness.

Editorial Comment: This is an ode to the Banyan, in all its majestic forms. An obeisance is paid to the tree's role in the daily Indian life, from stray cattle and maina birds, to festivals, to governance, to the other worldly matters. As a reader, I felt the tree take roots and expand its benevolent canopy, dropping it's roots to shade, and take me in its benign safety. If you let it, this poem grows around you like a banyan tree in all its paternal magnificence. (Pragya)



Chris Mooney-Singh teaches post graduate creative writing in Singapore, having a doctrate in the same from Australia. He is artistically rich with experience from journalism, radio arts and several published works in his name.

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