A NEEM TREE STANDS
I am reflecting on the woman. I am inspired by the celebratory nature of 8 March. I do not want to argue if only one day should be celebrated as Women’s Day. I am not even sure if it should be “woman’s day” or “women’s day”.
I feel petrified at the responsibility of speaking something about women. However, I must speak. I am a writer. The world listens to me. It wants me to speak. That is why the world gave me the attribute and the honour of the writer. Author Anu Lal is not an individual. He is the personification of the archetype of the seer. I am not humbled by this thought. Neither am I honoured. Instead, I am in fear.
I do not think I can speak in depth about the conceptual side of a woman. From what I read at the University, every word I utter about the woman and the feminine would be used against me. I am not afraid of being criticised. On the other hand, I find it mortifying to be the cause of any damage to the women I love. I cannot think of hurting them. It’s personal. It’s not theoretical. Theory can go away. The women I love cannot.
We live in a time when we cannot write or say openly about woman what we (anyone) feels or knows honestly about her. We are supposed to wrap our deepest knowing in the commonsense theory of detachment. Detachment works most of the time. We can say, “Let me not judge.” We can also say, “I am not the right person to comment on the issue or person.” We can even quote Simone de Beauvoir and say, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” We cannot say how badly we need her body to survive. We cannot state that woman has the secret to the nourishment of humanity. Woman—from mother to lover. Either men or women cannot say openly that a woman tastes nourishing and salty, and soothing in her smells. All of such truths are against the commonsense theory of detachment. So we are not supposed to write it or say it out loud. It will be treated as an erroneous stand or political incorrectness. I may be wrong, judgmental about the times we live in. Aren’t we all judgmental about something or other in life?
I wanted to write about the most important woman in my life, the person who I call ‘the muse’. So I made a clever choice. I decided to write about the Neem tree that stands outside my house.
I could see it through the window across my writing desk. I could hear it murmur. Dear reader, you replace the Neem tree with a woman and the narrative here will mean what I really want to say about the woman and all women.
A Neem tree stands guard to the front gate of our house. It is a small tree. It has not many leaves during the summer season. During the rainy season, the South Western Monsoon, it sheds its leaves again. I consider it a very thoughtful tree.
The Neem tree is small but wise. It knows that its leaves do not just belong to the tree alone. The whole family benefits from it. The breeze that sifts through its lean branches learns how to rejuvenate the human spirit. The leaves that I spoke so intently about are medicine to many viruses that are otherwise undefeated: chicken pox, skin rashes, and influenza. In many ways, unknown to me, the tree harbours life. Invisible spirits, sentient beings, bacteria, spiders, bugs, and lizards find shelter on the skin of the Neem tree. Even the leaves that fall benefit someone.
It seems every moment of the life of the tree is fulfilment. As human beings, ours lasts only milliseconds. The tree manages to make every moment of its life and every stage in it journey through life an affair of fulfilment. The Neem tree produces some sort of fruit, I think. It is its seed. However, it is not conspicuous, like the mango or the papaya. I think the life of the Neem tree itself is a fruit.
The existence of the Neem tree is reflected in the way it looks. The Neem tree does not look grand. It looks significant. The tight curves on its body and the groovy thick bark mark the relevance of its sickle-shaped thorny-edged leaves.
The Neem tree can trick me into believing that it is very feeble in nature. When I touch it, I feel the bark strong. Once I chewed a leaf. It was salty and had sap that was greenish in colour. The sap went down my throat and made me feel I am whole. I felt like my body received the liquid with an eager pleasure.
I hold on to a branch in an attempt to pick some leaves. The branch bends. I take advantage. Pick a couple of leaves for boiling with my bathing water. Then I realise how dangerous the strength of the Neem tree is. The branch I held on to came off from the trunk of the tree. For a moment, I felt something like an electric shock. I could not do anything to fix the branch back. The Neem tree cried. I could hear a cry. It is a quiet tree, usually. Even her agonies aren’t supposed to trouble me. But on that day, I was troubled. The Neem tree had taught me how to listen to its agony.
The strength of the Neem tree was not on its rough bark or lean branches. The strength of the Neem tree was in its capacity to make me feel the pain it felt. I stood there engraving that scene in my mind for another day, for another purpose.
Today, a man with two kids came in a motorbike. He asked our permission to pick some leaves from the Neem tree. I felt jealous. I did not want to give away the previous leaves to some stranger.
I thought about the tree for a moment. I thought about how I am renewed by its sap. I decided to think about the Neem tree, not as a possession. I decided to change my mind.
I watch as the elder kid climbs up the wall that skirted our property and picks the leaves. The Neem tree murmured its consent. I heard it and went inside to write this piece.
I know that the Neem tree has come closer to me. I know that the cells of my body now carry the juicy sap of the Neem tree.
I know that the tree and I are one.