The Debdaru tree in my life

“What’s the difference?” I asked him. “Between the love of your life, and your soulmate?” “One is a choice, and one is not.”
Tarryn Fisher

When I first came to live in the apartment where I now stay, I was taken in by the big garden around the building and the huge trees that were the hallmark of the garden. The garden was soothing and negated the Mumbai pollution.

There is one Debdaru tree in front of my balcony on the other side of the driveway. The tree is like any other and I had paid no attention to it in the earlier days as I was trying to settle down in the city alien to me.

Few years later, when I was standing alone on my balcony, on a rain drenched Sunday afternoon, my eyes suddenly chanced upon this Debdaru tree. The tree and I stared at each other. On this silent, dark hour, I slowly felt that the tree was communicating with me. I was overawed by the thought, so unbelievable and unnerving. I stood there for a long time, trying to figure out what to do. The feeling was palpable and I still experience that moment.

Since that day the Debdaru tree started growing on me. Be it night or day, I found a strange connect with this quiet entity. It gave me a lot of peace and I started spending a lot of time on the balcony. I would talk to the Debdaru tree in my mind and believed it could empathise with me. And the connect grew stronger with passage of time. I continued to share my thoughts with my friend silently.

There are a few incidents that occurred that made me believe that the tree really had befriended me. Of course it was just a notion, but a pleasant one.

One evening, around 11 pm, I was sitting and reading on the balcony. I must have dozed off after a while. Suddenly I heard a swishing noise and woke up with a start. It was well past midnight and I quickly gathered my Kindle, my iPad and my books and went off to bed. The next morning I found our gardener in the driveway, removing a branch that had fallen from the Debdaru tree. I realised that the swishing noise that I had heard the night before was that of the branch falling from the Debdaru tree. I felt then that my friend was trying to awaken me from my slumber. Weird, but it did make sense to me.

Another evening, I was standing and watching the moon play hide and seek through the long leaves of the Debdaru tree. It was a full moon night. My balcony was drenched with moonlight. The sky was clear, with stars twinkling across the expanse. There was a gentle breeze and I was smiling at the beauty of nature. Suddenly there was a gust of a stronger breeze, and the branch from my Debdaru tree swayed and moved towards me. It raised itself with the wind force and almost reached my face, as if to touch it. I was startled and tried to touch it back involuntarily. Despite knowing that trees are not to be touched in the night. But I could never get there, the breeze settled and the moment passed.

There were many such little incidents that made me believe in the connect more and more. I could, of course, never touch my tree as the driveway was sizeably wide and the tree was several feet away.

One day, I came back from work and as usual went to the balcony to gaze at my friend. I was shocked to find the tree cut and only a short portion was visible at the ground level. My feelings were indescribable. I felt a sense of loss that I couldn’t handle as I stared at the vacant spot and saw the road and the vehicles. I felt I had just lost my soulmate. I just stood there, feeling so desolate and so helpless. It was strange that I was so lost without my Debdaru in front of my balcony. The feelings shook me to the core. But there it was.

For days and months on end, the melancholic mood continued and I felt at a loose end, not knowing how to handle the separation. I realised that the Debdaru tree was my pillar that I was holding on to which gave me solace and strength in my trying times. So irrational but that was my reality.

Gradually, the tree grew taller and one day I could make eye contact with my friend, once again. I had tears in my eyes that day and felt like giving my tree friend a big hug.

But my friend and I were quite a distance away from each other. There was no way I could even get close to it. Even if I went down, the tree actually was at a height and surrounded by shrubs. I would never be able to reach it. So it stayed that way eversince.

Trees are considered to have souls and they do empathise. I believe that I have a soul connect with the Debdaru tree and it has taught me so much. The teachings are a continuous process. It is akin to my life and my living it.

I realised that I have a limited lifespan and my Debdaru tree has years to live. Maybe with the next owner. So our interaction is within a finite time. It is a painful realisation and I try not to dwell on it.

I learnt that when providence creates a distance, it stays that way. I, therefore, cannot always get what I want. Like the Debdaru tree outside my balcony. I love the tree, it is my adrenaline, I need to see it all the time, but I can’t reach it. I will never been able to make good the distance. A truth which only I can perceive, feel and live with.

At these times it is crucial not to aspire, so that it does not destroy something else or someone else in the process. For instance, if I were to get my Debdaru tree close to me, either I would have to break the tree or I would have to try and jump across, which would only break my bones. Or pull the swaying branches with a rope, thereby damaging the tree. And such a tree doesn’t grow in apartments.

Again, like this atypical connect, what happens if I cross paths with my natural soulmate, my Debdaru in flesh and blood, under unusual circumstances? Or at the wrong time of my life? In the cacophony of living, my existence at the sublime level is what matters then, as that is not in conflict with the societal norms, away from the expectations of people around, not having to conform and not being able to do justice to our own selves. A subliminal bond is surreal, predestined and so very continuous in a different zone, away from prying eyes.

Joy and pain then learn to co-exist. The bond with my soulmate is perennial. If we can mutually decide to retain the friendship we are blessed and stay connected.

Or else life moves on. Mostly one without the other. Time is said to be a great healer. Maybe. For some lucky ones.

[Note : Debdaru tree (Polyalthia longifolia), also known as the ‘false ashoka’, native to India, is a lofty evergreen tree, commonly planted due to its effectiveness in alleviating noise pollution. It exhibits symmetrical pyramidal growth with willowy weeping pendulous branches and long narrow lanceolate leaves with undulate margins.]

why

in the stillness of the night

in the sonance of the day

in the thrum of rains

why do you tiptoe

and drift placidly

into my thoughts

in murmuring waves

that erupt in trillions

of moments

evolving into

tantalising images

of allure and dreams

wafting around my

being, my soul and

surging through my mind

ceaseless, melodious

in a rhythm that i cannot

fathom but discern

a bond that grows

seeking no acceptance

want that i cannot grasp

keeping me addled

through endless hours

of pulsating beats

confined where

i neither can

touch nor hark

or elude

from these magical spells

of upheaval

when there is no reboot

why

in unison

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my soul

vibrates with

another

unknown yet so known

timeless, ageless

with my every heartbeat

beats one more

in unison with mine

thoughts travel

in unison

in and out

from one mind

to the other

every pain that reflects

in that body

reflects in mine

where is this heart

that i can’t touch

but feel in mine

unseen, so near

yet so far

my soul

entwined with another

loving beyond despair

unexplained, impossible

every sinew aware

of my soulmate

fear of loss

stalks me

breaking in sweat and tears

fear of time

makes my heart pound

will we never meet

why can’t i be a friend

time stops me

cross that i bear

fear swirls around

engulfing my being

unfathomed quiet

presence that pulsates

blanking my thoughts

unbearable throbbing

my vision clouds

i realise

i cease to live

as life

lifts my soulmate

into another world

that i can’t fathom

leaving me

powerless, blinded

motionless

leaving me

crying in the shadows

incomplete forever

as i cease to live

rendezvous

Dream, sparkle and shine

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Go my friend

into your world again

where happiness greets you

there is laughter and solace

waiting for you, again

away from pain and doubt

unshackled, unfettered

meet with your destiny

in gay abandon

as providence has designed for you;

true it is indeed

a world of promises

and there is

your life in waiting

where you are meant to be

go my friend, go

a few strands

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sun reflects

shines like a mirror

unfurls the sky

clouds float past

breeze runs

through few strands

flailing helplessly

on the top;

here come the rains

pitter patter

sounds stay

water drops land,

jumping off

flowing down in gay abandon

messing around

few strands all wet and drooping

on glistening brown;

it’s cold and frosty

iced it is

freezing all of it

shimmering white

strands flattened

beyond vision;

hurts beyond measure

open to vagaries of weather

leaving no option but

to reach for the cap

to save the few strands

on the bald pate

only in my being

“Our souls already know each other, don’t they?”
Karen Ross

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vortex of emotions

rise and fragment my being

into a million parts

splintering my thoughts

as they prance

around me in happiness,

in pain, in sorrow…

in tandem

with my body and my soul

two different entities now

away from each other drawn

as i cry in pain, torn,

in a bind to hold on

to breathe

and to let go;

eternal turmoil of mind,

faith, trust and heart…

heart wins over all;

time steps in

void in me it creates

rests on my shoulders

motionless, heavy

spiral of fear rising i feel

through my gut;

my heart turns away

pulsating, incomplete

dissolving hope;

defeat i concede

step back to encase

my soulmate

in my memory folds;

i turn as i feel

him as a part of

my being, entwined,

in my mind shackled,

in my thoughts enchained,

in my moments, in my soul,

my aura – my alter ego

in an eternal space

of the Giver;

but time is motionless

my body listless

mind in struggle

in a vortex of emotions

i concede defeat

only in my being

for time can’t shackle

my soul

sands of time

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i stand by the river

as the tide makes me wait

i want to cross over

before it’s too late;

i see you my soulmate

it seems i’ll never reach

time’s really with the tide

and that i can never breach;

sands of time are ever so rough

there’s no let up for love or pain

searing winds make it really tough

for me to cross and see you again;

i stand by the river

knowing that i just can’t turn the tide

and i pray to the Giver

to always be on your side;

even if i‘m not with you

there’s no reason for you to frown

now that you’re getting your due

just go ahead and seek your crown;

watching you my soulmate

am just happy to see your flight

for sands of time have got me late

to reach you, yearn as i might.

Ms Damayanti

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‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken
joy in creative expression and knowledge.’
– Albert Einstein

I pen this piece on Ms Damayanti, my English teacher in school. An unobtrusive personality who deserved recognition, but never really looked for it and never evaluated her own worth.

Why do I write about her? Because Ms Damayanti was an ordinary lady with extraordinary teaching skills that had a strong bearing on my English education in my formative years. I comprehended her teaching strength much later, by which time, regrettably, I had lost touch with her.

I realised Ms Damayanti’s infinite contribution to my language prowess only after I went for higher studies and had to use English extensively. I think of her often enough and thank God for her advent into my life at the time.

English is not my mother tongue. The first language that I spoke in was Bengali (one of the many languages spoken in India). But today, I am most comfortable with English, in reading, in writing as well as in thinking. Although I do think in Bengali at times, but English is always the dominant language. In a home where members primarily spoke in Bengali, how really did this happen?

Firstly, let me tell you what Ms Damayanti was like. A typical South Indian lady, in all probability from Chennai, who wore a white sari with some innocuous border, carrying a large, nondescript black bag and who hardly ever smiled. She was short, dark and was least bothered about her appearance. Her hair was tied in a careless bun which allowed most of her curly hair to escape and bounce around her face. The smattering of grey in the hair added to her years and I really don’t know how old she was at the time. I don’t even know if she was married because we addressed all teachers as ‘Miss’ or ‘Ma’m’.

Even her English pronunciation was far from perfect. She spoke English with a heavy accent and didn’t have a voice audible enough to reach the last benches of our class.

Ms Damayanti had little patience with the girls, generally. Her class was usually after our recess. Many a times we used to crowd around her when she took up our homework notebooks, one by one. At the time, quite often, not so pleasant a smell emanating from someone in the crowd of girls would reach her quickly. She was very averse to such air pollution and would immediately pinch her small, thick nose and glare at us. She would place her thumb on the forehead of each of the girls standing close to her and start pushing them back. ‘बच्चा लोग (children) go back, go back’!

Secondly, I don’t remember much about Ms Damayanti’s teaching style, but she was never impatient while teaching. I was very attentive in her class and took a lot of interest in learning English. Our class was on the first floor and I used to sit at the desk next to the window, overlooking the road. Surprisingly, the noise of the steady traffic never bothered me when I was in her class.

She used to insist on our using ‘Wren and Martin’ for our grammar and there was no escape. Because of her I had memorised almost the entire book! And because of her my English grammar gave me a solid foundation for mastering the language. I started enjoying learning English and made sure I finished all my homework as correctly as possible.

She taught us new words all the time and made us use them in sentences. We were to carry a dictionary with us to the class. A habit that stayed with me for very many years.

My most significant memory of Ms Damayanti is her objectivity. She had no favourites in class. Each student was as important to her as any other. Marks were accorded strictly by merit. She was forever correcting us and was never tired of referring to ‘Wren and Martin’ when she was teaching.

‘Wren and Martin’ was a hard bound book and its cover was red with the print in black letters. My dictionary had a red cover and print in black, too. Since then, these two hard bound red covers are vividly etched in my mind. As is Ms Damayanti, a teacher par excellence.

Thirdly, Ms Damayanti and the red book, ‘Wren and Martin’, made my English what it is today. It forged my interest in reading English fiction and non-fiction. It initiated me into a world of words which stood me in good stead over the years.

As many people in my life, whose value I grew to understand much later in my life, has left me with regrets that are difficult to come to terms with. Sometimes, when I reminisce my school days, Ms Damayanti looms upon me, larger than life.

A harsh world which judges a person by appearance, my English teacher lagged far behind and was most forgettable in her unkempt state of attire. And there was nothing to write about her personality. No one would even recognise her if she passed by. But I have learnt to fathom the stature of Ms Damayanti by her God gifted talent as a teacher and how she moulded me to easily master a language foreign to me. To the extent that it is my first language today.

They say ‘a teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart’. Ms Damayanti did all of it for me, but I did not bother about her at the time. I do so today and my heart and mind are full of gratitude and reverence when I think of her. She is way beyond the times of social media, so connecting with her is next to impossible.

I keep on looking out for her in my sub conscious, just to touch her feet and do sashtang pranam (prostration of the body in obeisance at the feet), which she so rightfully deserved. A way too late, but Ms Damayanti is a cult figure in my mind and will always be. My deceptively unusual English teacher.

it shall never be over

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i let go of you again and yet again

for your ongoing journey

away from mine;

i can’t bind your time

in my world eons away from yours

even though i love you so

and don’t know how

to say goodbye

i see you

in the gentle breeze

in the swish of curtains

in the flying strands of my hair

in the grip of a ladle

in the scent of a flower

in the dancing shadows

in the patter of my step

i think of you

in the moments of joy

as time stands still…

the golden glow of the evening sky

bathes my window sill and the floor within

it steals moments from my memories

wildly rushing through my thoughts

shimmering, prancing through

my mind in embers

fire that burns without an end

spluttering within

i see you gliding through the memory lanes

looming large as you traverse distances

mesmerising tunes capturing

those flowing moments;

i awaken to my soul stirring

to hold you in this

timeless moments in space

never to let you go;

in the slew of emotions

that cloud my thoughts

threatening to pour

my time stands still…

yet stealthily night creeps up

the glow lost in the dark

sill and the floor hidden

i see your silhouette giving me solace

in the light that pushes

through the crevices of my window

the moments dissolve and i know

you have to step into your own world

where i don’t belong

and i won’t let you wait

in my world eons away from yours

as i fold quietly

the awry pages of my memory yet again

i pray for your everlasting happiness

and peace in your space;

through my swirling pain i wonder

will i ever find you again

is it over from now?

my heart whispers

it isn’t over for me

and never shall be…

as i love you so

and don’t know

how to say goodbye