Friday, August 7, 2009


The flood of the monsoon tide has dug deep into one beach, creating a tall bank of sand where the tide mark ends. Here the row of casuarinas now cling precariously to the edge. You can see the roots of some of these trees in this wall of banked sand. In some cases, the sea has washed away all traces of sand and a section of roots stands forlornly in midair. There seems to be no one single tap root, but only many long thin roots crouching rather spider-like on the ground. It’s astonishing that these weak looking roots are able to hold the trees upright. Some of the casuarinas have toppled over with no soil to hold onto.

Elsewhere large old trees have been felled by the recent furious winds, the broken roots standing in the air much like leafless twigs.

Trees are uprooted more easily than the villagers here. No storm can persuade them to loosen their hold on their “native” land. Apart from those who have gone to sea, and the few who have gone to the Gulf to make their fortunes, most villagers have never been outside the state – other than on the odd pilgrimage to Shirdi in Maharashtra - and have no desire to do so.

This makes them somewhat odd in the modern world where constant movement is more common than not: from house to house, from one city to another, one country to another: across oceans and continents and time zones, forsaking what has grown familiar, and sometimes loved, for what is unknown and strange and often disorienting.

The sense of loss, even grief, that this inevitably brings about is unknown to the villager for whom the past is preserved in the present: the same house, the same trees, the same people: only a little more tatty, a little more dilapidated by the passing years.

In the essay Imaginary Homelands, Salman Rushdie writes:

“An old photograph in a cheap frame hangs on a wall of the room where I work. It’s a picture dating from 1946 of a house into which, at the time of its taking, I had not yet been born. The house is rather peculiar – a three-storeyed gabled affair with tiled roofs and round towers in two corners, each wearing a pointy tiled hat. ‘The past is a foreign country,’ goes the famous opening sentence of L. P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, ‘they do things differently there.’ But the photograph tells me to invert this idea; it reminds me that it’s my present that is foreign, and the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the mists of lost time.”

Tree which are uprooted can sometimes – if the damage is not severe or the trees are still young – be replanted in the same soil. Mostly they just die. Human beings might die a little inside every time they are replanted. But they are sturdier and made sturdier still by optimism. What choice is there, in any case. To look back is only to know and remember that loss.

As the poet Elizabeth Bishop urges:

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

. . .I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster

No comments: