Photo-Essay: The tree with many eyes

The sepia sky of an autumn evening

By Chayanika Saikia

October brings in a mixed sensation in the air. The reminiscent of blissful drizzles infusing with gentle autumn breeze beneath a sepia sky, sweeps away the perplexities of a mind in slumber. I find these autumn evenings great for self-exploration, making one’s inner vision clear like the photo of the last strip of golden light that I could catch by my window after a daylong downpour.

My profession has given me an opportunity to get posted in one of the most serene places of the country and to live in an accommodation nestled amidst the unbound beauty of nature where I can claim to call a small woodland as my own. My mind did take a little time to get oriented towards the mirabella of the pristine woodland with its evergreen demeanor, twittering birds, butterflies and beguiling beds of wildflowers, leaving behind the dazzling charms of the capital city. Yet once my mind accepted its surrounding, calmness started seeping into me like sunshine. I felt that the woods also acknowledged my presence by extending their branches towards me and eventually a forest started growing inside my heart, the forest of sprouting emotion and expression, the forest of the untold words.

Day dreaming with vagabond clouds passing by my window
The tree with many eyes

One evening, I was talking to the wise tree, occupying a conspicuous position in my woodland. Over the years of my stay in the place, I have developed a remarkable bond with this particular tree which has many eyes carved on its bark. Although I’m not sure about its species, someone mentioned it as the Indian Aspen/Poplar tree. Regardless of its ethnic identity, I believe, the tree with many eyes would be able to see more of the inner side of me, and would tell me what I am. An island or a forest?

The souvenir of an autumn shower
The last strip of sunset after a daylong downpour

In the beginning of the conversation that day, the tree wanted to know what made me happy in my childhood. My reply was that I felt happy and contented whenever I could manage to make my parents proud with my achievements. The early phase of my youth was a time of turmoil and restlessness; I was always in a hurry to reach nowhere. In the latter phase, I decided to set some achievable goals for my future, such as studying hard, finding a job that pays well and enjoying rest of my life by doing things that please me. Mercifully, my wishes were granted; my goals were achieved. The mission of initial 30 years of my life was well-accomplished with additional perks of being a wife and a mother.

Listening to me, the tree with many eyes smiled by swirling its branches with a rustling sound and asked, “What gives you pleasure now?” This question, had it been asked few years ago, could have left my thoughts muddled with a mild pain in the heart. But not now, as I have ingrained the answer in me and in fact, it is not an answer; but a process or an idea, ever evolving within me. I call it purpose. My purpose gives me pleasure.

The tranquillity of a wildflower

The thought-provoking quote of Robert Byrne “The purpose of life is a life of purpose”, indeed, induces a subtle jolt inside every self-conscious middle-ager of our time. The goals that we set out during our early phase of life to achieve success, may not remain same as of what we tend to seek during the later course.

The diamonds of raindrop on a Taro leaf

Achievements in one’s life resembles a bouquet of beautiful flowers, appealing yet short-lived. The initial plans of my life, no doubt, have brought success and enabled me to live a good life with a good rank in the scalebar of society. But once the jiffy excitement of those achievements passed over, soon I started feeling empty from inside. The way of enjoying life in terms of earthly possession of a good place to live in, good food to relish on, entertainment, etc., although hard-earned and satisfactory, are ephemeral like the bouquet of flowers. When we choose to live life by fulfilling our targets set by us or by the society, even though we succeed, we lose something or some part of us while doing so. While chasing those targets, we set aside our other priorities, undermine pivotal relationships, shrinking into our own shell. We become a lonely island in the vast ocean of life; self-made, self-guarded.

Salman Rushdie used the word ‘selfistan’ in his acclaimed book Shalimar the Clown: “Why don’t we just draw a circle around our own two feet and call it Selfistan?” Even though it might be pointing to the power of self-determination exercised by a group of people to form a piece of land to call as their own, we can relate the term with one’s impervious individualistic approach towards own life too. In a philosophical sense, every person is a lonely island inside the heart. As stated by philosopher Sartre, loneliness is a fundamental part of the human condition because of the paradox between people’s consciousness desiring meaning in life and the isolation and nothingness of the universe. Nevertheless, the loneliness arising out of our maddening rush to fulfil the promised desires of heart is not desirable at any phase of life, as it leaves us self-centered, self-absorbed, aloof from the world, from ourselves. As opposed to this, a well-defined and well-understood purpose helps us to stay connected to the people, to grow and bloom together as a garden full of flowers, together in the sun, together in the rain, like the trees in a forest, feeling accomplished in the heart, not as a naval-gazing lone island.

The evergreen woodland outside my window, inside my heart

A purpose is the ever-blooming tranquil lotus inside the soul chamber, and it is not same as the target or goal we set, nor it is a voyage into the unknown water scouting the lost island of great revelation. One’s purpose of life can be a simple, humanly planned thing that can become an incessant process with a greater reason in one’s life to move ahead. The next question from the tree with many eyes was, “So what purpose did you find for yourself?” My reply was: “My purpose is to stay immortal.” With those words coming out of me, I heard a mass sigh from the woodland and few birds flew away with sudden chirps. The tree took another swirl with a gust of wind and the wind whispered, “Your purpose is unachievable.”

I believe that the purpose we embrace in later life may not necessarily be achievable in terms of the plans we make to achieve targets in the usual path of life, as it is solely related to our inner journey leading us to a realm of perpetual peace. Therefore, my idea of achieving eternity may not require any full-proof, deliberate planning. Rather, I may seek ways as simple as like giving something to the people, to the world, so that I would be remembered by them even when I’m gone. My words, my works would be the ways to achieve eternity in the minds of the universe.

The sepia sky of an autumn evening

Unlike my wise tree, I have only a pair of eyes. But with a soulful purpose to live on, one pair of eyes with enlightened vision is all I would need. Technically my profession allows me to see 4000-5000 meter of depth down the earth’s surface. The earth that one can see down below is not the one we see above on the ground. Nature has bountifully covered up earth’s layers and layers of soils with all sorts of life and beauty above it. I believe each person starts life as a self-absorbed island with layers of lifeless soils down below, until one day he or she finds a purpose that enables them to grow an entire forest inside their heart by establishing the shrine of peace and contentment and to connect themselves to the world by extending their green branches. Once I was an island with my plans of life, achieving them and planning again to achieve again, dwelling around the border of my ‘selfistan’. In the process of seeking and finding a purpose under the tranquil shadow of the wise tree, I became a forest.  Evergreen, ever-expanding.

All photographs ©Dr. Chayanika Saikia

Dr. Chayanika Saikia is a geoscientist by profession working for a national oil company and lives in Noida. Her recent works have been published/accepted in journals like EKL review, Setu Bilingual, Piker Press, Hakara, New York Parrot, Indian Periodical, etc. and anthologies like Poetry Unites, The Kali Project, Antargatha, Ismat, etc. She is the founder & editor of Assamese e-magazine Katha-kanchan.


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