2017 - In second year of my Bachelors at the National Institute Design, our final project was to design exhibits. Each year, the themes change and we were given, Trees and Tales for 2017. We all had to pick a tree we had childhood memories and convert those into exhibit experiences.
Sounds exciting, right? Except that, I didn't have a tree. My college batch mates had trees in their backyards, or farms. Someone grew up making water bubbles out of Papaya stem, while another ate all kinds of bananas in their village. I hardly knew of any trees beyond my school textbooks. The only thing closest to having a relationship with a tree was me drinking coconut water once in a while and a rental house we lived in for two years had a coconut tree in the living room (which my father painted light pink and hung a bright blue monkey soft toy on top!). Could coconut be my tree? Alas! My friend grew up in a Tal farm, which could be considered coconut's family. It seemed like he "owned" the tree. Too similar. Anyway what new would I bring to the table except the pink bark and the blue monkey?
In the next week, I would walk around the campus trying to connect with a tree. Are you the one? Or maybe you are? But they all seemed too foreign. Some too tall, some didn't have colourful flowers, some had bark without any interesting texture, some's leaves were boring!
A senior then pointed out how I drink my daily chai below a peepal tree. I stared at the majestic being that provided me shelter everyday. That weekend, when I took a trip around the town, I saw Peepal tree everywhere. Maybe they were following me so that I choose them?
Nah, I was following them! Thats it. That was my tree.
For the weeks to come, I studied Peepal, their contours, patterns, colours, the stories they lived with. Did you know that Peepal could literally grow anywhere? They didn't seem to care about humans, religion, concrete. I knew this was my story: One about their resilience and strength. I based my final exhibit on this. Check it out here.
2020 - Moving forward, years later when somebody would ask me what other name I would give myself beyond Kshitij (that is another story, I hope to share soon), I found myself saying, Peepal Ka Ped, without thinking much. As an adult, becoming myself, I wanted to become Peepal. I wanted their resilience.
2021 - A few months after that, I read, How I became a Tree by Sumana Roy. In the chapter, In Love with a Tree, she too, like me, confessed about similar feelings, about being in a polyamorous relationship with trees. But this time around, I was reading it with a critical anthropocentric lens. Why did we both think about trees this way? What were the triggers? Perhaps, we were assigning values to trees that we couldn't find in our human relations and identities? I am not sure. But surely, Peepal did not care about what I thought. Just like, other humans, religion, concrete. Didn't even think of me or realised I existed. A sense of coldness washed over me. Just like Sumana, I had fallen in love with a tree only to be heartbroken.