The Many Uses of a Banyan Tree
It is not enough to live on or live off a piece of land to establish ownership over it.
Rather, ownership rights are assigned to the one willing to bleed that land till the land ceases to be.
- The trunk of a banyan tree can be caked with vermilion and the land around it can be declared too sacred to be mined. On this sacred land can be established a school of fine arts to provide creative respite for the miners who are worn out from perforating the rest of the valley. The valley’s farmers displaced by the mines can be hired as teachers, and the only puppetry enthusiast among the farmers can be designated the principal. The miners can be promised one free round of laundry for each day they attend school before having to disappear into the mines at night.
- The leaves of the banyan tree can serve as plates for a feast. Row upon row of cross-legged miners can snivel at the rice and curry being ladled onto and then trickling off of the leaves fluttering on the ground. The moment the gong is sounded, they can scoop up these watery mounds with their helmets and funnel them down their gullets. The owners of the mining company, having handed over a tax-exempt donation to the school, can watch over the miners from behind masks of benevolence.
- The bark of the banyan tree can be ground into a powder. The miners who are diabetic can snort this medicinal powder by the cupful. The sugar in their blood now tempered, they can regain the energy to spend night after night inside the mines. When the blurriness—yet another affliction of the diabetics who carve their way into the earth’s womb—dissipates and their vision improves, they can master the art of carving intricate patterns in the school’s pottery class, especially popular with the miners because of their familiarity with its core component: earth.
- The sap of the banyan tree can be cooked down to make glue. Using the glue, all the available chairs can be stuck together to form a stage on which the students in puppetry class can present a puppet play before the entire school. As warranted at the end of all plays brandishing divinity, the virtuous puppets can battle the sinful puppets and can have everyone’s ankles rattling with adrenaline. Everyone can lend a hand when the puppet-limbs strewn across the stage are collected and glued together to form a ten-foot-tall wall around the school. The wall can prevent unwanted eyes from prying into the school’s affairs.
- The hanging roots of the banyan tree can be yanked off its branches to serve as punishment-whips. The teacher of Advanced Finger Painting can call forth the frailest miner in the class and let fly such a whip. “Boxes numbered 1 are to be filled with yellow, and boxes numbered 2 are to be filled with red. Not the other way around,” the teacher can say. Slivers of miner skin can keep flying into the air while neither the whipping nor the wails come to a stop. The teacher can eventually pack up the whip in order to go home and self-flagellate until midnight.
- The fruits of the banyan tree can be painted green and passed off as grapes. The other miners in Advanced Finger Painting can be aware that these pretend-grapes taste foul and are toxic when consumed in excess; they can offer these pretend-grapes as pretend-consolation to the frail, whipped miner. The frail miner can swallow the entire bowl of pretend-grapes, and the other miners can revel in the success of the con. The frail miner can beam at them and beg for more. They can show enthusiasm in keeping the bowls of pretend-grapes coming. Halfway through the sixth bowl, the frail miner can tremble, can collapse to the ground, can get pulled away by the banyan tree, and can get swallowed up by the sacred ground. The banyan tree cannot, but everyone else can run away.
- The sheer size of the banyan tree can provide shade to all. The regrouped farmer-teachers, miner-students, and puppeteer-principal can huddle under it and salute in unison. They can sing a prayer wishing the frail, fallen miner a comfortable journey to depths much deeper than any mine. They can record a jingle extolling their camaraderie that can be used by the mining company in future marketing campaigns. They can bow before the banyan tree, which is the only witness to their collective guilt. They can thank the banyan tree for not raising a hue and cry over the injustice suffered by the frail miner and for deeming it a mere thread in the noose of daily injustices that asphyxiates the earth; they can thank the banyan tree for being pragmatic. The banyan tree can continue to remain silent. Silence can mean forgiveness.
Subhravanu Das is an Indian writer living in Bhubaneswar. His work has appeared in Gordon Square Review, Atlas and Alice, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere.