Clean, plain, open, closed, bright,“Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree” by Simi K. Rao
light, shaded, paned, shuttered, blinded, boarded,
rusty, dirty, smoky windows.
broken, shattered, run down windows
Windows that protect and hide,
a mirror to the world outside
and sometimes to the world within,
unraveling layer by layer, revealing
a glance into a soul,
a tool for introspection and scrutiny,
secrets and smokescreens,
evasions, denials, half-truths
Windows, they tell it all.
I felt as if after reading Simi K. Roa’s, Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree, I was able to take a glance into her soul. This eloquent morsel was released in August of last year and is less than 150 pages in length. Rao was born in India, but she has been living in the United States for several years now. She has also published a few other works within the last few years, such as Inconvenient Relations and the Accidental Wife. Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree was the first work of hers that I have read, but it is definitely now a favorite that I highly recommend.
What attracted me first was the title. I had never heard of a Banyan tree, so I searched it.
Originally, they are from the writer’s home country, where underneath the tree is often a center of activity in many of their communities. Magnificently, Banyans can grow up to be 80 feet tall, cover about 14,500 square feet of space, and live to be over two and a half centuries of age. Often, the tree symbolizes fertility, life, and even resurrection. Hindu texts dating back over 2,500 years reference the Banyan tree as a “world tree,” it’s roots reaching the heaves and delivering blessings to earth.
Significantly, the concept of the vastness of this tree, with it’s sturdy roots consuming all in its path, is more than appropriate metaphor in my opinion. It would be difficult to use one word to encumber all that is contained in Rao’s, Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree. However, if I did, I would choose a word that a Banyan tree itself represents. Life.
Life penned by Simi Rao, as I read, had been written through the many lenses that she wore in her time. A Mother. A Physician. An Innocent Child. A Mischievous Teen. A Lover. An Immigrant. A Dreamer. Every poem and short story is coated with her observations of human nature, her experiences a cross-cultured woman, her internal struggles, her perceptions of love, and her emancipation from the darkness that can tend to follow us in life.
The poems were written in a variety of different styles, which I find is important in books such as these. It is more engaging when authors change the rhythm, rhyme patterns (or not rhyme at all), and the topics as well. She accomplished that skillfully, and she also included some excepts from her other books and a few short stories. The poem “Windows” was my favorite poem style wise, and I thought it was very deep. Rao gave us a peek through her window. Through it, the inner workings of her humanity was laid bare, which made almost everything she wrote easy to relate to. I felt as if I could almost feel her soul in some of the poems. Her affection for others and nature was plain to me. Her love of her culture was also evident. In the vivid short story “Mr. Tim“, a little girl befriends a squirrel in a tree. At the end, I almost shed tears just as the character did. The poem “Phobia” cleverly explained how tragic it is that fear can imprison us, even when freeing ourselves from it’s control is more possible than it seems. Simi shared her experiences as a physician with writing of a cancer patient, an addict, and an elderly woman with dementia. And of course, the love stories “Crush” and “A Cup of Chai” were heartwarming.
All that is included in Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree is touching in it own right. As Simi describes it, we must all ride “the carnival of life,” and it is bumpy ride. With all the unrest occurring in the world at present, the burden of simply existing is not foreign to anyone. Nonetheless, Roa reassures in this composition that there is light awaiting after the dark, somewhere a hand is always out-stretched, the beauty of love flows in unlikely places, and that rain will always fall to spread the roots of the Banyan tree.