Under the Shade of Banyan Tree- A Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Windows

Clean, plain, open, closed, bright,
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.

“Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree” by Simi K. Rao

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.

Inertia: A Short Story

 

There was nothing in this place.

She knew, in a physical sense, that there were neurons whizzing about, and of the various stew of ingredients that made up her brain. She supposed there were the thoughts she had now as well, that kept her occupied and perplexed at this very idea of emptiness.

What did she mean really?

Thoughts themselves aren’t palpable, but they are there. Perhaps it is the lack of tangibility that she was referring to, with the exception to what she seemed to relive in her memories.

She found that is what she wanted the most.

Something to touch.

It had been something she had been willing to give up before. She sighed, inwardly, at the memory of her foolishness then. She had been asked about it once, by her boyfriend on their second date.

“If you had to choose, which of the five senses would you be the willing to give up?”

She recalled how she had reasoned it to him. No pain when you hurt yourself. No suffering when you come to your end. Julian had gazed at her thoughtfully as he listened, nodding.

She had taken a sip of her tea, which she had ordered and purchased in the cafe they were in.

Julian smirked. “Feels nice, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” She replied. “but isn’t it a small price to pay?”

He considered that for a moment, looking through the large windows. “Let’s say it was freezing outside, and you had been walking in the cold. And then you come in here and get your tea. And it feels warm against your hands, and going down once you drink it. You’d give up that sort of comfort?”

She chuckled. “I don’t think if I’d actually feel cold or warm at all without my sense of touch.”

“You’re clever.” His brown eyes twinkled, and he took a sip of his coffee. “Right, that’s possible.”

“Even so…” She continued, “if I didn’t feel it, I’m still getting warm anyway, aren’t I?

Julian agreed, but still seemed to have something on his mind. She didn’t quite remember what he had picked when she asked him the same question, but he had explained the usefulness and beauty in all the senses. We wouldn’t hear music…we wouldn’t smell smoke if there were a fire…we couldn’t see the smiles of those we hold dear…and one word: Chocolate. She then told him she didn’t like chocolate, to which he thought he was insane. They had laughed at that and made easy conversation thereafter.

When he had taken her home, the sun was just beginning to set. He parked the car in the lot in front of her apartment building, watching as she gathered her things to leave.

“Sara.”

She turned to him and his eyes peered into her as he put a warm palm against her cheek. He eased closer and closer and so did she. His lips were soft as he kissed her, and moved slowly, gently against hers.  She felt like world was being reborn around her, and as if she was spinning, yet so still all at once. Julian breathed, stopping suddenly and disorienting her.

Tenderly, he smiled. “Feels nice, doesn’t it?”

She tried to shake the memory away. The thought of Julian caused her such anguish. Never had she felt so desperate for the comfort that came from sensation. She wanted to feel tears run down her cheeks, the softness of Nemo’s fur, the prickliness of blades of grass between her toes, and the soothing warmth from the sun.  She wanted badly to embrace him and to tell him how much she loved him and missed him and how sorry she was.

But that was not possible.

She was stuck in this state of in-animation. It was only two days before their wedding. She just wanted to go to the florist to see if the flowers were in. Her mother had told her not to go, but she had insisted. She wanted to feel at least a little bit in control of her wedding, even if it was just the flowers. She had thought about going to the Starbucks across the street first and getting a tea. And there is where it happened. As she was taking a right turn, a speeding Honda slammed into her.

Since then, she’s had a lot of time to think about her choices. What if she hadn’t gone to the florist at all? What if she waited to go to Starbucks after her trip the florist? What if she had gone in the evening instead of the morning? She knew that these thoughts were pointless now, but she seemed to realize through the posing of these questions that life is truly made up of our choices.

Our choices, and those of others dictate our fate.

A sort of epiphany consumed Sara for a time. She would have never met Julian if it wasn’t for her choosing to go to their campus’ planetarium on a rainy Tuesday in September two years ago (at least she hoped it was still only two years ago.) Maybe she wouldn’t have even talked with him if she hadn’t brought her Neal deGrasse Tyson book along with her, to which Julian glanced at with interest and proceeded to strike up a conversation about neutrinos. The elaborate thought enveloped her when she realized how her friendships, interests, and career endeavors were all a product of her choices and those by others as well. The idea reminded her of the investigation board used by detectives in crime shows when they use tacks and string to show connections between the victims, subjects, places, and occurrences. Everything that made up her life was beautifully and terribly linked and collaborative.

Now she laid in her gown, she guessed.

On a bed attached to a machine.

A constant, incessant beeping.

Flowers rotting in the corner and Get-Well-Soon balloons deflated.

Nurses and doctors becoming bored in her inertia.

All her choices were connected and brought her to this moment.

She hoped she had not made her last.

 

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