Photo Essay for the October Issue.

As They Speak To Me.

By Priyanka Chatterjee

The grammar of photography has never perturbed me. Someone once told me about the frame which my practice of framing has reduced to meaning ‘undisturbed background’, an ambience of seeming order. However, I feel, I care less of that as well nowadays, the need to pose things as orderly, tranquil. Maybe it is due to the unthought-of which surfaced to smother the seeming order of life during the pandemic that has led to this tiredness of posing ‘good times’. While becoming more inward looking, these years have also made me search without, outside of me, to understand more of me. While the curious transaction between within and without is sometimes incomprehensible, I didn’t realise, albeit in retrospect, that these pictures had randomly gathered in the photo gallery of my mobile phone- pictures of trees with their stark branches. It was while scrolling, mostly to clear memory, that the picture of these trees, which stand in the sprawling campus of the University of North Bengal, and some even outside of it, stared at me, almost coaxing me to recall the memory of the moment that turned me to them.

Empty trees? Trees bereft of leaves? A seasonal phenomenon that passes inconsequentially before one’s eyes like day or dawn. What did I see? Scorched by experiences that could not be resolved until the heart could embalm itself, I must have been looking for resilience, I realise. Do these trees lose to gain? Is their equation of loss and gain same as ours? Or do they remain unperturbed by what we think of as an event of loss- this falling of leaves? This bareness? I felt there was no anxiety in them, as if they know what goes might come, as long as life sustains itself. May be they just let themselves be. They neither attach themselves to leaves nor to flowers. Whatever comes, comes to the same heart which sees it all go. They attach themselves to nothing, as everything is a part of who they are, and nothing defines them fully. I wanted to imbibe the spirit of these trees.

Hence, their life is not a waiting room- waiting to be fulfilled. I was thinking of my provincial life which has a qualifier- belatedness. It is considered imperative to be forward looking, to keep searching for means that could ameliorate the effects of arriving late. But ‘tree time’, as Sumana Roy calls it, is that which does not leave the tree bereft, in want of credentials to be a tree. Waiting could be a choice, while to feel arrived at could as well be a liveable reality where one could allow oneself to compliment the ambience in the way they are. Does accepting oneself means denying movement? That would be the end of time, end of life may be. Isn’t the tree working, inside and outside the ground on which it stands? Silently working towards a certain sense of the beyond that does not cripple, but emancipates?

Thus they are whole, at any moment they are here. This here-ness, I would say, that innate constituent that strikes a chord with ‘I am here’, in spring or winter, to learn and unlearn, is not about unfulfilled waiting. I think this resilience is different from fighting the odds, or displaying the strength to go on. It is more about participating with life, not standing against it. It is about a belief that time rolls on, and that is the nature of time, just as here-ness is the nature of trees. Here-ness is a silent working at the roots. I wanted to imbibe that from the trees- the necessity to realise none is omnipotent here- neither life, nor time, nor me. We are in this game together and silently working through our ways.

I noticed this tree near the girls’ hostel at NBU and stopped to see the colours. The colours, brown and red, the red with the brown, the brown with the red. I felt I understood interdependence by then- these trees, the mountains I see every day, the sunset and the sunrise- all in sync with my being here. All I want to derive for them all is here-ness- the resilience to be here, not in combat, but in partaking.

Priyanka Chatterjee is from Siliguri. She is currently working with the University of North Bengal and has published with Himal Southasian, LiveWire, Feminism in India among others. 

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