The Tree by Manoj Das: Short Story

The Tree’ is a short story written by the famous Indian author Manoj Das. Manoj Das was born in Balasore, Odisha in 1934. He is considered to be a social critic and his work in fiction depicts authenticity in the portrayal of characters and the atmosphere.

The Tree‘ seems more like a fable. Yet, beneath the layer, it addresses the relevant questions of superstition, the vulnerability of our villages in the wake of natural calamities and the importance of trees.

The story begins with the prediction of an imminent flood in the village (situated in Odisha). It is a phenomenon that wrecks this village almost every year. People living downstream are adept at staying perched up on the trees for 3-4 days during the time of the floods.

The imagery of the ‘tame river’ of the villagers turning into a monster to gulp a portion of the grassland each time it swelled up is created.  In addition, there is the metaphorical description of ‘The moon was fully draped in clouds and the stars looked pallid as the eyes of dead fish’ to lend intensity to the impending calamity. There is also a boat that is caught in the waves of the river and the villagers assure the people stuck on it to wait patiently till dawn, to be saved by ropes.

Now begins the beauty of weaving anecdotes with ‘The Tree’. This tree had once saved the King. The King had cut its branches to extend his palace and had wanted to uproot it, but had no other means to save his and his family’s life during a similar flood. The story of the divine power held in the tree spread across and soon a deity was placed underneath the tree. The villagers prayed for the intervention of famous deities of distant temples in more complex situations, but smaller issues were referred to the ‘Goddess of the Tree’. The children had found the Goddess helpful in their problems related to homework and saving them from the wrath of the school teacher.

On the practical front, the writer depicts an old lady selling leaves under the shade as she finds it difficult to walk the entire way to the market. And, the village elders took important decisions under the ‘Tree’ that was governed by the divine power (or as they believed).

The grand setting without introducing the characters goes on for quite a length. The lead is to the camaraderie of Nirakar Das, the retired school teacher, and Ravinder, the grocery shop-owner who realize that nature has wreaked havoc and the tree might get uprooted. The birds and snakes have already left their abode, the tree. There is great commotion, with people from different segments of rural life commenting on the probable collapse of the tree.

An MLA (elected public representative) who is passing by the village tries to intervene, suggesting how he is the servant of the people, now that the era of British and Rajas (kings) is a relic of the bygone. 

However, the tree’s trunk is weak and dashes into the river. The final resort is to say, ‘Hari bol!’, save the Goddess and pray for the tree to be reborn as thousand trees.   

This story has a rich rustic flavour and beyond the environmental relevance of trees, it highlights the human association with trees.

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