The Reverse Tree by Kiriti Sengupta, Moments Publication, ISBN-13 (Hardcover) 9789384180775, Price Indian Rs. 160 , US $8.99
“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.”
I had a wonderful opportunity to attend the formal launch of Kiriti Sengupta's latest book The Reverse Tree. Sitting among the audience and listening to the delegates, literary stalwarts were yet another pleasure that we derived from the face to face interactions. The interactions with the intellectuals, academicians, and the demagogues and crusaders of the LGBT, labelled as the ‘third gender’ were really memorable, for I have been reading about ‘Queer Theory’ in Literary Criticism, but the real understanding of the subject was possible, and thanks to Sengupta who invited me to attend the event.
I was spontaneously attracted to the book-cover, depicting a tree with its roots upward and its top facing down. Obviously,it has a philosophical connotation and metaphysical implication as well. Delving deep into the abstract meaning, I came to recall the sloka mentioned in The Kathopnishad, one of the cardinal Upanishads with deep insight into life and death and then realized the symbolical significance of the tree as depicted on the cover of the book:
Urdhva-mulo’vakshakh eshoshachastha sanatana,
tad eva shukra tad brahma, tadevamrtamuchayate,
tasmin lokaarita sarve tadu natyeti kachana: etadvaitat
Reading further led me to realize that even The Geeta has such a sloka that has formed the base of the ideas behind the writer's idea of writing the book in question. By the side of the tree, symbolic of eternity, reversal of the crescent also adds more meaning and relevance to the book. Needless to say, the analogy of The Reverse Tree also finds a mention in some other mystical scriptures of the world.
The Reverse Tree is a kind of autobiographical statement of the writer. It is his ‘honest bondage,’ and ‘a memoir’ that he honestly offer to his readers who, as the author urges, “are wiser than the author.” Divided into six chapters focused on varied and diverse topics of great curiosity, Sengupta allows us to peep into his mind and heart and get at the ultimate cosmic and creative reality by reading between the lines boldly and candidly etched in the book.The Reverse Tree is a short casket of greater thoughts, hereto hidden in the secret corner of our minds, on the feminine traits locked in males.
The first chapter “Anti Clock” talks about the creative force of life. He starts the chapter with a very apt question: “Do they (men) produce?” He himself asks and tries to answer it with logical arrangement of facts, mythologically and physiologically. He states, “Men are not physiologically enabled to bear the fruits of production.” Men are rather “non-yielding entities.” With this factual statement of the truth, he creates a ground and arouses curiosity to go in-depth to understand this.
It is a universally acknowledged fact that woman alone becomes pregnant with creative force. Since the creation of universe, the feministic principles have been dormant and the primordial force. With Indian mythological references we are aware of the sustainer, preserver and destroyer, and they are the manly forces. Even the satanic forces share the same male gender. Hence, reversal of role-play is all that matters.
“In Other Shoes” mentions a funny incident with a serious brooding over getting into the soul of a lady. We are made to think of the transformation of a physical being into something else. Stepping into other’s shoes has been a natural tendency of a child, whether it is a boy or a girl, since their childhood. It is often observed that a boy is made up a bride in a girlish dress with all girlish appearance, and vice versa. This switch-over tendency gets reflected so realistically in this chapter. This is how “one gets into another being so efficiently.” However, the writer seems to be helpless to accept and pronounce it boldly, for he leaves the issue with a question.
“Long … A Metaphor” is a man’s preference to have long hair, symbolical of feminine traits. This has an analogy with the conception of Ardhanarishwar that represents the “synthesis of masculine and feminine energies of the universe.” Feminine appearance is psychologically appeasing and soothing. She is poetry in flesh with tender sensibility. It is likely for this reason that “male poets love to sport a feminine metaphor.”
To me the most important and interesting chapters of the book that appeal to my consciousness are “Crisis,” and “Reversal … Reverse All.” “Crisis” highlights the condition of the third sex: gay men, lesbians, transgenders, and transsexuals. It is about an amalgamation of “both the sexes in a single frame.” Moreover, it is a kind of initiation to the conscious exploration of omni-gendered orientation. The writer expresses his gratitude to Sumita Nandi, an award-winning poet. It is under the poetic spell of her works that he gets some impetus to write about the third sex or gender. Further, he goes to the extent of writing a poem while reading and working on Susmita’s Desirous Water. Sumita Nandy, known for writing “sensuous Bengali poetry” used a male voice in some of her poems. Sengupta also wrote one in the similar fashion, using a female voice in him:
“…I’ve my own equation of love
my he throbs in fire
while my she is coy
my girl shivers at times
she is frank, but shy
she hugs me in deep passion
wetting me with her thin soy
my she gives her all
as my he turns gay.”
The above poem by Kiriti Sengupta, the writer is a bold and brilliant expression in favor of the social and familial acceptance of the gay-sex, hitherto ‘illegal’ and ‘punishable” in India under Section 377 of IPC. He rightly writes, “Gay men often refrain from expressing their sexual orientation in public and our society does not quite encourage a man who has a natural attraction to other men.”
He has very boldly raised the issue of the transgender community which is considered a taboo in our society. He has taken recourse of various sources to validate his points. With a relevant objective in mind, he seems to have a sympathetic attitude towards them and to have brought the issues to the reading community. The writer tries his best to resolve the crisis of gay-sex with didactic and spiritual interpretation of the Vedic texts.
It is a common knowledge that other thanPurush and Prakriti, there is a Tritiya Prakriti— the Third-Sex, as we have our alternative literature like the Dalit literature. Status qua on the neglected sex has post-colonial bases, subaltern elements. He sides with them with an objection to the ban on gay-sex, cruelly imposed by the Supreme Court of India He is right in saying:
"none is black or white when it comes to representing sexual orientation or biasness. We all are biased in one way or the other in our day today living, and who is the one that will paint us in any possible color? Colours mark racial discrimination."
He prefers to be labelled an “alternative poet” for expression of his ecstatic and blissful experience of such orientation...
“…you entered deep into me as did sleep
the moon shined bright
in your seminal light
for many nights... for many nights”
Here comes up the pathetic love story of Lara and Sumit. Through the story of transition of Lara, a girl ‘trapped in a male body,’ and her love. The writer exhibits social and familial concerns and consciousness of the sex workers like Lara who is a transsexual individual. Even they dream of a family, a caring husband and kids. The present book can also be used as a Clarian call to bring the LGBT into the fold- mainstream of society:
“…signs are private, and I keep my eyes
open round the clock.”
In the country where LGBTS are often looked down upon, coming forward in their support is a bold and commendable approach on the part of the author. Who knows the evolution of mankind veers through the dungeon passage of Third gender, from man-woman to transgender to super-beings! Herein lies the translation of his farsightedness into the proper exploration of the human race.
“Jet Lag” is about the reversal of the biological clock. Great works of the world are the result of sacrifices to sleep by the poets, scientists and the writers who “work hand-in-hand, exploring its patterns, beauty, charm and its appeal.” Reflecting his dark side in the floodlight of the days he accepts:
sleep embraces me at last
we are now locked to each other
its lips are vibrating
moving up & down
I can’t hear sleep”
The most important quote that I find quite evocative is:
“they said you were black
they knew they were white
they loved their eyes
this has been the Nelson Mandela patch”
“Reversal... Reverse All” is the quintessential chapter of this book. The evolution is cyclic, taking place through two processes, upward and downward. Philosophically speaking, journey along either of the two may take us to the ultimate reality of anything universal, physical or metaphysical. The same void of the reality lies either beyond death or before birth. What we see in gross forms is nothing but the shape of subtlety hanging in balance in the void or vacuum. In the concluding chapter of the book, Sengupta applies the soothing balm of The Geeta on our wounded consciousness in the age of material prosperity. We are faced with myriads problems of existence — social, familial, political, moral, spiritual to name but a few. Drawing a realistic picture of the contemporary lives and times, the author rightly remarks:
"Values of relationships, marriages, and commitments have seen a drastic downfall leading to many instances of divorce, legal separation, and matrimonial discord … People across all sects of life are impatient, restless, and refuse to pay respect to their seniors and elders."
Taking recourse in spirituality, as propounded in The Geeta may be a panacea in this regard for it is “a time-tested literary-tool that can be employed towards self-development.”An enlightened guide-teacher or mother may help us transcend the ills of the gross world.
It is almost towards the end of the chapter that the implication of The Reverse Tree is spiritually explained through the reference to a Banyan tree, symbolic of a human being. Sengupta quotes from The Geeta:
Asvattham prahur avyayam
Chandam si yasa parnami
Yas tam veda sa veda-vit
(Chapter: XV, verse 1)
Humans have been compared to “such trees (banyan) that have their roots (brain) up and the branches (limbs) down.”
True, it is through reversal of the practice of modern day principles that we can realise the ultimate Truth or Source of human life by understanding “the challenges of life.” Then only can we withstand the ills and evils of the world by implementing spiritual wisdom as contained in the Oriental Philosophy. The chapter ends with a note of despair-
“…and the wounds surface again
in all directions…
sporting the guise of youth...”
To sum up, Kiriti Sengupta’s The Reverse Tree is an experimental account of his experiential learning exposure to the world in general and to the unrevealed dark alley of inner being. It is a unique presentation of patches of fragmented thoughts on varied aspects of human life strongly rooted in the cultural and spiritual earth of India. Sengupta aptly mentions that our life has “numerous folders” since our birth and it keeps unfolding “until the last light,” and the present book is an obvious expression of some of the layers, meanings of life with a fantastic blend of feelings and emotions and iconoclastic thoughts on spirituality. He picks up the best topic and leaves rest to the readers to realize in their own way. The way he presents his views part by part, creating curiosity in the readers, filling the gap with his recurrent poetic pool is quite remarkable from the technical point of view. The style of presenting even small things gives a heightened expression to the content in a successful manner. The author succeeds in etching out great success in the literary arena even before his works turn up wrestling with hard times.
Taking into account all the aspects of his thoughts, feelings, and his writings, it is no exaggeration to proclaim that The Reverse Tree is an interesting synthesis of poetry and prose, spirituality and sexuality, sensuality and sensibility and the ambivalent consciousness of Kiriti Sengupta, a poet and a writer, a demagogue of LGBTs and a man of profound spirituality taken together. Truly, the book “is all about you and me!”
The Reverse Tree by Kiriti Sengupta