Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Poet's Aside

The entangled branches of Tangail's tamal tree.
(Photos courtesy of Mohammed Shafiqul Islam).

Hurry! Hurry! Delay is waste, to tarry, distraction: so says the modern world. It’s probably why intercity buses stop only once, at some kind of wannabe-grand roadside eatery with a fluorescent name along the lines of “Food Village” or “Leisure Spot.” The conductor says we’ll be stopping for twenty minutes. It means half an hour.

Lord Krishna's tamal tree. Can you hear his flute song?

But the village flute doesn’t run like an intercity bus. For one thing, everybody knows a flute song never need cram extra passengers in. For another, flute songs don’t travel at death-defying speed. No – the meandering, the tugging of the soul along detours and improvised paths is what any flute song is about.

…which is why, though time is of the essence and we should be hurtling non-stop towards Dinajpur by now, it can happen that the flute leads us momentarily elsewhere, to a different kind of leisure spot. 

Like the flute, this place was favoured by Lord Krishna. It’s to be found in Tangail.

A journey by flute meanders, tugs the soul.
Moreover, well, let me be clear… It’s not a physical journey that I write of this time – I’ve never been there. It’s a journey heard about, a place that might be hoping to be known. Who am I to refuse the wishes of such a place? And instead of leisure – we are, after all, talking of Lord Krishna, we might say pleasure.

The hearing of the place came about when Shahjalal University of Science and Technology English lecturer and poet Mohammad Shafiqul Islam contacted me recently. Our conversation worked its way towards villages as conversations often do with me. The Tangail native was keen to speak of a village three kilometres east of Ghatail Upazila’s Sagardighi – the village called Gupta Brindaban in reference to Lord Krishna’s childhood home. Our poet wanted to tell about an old tamal tree.

The tamal tree collects the threads of people's prayers.
The last time he reached there, he says, with friends he sat beneath that tree and took comfort from its shade. It offered coolness and peace on a day of particularly scorching heat. “We were showered with the grace of life,” is how our poet described it.

Sridan, Sudan, Basudam, Subal, Madhumangal, Subahu, Arjun, Gandharba, Daam, Stokkrishna, Mahabal and Mahabahu: when Lord Krishna reached the place many moons earlier he brought with him twelve friends, according to our poet – others say there were sixteen. He came for leela, for secret pleasure.

It’s believed Krishna used to sit in the tree and play his flute. To its melody Radha would be entranced, Krishna absorbed in the duality of music and love. At other times his friends would be with him and Lord Krishna would take pleasure of a more platonic kind. Either way, Krishna is said to have stayed by that tamal tree for a long time.

As his forefathers did, Sree Prafulla Chandra Baishnaba cares for the tree.
“Sree Prafulla Chandra Baishnaba welcomed us with a smiling face when we arrived,” says our poet. Like his father and forefathers before him, he has taken on the duty of looking after the tree. There’s a temple nearby, the Bigraha Mandir, where people every day offer puja.

Krishna devotees fasten threads around the tamal tree’s branches, believing their ailments can be cured and wishes fulfilled by God’s grace. Muslims and Christians are also known to revere that place. 

Hundreds of years: the root of the tamal tree.
“The tree,” says our poet, “now hundreds of years old with its skin dried up, may seem weak with the weight of age but from the tranquillity of shade it grants devotees – with the nurturing of secret wishes and the drawing of feelings of sacredness from hearts, it surely measures great strength.” As Krishna once played his flute people now spend long hours absorbed in meditation.

“Their faces seem to glow with heavenly colours,” says our poet. “They begin to feel light, both physically and mentally as God is sure to grant life to their hopes.”

The tree itself is said to have died many years ago – but people did not stop their worship when it was lifeless – and then, after twelve years its branches mysteriously donned once more the decoration of new green leaves.

“Sree Prafulla showed us other aspects of the tree that are unusual,” says our poet. “It has an opening in the root and trees should not survive in a condition like that. And the shade it provides is extraordinary.” 

Through the twisted, turning years of this world...

Two branches of the tree are unusually entangled around one leafless, small branch – it is believed that was the branch upon which flute playing Lord Krishna sat.

In Chaitra month on occasion of Madhukrishna Troyodoshi a festival is held. Thousands of people congregate – of many faiths and from as far as India.

But of course one can’t anticipate taking comfort from the shade of a tamal tree forever. The devotees take their spiritual fill from the Radha-Krishna pleasure grove and eventually leave. Poets must understand too, of course, that once a poem is done there’s a need to move on. Even Lord Krishna, though he may have stayed for many days knew he had more to do elsewhere. 

Krishna the flautist, with Radha, at the nearby temple.
Our poet with his wife.
“As we left,” says our poet, “We carried with us a distinct celestial feeling of solemnity and sanctity.”

And so, like the devotees, like our poet and Lord Krishna, we are also bound to move forward. The village flute cannot give pause to the song for long. 

And so, like the intercity bus the mind with body must re-embark… One stop is sufficient, surely, for the trip to Dinajpur. Don’t worry it’ll only take twenty minutes, which really means half an hour. Don’t be late in getting, once more, on board.

With thanks to Mohammad Shafiqul Islam for sharing his experience.

The tamal tree from the south.

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