Artist A Ramachandran’s richly metaphorical trees are a visual feast and a botanist’s confusion, writes Rupika Chawla
These trees. you can’t see the woods for them. They are nothing like the woods you have seen, not even the dark and deep woods—perhaps more so the dark and deep ones. For in such woods trees huddle together, comfortable in their sameness, grow branches and twigs and shoots and shadows, loving their identical nature, happy to create darkness and deepness because they can go on and on repeating themselves until the woods run out.
My thoughts are now on individual trees, each different from the other, trees that spring from the soil of the mind, spreading out as the imagination takes hold. Painter and sculptor A Ramachandran finds trees that never grow and plants them in his idealised Bhil country near Udaipur. He would be both a botanist’s delight and confusion, for while they would sigh with pleasure over these very unique trees, they would also sigh with regret at not having seen them before.
Ritual of Dasamata (Ritual of the Ten Goddesses) and Vermillion Mark are perhaps familiar, viewed sometimes at the edge of a village grove, embraced by a girdle of red thread or streaked with a blood-coloured stroke. These are the quiet rituals of women with their many prayers for their loved ones, for the fertility of the soil and for their own. And why shouldn’t a thickly foliaged tree really be an Umbrella Tree that can be carried around while crossing blazing distances? There is peace under such a tree, in the company of impossibly large butterflies and arms that will never ache holding it aloft.
Let’s not place the Chaya Vriksha (Umbrella Tree) near the babbling Speaking Tree, for its tranquillity will be lost. Lovely as its flowers and leaves are, only venture close to the Speaking Tree if the mood for company is overpowering. Perhaps the heat of the Agni Vriksha (Fire Tree) will lull the Speaking Tree to sleep as it displays its bright upward dancing flames. All the Bhils that live in Ramachandran’s mind will creep out on winter nights to warm their bodies near the Fire Tree.
Warmed by the fire and much else, many will wander towards the Tree of Desire, grafted by Ramachandran from a 1980 version of this species, the Virahini Nayika. One of the Bhils has already made her way to its shelter and is casting provocative glances. The Fertility Tree has made its way right next to the Tree of Desire, for as you sow, so shall you reap.