This image features a stock image vintage illustration of espalier, the horticultural practice of training trees to grow a certain way.

Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.

In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.

Drawing by Varsha

April 13, 2021
Dear Sharon

What I’ve always loved and wished for is a tamarind tree, and in late 2019 I met a grand old one, with a narrow bit of land attached. The tree commands the entire eastern side.

I’ve always believed you don’t own land and what stands on it, it’s just a contract of promise one makes to honour it whilst fulfilling a wish.

And, you certainly don’t own the tree – I told myself. The tree owns you. You owe it everything – your very being. The land and trees will be standing in one form or another well after you are gone…

What is ‘normal’, I ask. Are things the way they were, normal? Haven’t we been on our way to be gone for a while now? And what is the normal we hope to return to? The so-called ‘new’ normal? Pandemic or not, this tree springs forth shoots, flowers and offers tangy fruits as it has done for decades now and will continue to do so. Except not so with the talipot palm that grows nearby. Don’t know how old it is but this palm, also known as the shadow palm, tends to grow to be 70 or more with the knowledge that at the peak of its life, after it puts forth the largest single inflorescence ever and then scatters the fruit and seeds, it will start to die soon after. Its magnificent leaves will droop one by one covering the base like a faded old skirt until they all dry up. It takes a year or two – embracing death whilst still alive.

That too is normal. There’s nothing new about it.

“You have a preexisting health condition so don’t be reckless”, I am told repeatedly, “don’t be out and about unnecessarily”. Just like preexisting times – the ‘before’ pandemic ones – this preexisting health condition is not normal.

Going to visit the trees is….. very normal. Necessary even.

You introduced ‘your’ mangrove tree at your birthday gathering and I was so touched. There it was, a sure dark shape on my screen as the sun was setting into the sea lapping not far behind. They seem so fragile, mangrove trees, but so strong and stoic standing amidst a shifting landscape of sand, earth, movement of tide and time… and, this one with the refinery nearby belching out stuff. You did post photos of the flames.

Yes, as you so aptly put it, they endure and we feel compelled to visit for the reassurance they give. Especially in moments when all seems lost.

On one of these visits after last monsoon and during the lockdown, I planted some amaltas nearby thinking their golden showering flowers may be welcome. But they didn’t survive. That’s normal – in your mind you see budding bunches, in reality the sapling says: no, don’t like it here– and you learn from this – it’s not just about you.

I visited ‘my’ tree again today, and you tell me you visited ‘yours’. As you said, “You know what I mean when I say ‘yours’ and ‘mine’… not possessive, more like we belong to each other in a relationship, us and the trees.”

I want this to be set as the norm – that every human must enter into such a sacred relationship of visiting a tree or two as part of their routine.

What I also want is a courtyard at the far western end of the plot from where I can watch the changing light. And to see the tamarind blooming only to shed as it does seasonally, and continue to draw an expanding large circle underneath with a carpet of leaves and wilted bits.

I want to learn to draw this way – gaining by shedding.

… I want to be around to see days dawn…

I’d like for my knees to be strong enough so I can climb a bit into the lower branches and feel what it’s like to be in a tamarind’s belly surrounded by dense foliage. But I am not sure if I really want this – to climb. I mean, I do want strong knees.

I absolutely want the neighbour’s buffalos and goats to continue to poo around its trunk whilst they munch on the growing wilderness, and the visiting monkeys to chuck down pods from way up high.

Oh and I very much want for the solitude of the lockdown to return – the guilt free time of gaining much from going nowhere, doing little.

– Varsha Nair, Baroda, India

Image of Country Musik: Movements #13, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.