On relationships

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Feeling pretty sombre today. As thoughts turn toward relationships, I can’t but ponder how we, as a collective, find safety in institutions.

Love? make it a relationship.

Commitment? make it a marriage.

Parenthood? make it a family.

Learning? make it a school. A college. An institution.

Friendship? … well.. call it a friendship.

Then standardise some basic rules.

And then, do everything to protect those rules.

If it’s love, it has got to feel a certain way prescribed by poets and cynics and scientists. If it’s marriage, it’s got to function the way it benefits the most dominant paradigm of society, power, division of labour, etc. If it’s parenthood, it’s got to look selfless at least, abide by a certain image, and do justice to a certain set of expectations that take much from traditions and prevalent culture more than they do from what the future might need. If it’s friendship, it’s many things at times far removed from any sense of fairness or individuality. If it’s learning, well, it equals opportunity to multiply wealth at the cost of the learner’s independence, good health at times, and even well-being.

What does this all mean? It means that human society has a damaged core.

You can’t dictate life. You can’t codify living.

If you want to examine how healthy a relationship is, see if things have got better with you ever since.

I remember my grandmother saying something special about the Banyan tree, known in India as the Vad (in Gujarati, my mother tongue) or Bargad (in Hindi, our national language). The great Banyan is also referred to as the Kalpavriksha, meaning the tree that fulfils one’s wishes; the Buddha gained enlightenment under a Banyan tree. The Banyan also stands for longevity and wisdom, as it survives for centuries, standing strong, spreading a huge canopy as it grows.

In all of my gran’s storytelling, people used to rest under a Banyan tree whenever they were travelling from one village to another. Its canopy providing shelter from the hot sun or downpour of rain, helping hide oneself from robbers and dacoits which abound in stories of the yore.

However, when asked as to why we didn’t have a Banyan in our little courtyard filled with mogra and jasmine and okra and kundru/tendli (ivy gourd in English) and Ashoka trees standing upright, she’d say planting a Banyan is no good. It belongs in the forests. Not in homes.

Why?

Because nothing grows beneath a Banyan.

With its canopy so dense and so expansive, with its trunk expanding with every year, a banyan, if it stands for wisdom and longevity, demands a huge price for it all.

Now, when I look to understand relationships, this dialogue of ours invariably comes to mind. Do you want to plant a banyan or do you want a wild forest of your own?

Nothing grows beneath a banyan. You can sit under it for a few moments of rest. Tie its prop roots to make a swing even. But if you want fruits or flowers, a banyan won’t let you. It’s too big to allow for that.

A banyan is all about its own significance.

A banyan signifies an edifice. Not a relationship.

When institutions or relationships or even great human beings become edifices, only insignificant and useless moss grows beneath.

It sometimes amuses me to think that we treat the Banyan as a symbol of wisdom. It promises rest, repose, and seclusion. Not nurture, growth, and creation. A classic symbol of what our institutions have become.