‘And every tree that has fruit’

Because I come from a Christian family, I used to haughtily explain myself, even though I don't really come from a Christian family. In fact, I come from a Hindu family that converted suddenly when I was very young, for reasons that were never made clear to me. "And now we must get a Christ tree," my father announced soon after that decision was made. "The Christ tree will show everyone that we have been reborn in the blood of the saints. And also that we are very modern indeed."

We had little more than weeds on our tiny property, save for a runt-sized fig tree that had sprouted out of the garbage pit the previous year. But if that was our salvation, so be it. We borrowed a harvester's knife from a neighbour, and out the two of us went. My father was no woodsman, however, and it took us close to an hour to hack the tree down – thwock, thwock, thwock! By the time the thing came down, its base was shredded, several large cracks were running up its trunk, and the stump was bleeding a clear, viscous, fig-smelling liquid. My father was mumbling to himself – blood of the saints … very modern indeed – and I was weeping openly with guilt and trepidation. What a beastly thing, this Christ tree!

And sure, we put the fig's mangled carcass outside of our front gate, for all the neighbours to see. But for the most part, everyone continued to treat us the same as they always did. The fig tree, meanwhile, never grew back; but its roots remained oddly strong, and its wounds have festered. Even today, a quarter-century later, the stump continues to well forth, the smell of old figs still hanging in the air.

This is part of a regular series of Himal's commentary on work by artists incarcerated in Tihar Jail, Delhi, made available through the Ramchander Nath Foundation (www.rnf.org.in). This work is by Vijay, acrylic on paper, 18"x25"

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