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Gopal Lahiri
The Reverse Tree
Gopal Lahiri

Book Review

Kiriti Sengupta
The Reverse Tree
Ahmedabad: Moments Publication. Oct 2014
ISBN-13: 978-93-84180-77-5
Pages 62 | Rs 160 (HB)

Understanding the existence of mankind: A reverse approach

Kiriti Sengupta’s latest volume of work The Reverse Tree unfolds with intricate details and unexpected delights, and it reveals the disparate realities of life through seamless fusion. One will look in vain perhaps for something mystic or magical but Sengupta’s dissection of the lifeline experiences, and the literary tone of his voice, set this book above his contemporary writers.

Sengupta is candid as always: “I believe when lives can be random, why would I possibly plan to order and smoothen the transitions? Let them remain as it is.” In his foreword, Don Martin, the editor remarks that he likes two things of Sengupta: “The first is how honest he is.” The second one is: “…he can make the cultural aspects of his work understandable to those who may not be so familiar with them.”

There are six chapters in this book and they are imaginatively inventive to understand the meaning of life. Each chapter represents the working out of a single idea of randomness yet the question remains as Sengupta stated in a different context, “How does one get into another being so effortlessly?” Stories, sub-stories, subtle poems and back-stories of biological clock, recipe for making laccha parantha, mimicry, long haired male poets and feminine metaphors (Kiriti admitted once: “men are my keys”), transgender woman and the embedded values in reversals abound though at the center of the way of his writings is the spiritual essence. It’s an amalgam of hues and textures, introducing a new dimension to the narrative that is vastly different from the traditional up and down staffs.

One of the ways, he’s chosen to explore the issues through honest admission, is the skin colour/ racial overtone, or gay-sex/ criminal offence, etc. Sometimes his characters are in crisis and chaos but fight back at the end.

“Living as a transgender is not an easy task, to say the least. I have seen Lara managing the role of a female that she was not bestowed with, but she was a free spirit and took up the challenges with full enthusiasm.” (Crisis)

Sengupta’s thoughts on dissecting humans are intriguing. In his creative world everything, even the steamy desires, is joined and unified.

I have my own equation of love
my he throbs in fire
while my she is coy
There are wonderful sentences attempting to capture something that most conventional writings, with their usual plot and scene norms fail to do: the drift of thought, the snippets of undramatic life and the unheard music that compounds with the intensity that is lyrical and romantic yet distant and dissonant.
I know the shape of fish-lip
gives hint of the water color deep

my lips are thin
no trace of color, but water

There is a poem on “sleep” that provides an extraordinary view of events –
I see sleep
sitting idle both side
beneath my eyes

but only two of us
in the room for one...
Sengupta writes personal anecdotes, pain and anguish in life and his clear eyed attention brings each topic into dizzying focus. Paying his tribute to his mother, Sengupta wrote, “If I am asked to pick a single teacher who has shaped me and my life, I will mention my mother.” Writing about the personal and the public with equal efficiency, his work contains a lot of useful and interesting information about the way the world wags these days. He makes his write all that easy yet his wit and analytical mind create the immediacy.

More often than not, Sengupta allows us to have a private glimpse of his creative mind. His prose is a tale of our time, a powerful condemnation of inequality and animal instincts. Again as in the case of a few selected writers, he has a great gift for clarity; his prose is precise and heartfelt – achieving a timeless, polished quality, and his words especially in his poems heighten his emotions.

Talking about reversals, Don Martin observes, “Maybe it is more accurate to say that the reversal is more along the lines of things not always being what you might expect them.” Sengupta figures out that “The Geeta is the most precious gift to our civilization that has been much endangered by the animal-instincts of humans. Reversal of such animal instincts deserves austerity, and it demands our strict adherence to the lessons as laid down in the chapters.” He has introduced a new way of forcing the changes in life in reversals that are multivalent and varied and you can almost hear the resonance in the following poem –
the shoot is long and thick
smoother skin palpating beneath
no study of the plants, but of humans
the words of mouth
call upon true reversal
(Reversal … Reverse All)
Everything in Sengupta is connected; more than that, everything is infused, or always infusing. No other book in recent times includes and enacts so much, and we feel as we read that we are dealing in spiritual essence and distillation.

The Reverse Tree is all about our understanding of the existence of mankind,” says Sengupta. For all its richness it has a simple tale to tell: we are only ever a fraction of ourselves because most of what we are continuous under or alongside our consciousness, unseen, unknown, uncharted, and we need to reverse it out. Never tiresome, this book explores the heart of the issues and it is this that the arguments are riotously broad in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew. Sengupta never indulges in wrestling with grand themes.

There is no denying that The Reverse Treehas a beguiling mixture of lightness and weight, and most definitely it is a big step forward for the author to create a space for his readers and perhaps it is much more than that. It is a chronicle of the spiritual life that gets decanted unobtrusively in his work and has the appearance of effortlessness. The cover design by Tamojit Bhattacharyya is wonderfully lyrical and this apparently easy read book, written in a new idiom, is not to be missed.


Issue 61 (May-Jun 2015)

Book Reviews
  • Alka Dutt: God I Am
  • Ambika Ananth: Ink and Line
  • Glenis M Mendonça: Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa
  • Gopal Lahiri: The Reverse Tree
  • K K Srivastava: Rotations of Unending Time
  • Pramod K Das & Narayan Jena: The Whispering Grove
  • U Atreya Sarma: One Year for Mourning
  • VVB Rama Rao: Emotionoceans
  • Payal Das: ‘De-Coding The Silence!’