Written in the Stars

Fiction by Gargi Sharma

Time-lapse photo of stars moving through the sky; it appears like streaks of light.

It had been written in the stars, whoever was the man Anya was going to marry would die within a year. This conundrum of the spouse dying could be solved by first marrying a tree followed by marrying a man and surprisingly this wasn’t considered polyandry. Thus began the search for a tree which would be fit enough to be Anya’s spouse. If Anya had her way, she would never marry a man, but in this country, being queer was a worse crime than being a widow.

Anya walked around her city trying to find a tree which was young but sturdy, with supple branches and vibrant green leaves. She reminisced about her college days when her campus was surrounded by trees, and the fauna embraced them with fervour. Every morning when she cycled to her first lecture, she would see scores of parrots, some with a red necklace, greeting her with their whistling and squawking. When she returned from the summer holidays, the peacocks would dance during the monsoons. She remembered the naps she took in between classes under the gulmohar tree, and the childhood days when she would make witch nails from the flower sepal. She thought back to her careless days, when she could walk to class in pyjamas, and read everything under the sun and the pursuit of knowledge was the only thing on her mind. The trees next to her dorm had been clandestine rendezvous points for her various lovers over the years, the trees keeping her secrets with them. Her lovers had been apprehensive about meeting outdoors, but Anya lived for the thrill of openly rebelling against the conservative society. The amla tree next to the gymnasium was where she had first kissed a girl, the rajnigandha tree where amidst the sweet smelling flowers she had her first heartbreak. Whenever she crossed a rajnigandha tree now, a whiff of the flowers sent a sweet pang of loneliness swept her. Looking back, all her memories of university were tied to the ecology of the campus. 

Getting back to reality, Anya thought of what kind of tree she would like to marry. It didn’t have to be a flowering tree, Anya wasn’t a fan of the flowers, neither did it have to bear fruits, she wasn’t a fan of those either, but it had to give shade to the people who wanted to escape the sweltering heat. She didn’t have to walk far to find her perfect candidate (if only finding a man was this easy!) and came across this beautiful Neem tree with deep emerald leaves and the sturdiest branches. An old maiden had set up her pyau underneath the shade of the tree and Anya’s heart fluttered a bit. She considered naming the tree but did not want to get attached, and also what good would come out of naming something that she wouldn’t have any real connection to anyway? When she got back to home, and told her mom about Neem, her mom reminded her that it was the same tree which she used for kadha to cure her sinus growing up, the same tree whose branches they used for datun every morning, so marrying the tree felt like coming full circle. 

On an auspicious day, also written in the stars, it was decided that Anya would be married to the tree. It was a crisp winter day, when the sun on the skin felt like being cocooned by one’s lover against the cold breeze, she donned a carmine red sari, handed down from generations after generations, and the gold jewellery which her mother had been collecting ever since she was born. It was one of the very few times she had worn a saree, and the bangles on her hand felt like the weight of patriarchy bringing her down. She and her parents walked towards the tree, with a priest in tow. Everything happening around her felt surreal, she was getting married, albeit to a tree which she wouldn’t have thought of in her wildest dreams. She had always been fond of trees, but marrying one was rather ridiculous in her opinion. If anything, she was glad that she could no longer be arrested for unintentional murder after today. The priest mumbled a lot of chants, all in a language no one spoke anymore. If god could indeed listen to anyone and everyone, what was the point of speaking in mumbo-jumbo when the point could be put forth very succinctly in hindi? She did not mutter this out loud, afraid of offending everyone around her. After two very long hours, and a lot of walking around the tree, completing seven circles that she was sure signified something but didn’t care enough to know, she was bound to Neem at least in this lifetime. She felt a little sick of herself for going through with this absurd ritual, it was against everything she stood for, but she had figured out early on in life that there were only a limited number of cards you were handed in life. She had used several already when she went to college, lived by herself and was sure she had to use several more when she disclosed to her parents that she didn’t want kids. For now, she was keeping her cards close, because she would need them, a lot of them, in the future. With that resigned thought, she walked back to the house. Her parents were really excited that this hurdle was past them and wanted to start searching for a groom immediately. 

At night, Anya took a walk around her neighbourhood and when she glanced at Neem, an invisible force compelled her to sit next to it. After several hours talking about her hopes, ambitions, and dreams, presumably to no one, she heard a voice back and looked around to see who it was. Not seeing anybody, and calling out for the intruder to show themself, she resumed her one-way conversation. Again a voice started saying something and she walked around a bit to figure out where it was coming from. She couldn’t decipher what the voice was saying, she thought she was hearing voices from being too exhausted and decided to call it a night.

Walking around at night and talking to Neem became a ritual for Anya. For once in her life, there was someone who could listen to her vent all day long. She could talk about the suitors she had been seeing, talk about the misogyny she had been experiencing without being told that this was the status quo and some people had it worse. How as a woman, it was the burden of her gender to adjust and be flexible. Today when she was sitting next to Neem, she heard a voice again. This time she looked at the tree to find the source of the voice and was shocked to see it was Neem talking. She couldn’t understand what Neem was saying though, so she went home to grab a voice recorder. Anya went to the library the next day to see if she could find out what language trees spoke and fortunately discovered “A Dummies’ Guide to Tree-speak”. Neem was talking in Vrukshbaat, the language trees spoke. She spent the next few hours transcribing and was surprised to find that Neem remembered the wedding. Neem had been married once before, but that was a century ago. Anya ran back to the tree, and asked Neem how it remembered the wedding and how could a tree talk? It then regaled her with a story of once giving shade to a travelling warlock and the warlock blessing the tree with voice once it was married to the love of their life. Anya continued her rendezvous with Neem as the seasons changed from summer to autumn, but because Neem is evergreen it stayed the same and that gave immense comfort to her. 

Anya started dreaming about Neem, if it could be uprooted they could travel the world together, see different floras around the world. Maybe Neem would get stuck in customs? Countries didn’t take introducing new species to the area lightly. Then maybe she could take a part of Neem with her? How would she do that? She couldn’t imagine being in one place all her life, and that was the fate that had been written in the stars for Neem. One night she dreamed of meeting a warlock who could breathe life into trees, and then they went to travel the world together. But should she change the fundamental nature of Neem, just so she could live a life she wants? Isn’t marriage loving the other person however they are? To uproot Neem seemed cruel, even though she might be married to it, they didn’t live in a vacuum, Neem provided oxygen to everyone in the community, datuns to all the kids in the neighborhood, and shade to countless others. In giving so much and not receiving back, Neem was truly selfless, maybe Anya could learn from this. As she mulled over these questions, she needed to talk to Neem, if they wanted a life she was dreaming of. 

Before she could go talk to Neem, her mother came up with the news that they found a groom for her and that she was to be married on the next full moon.

Gargi Sharma is and always has been an aspiring writer. She has too many hobbies and wants to be a renaissance woman. In her spare time she likes to cycle around London (where she resides) and host dinner parties for friends.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

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