Book Review: The Trees Told Me So
Author: Purva Grover
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Rating: Four and a half stars
Purva Grover’s The Trees Told Me So is a collection of short stories narrating about cities, hidden emotions, and memories in a tender and sensitive voice melting hearts. 11 stories, heart-wrenching, rare friendships made, love, simplicity of life is a delightful serving where each comes alive making it a color palette of form and, the dewdrop deeply layered lending a ubiquitous expression of visualization in this joyride.
Addiction is sold in the rusty and stained red, the betel leaves through the eyes of Chaurasia Panwala. Don’t we all have a favorite Panwala whose concoction melts our taste buds and hearts! Purva Grover paints a delectable image about hidden lives reverberating in the night pocked with noise and whipping a compelling story about the multitude charm of India.
“The Darkness of Red” lends strong imagery hinging on the marvel about the untold and the language is lyrical, at the risk of repeating myself and besotting the reader with the invisible character Sapna, lusted by many, men and women having both lovers and spouses is enthralling.
“They spoke of the joys of comparing the beauty of beloved to the moon.” Don’t we all have a story to hide?
“A Summer Ritual” is about the memories carved at granny’s place embedded with simplicity, the joy of childhood, and growing up, chatai under the tree, and verandah makes for powerful visualization. The story is deeply embedded in the small but simple childhood joys, the magical cupboard we craved for at granny’s place. Remember how we would sneak in to steal goodies.
“It was filled with things we needed: caramel cookies, chocolate bars, potato wafers, pack of balloons and buntings…I told Mum there is ‘no place like home’ was the grandparents’ place…smothered with love and care. Evocative. An interesting point the writer makes on how the gem of growing up is missing in today’s times yet there is nothing left in going back to relive the past.
“Glass for Rs 1” is another expressive story melting hearts about the licensed trolley we find in every nook-and-corner of Indian streets. It’s about uncomplicated love and how two strangers find comfort in silence replete with human understanding, and a unique friendship forged. There is tragedy at the end where natural calamity doesn’t discriminate when it injects pain and takes our loved ones away.
One of the most powerful and heartbreaking stories in The Trees Told Me So is “Between Us, Daughter and Mother.” A rare sensitivity on how little we understand our innocent daughters. “My Mum never told me I had a vagina.” In itself, the phrase is deeply layered and wounds the heart on the character, an innocent child saying, “Mum, I was so ashamed to be naked. I hope you can believe me.”
It brought me to a reality that there are millions, hidden tales that should put us to shame and a Goddess lost is too many. The story melts and pierces the heart like an arrow as if silence could speak or tears moving us.
The last two stories in the book paint an evocative image about memory and pain in a diametrically opposite direction and an emotional bonding touching every single shred in the soul. “Over a Cup of Chai” is the story of Sonia and her daughter Rhea finding a common friend in Sharma Aunty serving chai to countless generations at the campus. It relives the college days where Purva Grover whips a tea storm, bringing the memories alive about campus life, discussions and familiar sounds, bubbling of water, stirring of sugar, stove pumping, and risk crunching jangled together. It makes for powerful imagery.
As I read the story, I re-experienced life in college and university, the sprawling campus, my friends’ voices and could see Sharma aunty as the tea maker in our days. How Purva has made Sharma aunty, alien to me an intrinsic part to re-imagine unlived days. The reunion of old students and Sharma aunty, and the batch mate adding a dip of honey and a friend without whom life would be incomplete. How we all wish to have a Sharma aunty in our college days, a mother figure and friend who never judged.
The vicissitude of loss and the pathos enshrined in pain is narrated in the first person making for effective funeral conversation tearing apart the heart. Multiple instances where I was brought to tears and took several pauses to let the feeling sinking inside. Purva has a rare flair with description making her a powerful storyteller in depicting the protagonist lying on the pyre, five feet an inch bed, and the depth of words on the stack of woods as a resting place for the departed soul.
Beauty embedded in the letter addressed by the soul to her young son, yearning for love and the pain of separation. A strong point is driven on tenderness and warmth while breaking taboo at the same time on boys don’t cry false narrative percolating in society. She reminds there is no wrong in pain and the right to grieve or setting free, “you should never let losing me compromise your life or lives of those around me.”
“I know you’ve never seen granny cry so much…can i ask you to keep holding hers (hands)? If you too feel like crying, cry.”
There are beauty and searing pain at the same time. “On the Bed of Wood” is laden with wisdom and education. So many times, we get angry at unfairness on wanting to leave everything but the mother gently reminds the son, “Always show up after the storm…telling someone that you love them despite any disputes.”
“Sometimes the wait can be forever, so never walk out in anger.”
“Scent of the Familiar” is another beautiful story about the sister’s unbridled happiness in trusting Gupta Ji the Mehendi artist brings the joy of the past embedded in simplicity alive celebrating the special days of happiness. “Handsome Point” pays tribute to the charming but dying art of hair saloon on Indian streets. The stories bear their charm together with The Player, a riveting tale about the protagonists bedding rich married women yet there is pain deep within. Don’t we all wage battles inside us pretending to be brave?
“A Bigger Place with more Feet” serves as a eulogy to the cobbler and tapping into the element of street smartness we call ethics. The theme of forbidden love with a twinge of surprise and twist unfolds through the unique, pacy narration style in “The First Kiss”.
The Trees Told Me So is about countless lives and emotions depicted in a powerful yet elegant and simple manner. One thing that I sorely miss is more soul stirring tales where the author raises the bar higher, gently stroking the soul. I wanted more. Almost impossible to hinge on drawbacks in this brilliant collection.
Purva Grover has a unique flair for words and expression, uncanny ability for stories replete with human emotions drawing on pain, nostalgia, secret city tales, or revisiting childhood makes The Trees Told Me So an enthralling read. The various stories are an ode to the old world charm about the commoners and strugglers we meet on Indian roads and streets every day and from afar. Fluid, sober narration and rich appeal through the visual imagery crafted to make the book poetry in motion and experience playing live. Purva Grover is truly a playwright.