Friday, 28 December 2012

The wood apple tree

On a warm summer day in 2010, I was reading out a poem about blue lions and gypsy kings and freedom rainbows to a gathering of 300 people. Afterwards a young man walked up to me. He had unruly brown hair and a stylish black jacket. And he had tears in his eyes. "That poem...that's my poem!" he burst out, his tears uninhibitedly running down his cheeks. "I sat and listened to every word.

How did you know we have blue lions in our culture? You spoke of gypsy kings and rainbows and freedom. I am a gypsy and I am looking for my freedom rainbow!"

I don't remember his name and I may never recollect his face again. But I shall always remember his tears. Tears of gratefulness. It may be too much to call it tears of joy. We smiled at each other in a room full of strangers. And then we parted without saying anything more but with the mutual feeling of having connected, however brief. I have seen a similar sort of connection happening between two of my oral narrators some years ago. They were explaining a folk poem to me when they stopped at a verse and picked it apart completely, both of them rushing in with their own version of the meaning of the poem. They were in agreement on what the poem meant but the archaic language of folk poetry had so many layers to it that they were immersed in peeling off the layers and making sure that I could understand it all. But in that process, how they savoured uncovering the essential meanings of those words and tracing their etymological roots! Ah the magnetic magic of words.

Sometimes they would have different versions of the same poem and that would put me into a quandary as to which version to use officially. In the end I solved that dilemma by having version one and version two of the one poem. Though they gave me different interpretations, the conclusions of the poem always converged into one idea. That is the beauty of words, the beauty of poetry and of story. The coming together of thought and dream and wisdom. And every poem has a story to it. In the olden days, every folk tale was a poem and therefore the term poem-story could most aptly describe it. And all those stories perhaps came from a mother tree way back in time. Think of that. Imagine a wood apple tree in the middle of a winter forest in our hills. The yellow and red of ripened fruits covering the tree and weighing its branches down. A wood apple tree abundantly fruiting in season. The villagers say that the wood apple bears fruit only every second year. Picture that tree as a mother tree of stories, birthing our stories, bringing them to fruition so anyone who wants may come and pluck them from the tree. Picture all the wood apple trees in the forest as mother trees. And all the wood apples as stories. Billions of trillions of stories.

I believe in the unity of stories. A Sami singer once said she knew all my stories and for every story that I could tell, she had one that could match mine. And she did. She had a bear story for my bear story, and she had more stone stories than I could recall. The same thing happened with a Berber woman who throat-sang her stories to my stories. Story is the nicest of connectors. Story has been there from the beginning of time and every human being can find shared elements in Story. Like a strand running through all human lives. Like the wood apple tree from which every generation plucks and eats. Without that connection we wither, we slowly become lesser.

Originally published at

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