A March wedding was planned. It was decided that she would first marry the Peepal tree by the river because of a planetary misalignment in her horoscope. The tree would bear the brunt of the astrological consequences otherwise promised upon her husband-to-be. The bride’s family would actually land a few blows to the tree after the “marriage.” Though cutting it down was the “prescribed solution,” her father had said they “wouldn’t dream of destroying a whole Peepal tree.” The “tree marriage” and its symbolic end would be a charade at best, something they had to do for their “daughter’s good.” The groom’s family would attend this exercise in placating the planets. They could witness firsthand, the passing on of misfortune and malaise that would otherwise affect their son. After this, they would peacefully accept the beautiful bride (and her ancestral wealth) as their own and take her home.
The bride insisted on wearing her grandmother’s green and maroon heirloom sari that morning. “Just for the tree wedding,” she promised her mother, who had put together a trousseau worthy of a princess. She selected the silver jhumkas gifted by her favourite aunt, now excommunicated for marrying a man from another caste. As she fastened the jhumkas, neatly draped the sari, applied kajal in her eyes and plaited her hair, even she could see that she was glowing. The Peepal tree by the river (with a stone bund around it) would be her first spouse today. The tree’s beauty and wisdom had bewitched her through childhood, adolescence and early womanhood. She admitted she felt no aversion to the soft-spoken man introduced to her as her future husband, but lack of aversion was not attraction, now, was it?
It seemed like they actually knew how to give space to each other – the Peepal tree and she. Having spent many years sitting on the stone bund watching the river; having lived out a failed romance with her school sweetheart by the steps near the tree; having courted lovers and fallen leaves – green, yellow, brown, gold – by the same bund, she could feel the tree’s breath with her, day or night, a constant friend and companion. She felt grateful for its presence, and everything it had seen her through. Yet, this marriage would be just a fun story for her grandchildren. That was all, she decided, taking a final look at herself in the mirror. What she didn’t expect was to be thrown madly into a lifelong romance of the kind no one had heard of, nor would wish upon their daughters, with or without planetary misalignments in their horoscopes.
The Peepal tree was not glowing any less that morning. Though the river reflected the early morning light as it did daily, the tree wore a green and gold aura the bride had never seen before. The gentle breeze that filtered through the Peepal leaves caressed her face, neck, back, even her midriff. The last traces of the morning mist suddenly swirled wildly in her head. Her face felt warm and her fingers traced the furrows on the tree’s trunk. The silver bangles she’d chosen looked so elegant on the tree’s body, she observed. She placed her lips on the heart shaped pink and pale green leaves – transparent, smoother than her skin. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the tree’s cracked trunk.
The families, like most families, were too busy with the rituals of the all important marriage to notice anything odd about the bride’s changed colour or stance. It was only after they had struck the first blow did they freeze. The bride had wrapped herself around the tree, quite like her grandmother’s green and maroon sari wrapped her. They couldn’t have struck the tree again without first hitting her.
There was too much shock going around for loud arguments or dramatic standoffs. “Stop! I’ve decided to stay married to the tree,” wasn’t that exactly what she had said? Not that anyone would ever be able to forget the words or the turn of events! The groom’s family quickly accepted that they would need to find a bride with sounder mental health, from another wealthy family. They were secretly relieved to have “found out” before the real wedding took place. They commiserated with the bride’s family, wringing their hands over an evil spirit that had seized their precious daughter. Preparations were being made for more planetary propitiations the next day, when the bride left home and moved in closer to her Peepal tree by the river. No one knows exactly how many years the bride lived thereafter but she was seen to be inordinately happy and well, besides being known as ‘The Woman who married a Peepal Tree.’
Charumathi Supraja has worked as a journalist, social sector documentarian and teacher of journalistic writing. She lives in Bangalore, happily caught in the cross-talk between Peepal, Neem and other trees. She created the Treevellers’ Katte – a holding space for people’s tree stories and memories. She also writes poetry and plays.