Through simple, image-rich language Naik uses an extended metaphor to compare an old banyan tree to a city. ‘The Banyan City’ speaks on themes of time, life, death, and rebirth.
The poem begins with the speaker referring to a banyan tree and how hard it is to unroot it. The only way to get rid of it is to cut it down. This occurs later on in the text, but in the meantime, the language surrounding the tree is expanding to describe a specific city in India. It too is old, weathered, and becoming more and more dilapidated as time passes.
Eventually, the tree is cut down, metaphorically alluding to the end of the city itself. But, the poem ends optimistically with the speaker describing rebirth and the possibilities of the future.
You can read the full poem here.
‘The Banyan City’ by Vihang Naik is an eight stanza poem that’s divided into uneven sets of lines. The shortest at only one line, and the longest stretching up to six. There is no specific rhyme scheme to ‘The Banyan City’ but the lines are all of a similar length, imbuing the poem with a visual and rhythmic unity. Additionally, there are moments of full and half-rhyme in the text.
The latter, half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “humming” and “mumbles” in lines two and three of the fourth stanza. Or, “noises” and “no” in lines five and six.
Full rhyme is the traditional means of rhyme that is most commonly associated with poetry. It generally appears at the end of lines but can occur within the line itself (then known as internal rhyme).
Other Poetic Techniques
Naik also makes use of several other poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, and caesura. The latter, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half. Sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. For example, line four of the first stanza “Chop or hack. The old banyan” or line three of the fourth stanza “of vehicles. The city mumbles”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, this phrase from line two of the seventh stanza “at the crossroad, combing” or “withered,” “wrinkled” and “weather-beaten” in lines two, three and four.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are a number of examples throughout ‘The Banyan City’ these include the transition between lines four, five, and six of the first stanza.
Analysis of The Banyan City
To unearth the roots
of a banyan
is never easy.
Chop or hack. The old banyan
with the roots spread
over a century.
In the first stanza of ‘The Banyan City,’ the speaker begins by making a simple statement about a banyan tree. It is that if one chooses to, “unearth[ing]” the roots is not an easy task. These lines, as well as the rest of those that make up the poem, are short and choppy. This structure, in coordination with enjambment, encourages a reader to move quickly from line to line and stanza to stanza.
The next lines mimic the quick rhythm of the text. The phrase “Chop or hack” follows and indicates that rather than uprooting the tree, the only way to bring it down is to cut it. The violence of the short phrase is contrasted with the next two and a half lines that speak to history, time, and the importance of those elements. The tree represents the history of the poet’s country, India, and more precisely, as becomes clear later in the poem, the state of Gujarat.
This aged city,
with dim eyes,
The next stanza is also five lines and refers, without specifically naming it, to an “aged city”. The comparison between the banyan tree and the city is clear. Naik uses similarly tinted language as he describes the city as “withered” and “wrinkled” these are words that would most commonly be used to describe something organic, not a cement and steel city, no matter its age. The city, as well as the tree, have dimmed somewhat. They both appear “weather-beaten,” meaning time and the elements have taken a toll on their exteriors.
Stanzas Three and Four
has stood the time.
of vehicles. The city mumbles.
The third stanza picks right up where the second left off. Here, the speaker adds that the city, despite its age and appearance really has “stood the time”. With this line, he is speaking simply on its durability. It has likely outlasted other similar cities. The phrases used to describe the city should at once also be applied to the metaphorical banyan tree. It too is able to stand the test of time.
The two images merge together in the fourth line. Here, the speaker describes how the “river” which one would find by a banyan tree, turns into a “gutter” and the breathing of natural spaces is juxtaposed through the use of personification with the “humming” and mumbling of the city and its vehicles. Both the city and the tree are alive, in their own way.
Stanza Five, Six, and Seven
You grapple for meaning
in the traffic of noises.
the National Highway number eight
when you enter Vadodara.
The fifth stanza of ‘The Bayan City’ is two lines long and adds, very simple that “You” struggle to find meaning in life in amongst the “traffic of noises”. This is the first time the speaker has used a pronoun. The choice of “you” rather than “I” or “we” implicates the reader in the poem. They are implicitly asked to consider themselves in the city, amongst its rushing traffic and dilapidated exterior.
Naik chose to make use of the word “traffic’ in the second line of this stanza. It relates back to the vehicles in the previous stanza, but on a larger scale, it speaks to the density of general noise in the world and how difficult it can be to organize one’s thoughts with so many others attempting to do the same and even influence your own.
The sixth stanza is only one line, leading the reader quickly into the seventh stanza. In this denser section of text Naik refers to the city of Vadodara and the National Highway, placing the poem in a very specific location. ‘The Banyan City’ also gets darker in these lines. The speaker describes how the banyan tree from the first stanza is gone. It’s been cut down and now “You can no longer click / that tree at the crossroad”. It was an integral part of the cityscape.
Stanza Eight and Nine
The roots won’t die.
in the mould of stone. A sculpted ghost.
‘The Banyan City’ ends on a more optimistic note for both the tree and the city. Naik refers to the tree as having “roots” that “won’t die”. Despite being cut down, the roots live on. Then, as one moves through the city “you” see the rebirth occurring, the tree will live again, and with the passage of time, so too will the city.