Growing up with a sibling is a bittersweet experience. There’s rivalry, to want to peel each other’s skin off but no one, absolutely no one else, is allowed to touch the other. Only they can annoy each other, no one else. It’s a siblings’ contract. If this was also your childhood then Nandita Basu’s graphic novel The Song of the Sky Tree might just be for you.

Nandita Basu, author of two young adult graphic novels Rain Must Fall and The Piano, brings back the years of growing up in the 1990s and an empathetic understanding of isolation through various losses in life in her latest book. The black and white illustrations take us through the childhood and adult life of Vedika, the younger sibling is happy in her own company, and later becomes a veterinarian who finds it easier to be in the company of animals rather than humans.

Vedika is a quiet kid. She notices and muses about the banyan trees near her hiding spot, creates cardboard cities. She complains about nothing but her brother, Arnob, who is extremely mean to her. And then she makes a new friend, August, the boy who moves in next door and eventually, moves to another country, leaving her alone yet again. As Vedika grows older, she becomes a veterinarian and opens a clinic with her senior, Trisha. Vedika finds it easier to communicate with animals, knowing that too much love and affection can bereft them of personal space – something the owners of the pets cannot accept. In the absence of the existence of a romantic life, she builds a relationship with Trisha and her spouse, Krish. Yet again, August enters her life to move away under different circumstances.

Romance, sexuality, and isolation

Isolation can be a dangerous thing. Especially, when people are struggling to accept who they are. Basu explores various aspects of self-rejections that can lead to isolation, especially when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships.

Vivid in black and white, she draws the fears ingrained in Vedika’s mind – fears of something being wrong with her when she feels empty after every sexual encounter. It takes us back to a time when homosexualised was criminal in India and the spectrum of sexuality was still unknown. The story focuses on the lack of awareness and understanding in accepting the “other” and allows the characters to take their time to once again know those who they have known for a long time.

It also examines the betrayal between friends and the bitter realisation that you cannot fix a relationship alone. As we move towards the tumultuous phases of Vedika’s life, the panels sometimes become confusing, especially with the sequence of the speech balloons. Sometimes chapters begin and end unexpectedly, and connecting them to the larger story becomes slightly difficult.


The title The Song of The Sky Tree refers to the life of a banyan tree which “grows from the sky to the ground”, “can even walk”, “[can] go very far”, and “can be an entire forest in itself”. In a flashback, as the childhood best friends, Vedika and August, reunite as adults, we see a core memory in which they discuss if the banyan tree remembers everything. The accompanying page-long illustration of the tree with two kids sitting by its trunk depicts the wonder that Vedika might have felt thinking about the worlds that reside in the tree. She asks, “Do you think trees have memories?” There is also a sense of the futility of a life without memories as August speaks with a straight face, “Well I hope so. To have lived for so long and not remember.”

How much should we remember? Can we move forward while holding on to the memories of the past? We look at the series of losses in Vedika’s life – the death of a beloved family member, a friend moving away to another country, or the inability to grasp the cause of an accident. The banyan tree’s song perhaps lies in its immortality, experiencing the world for years, and continuing to grow when people often give up. How does it do it, make a forest, make a world alone?

The tale is as much about acceptance of growing older, living each moment, and letting go of memories in the process, especially when the pain becomes such that one loses oneself. It’s an ode to being broken, being an “arse” in someone’s story, and accepting yourself as you are. When the whole world seems to be a hostile place, it is perhaps a blessing to have a family to come home to, to find the same elder brother now being protective of you.

Funny, nostalgic, and relatable, The Song of the Sky Tree is a song for each of us who questions our place in the world, judges our actions, and tries to accept our flaws.

The Song of the Sky Tree, Nandita Basu, Simon and Schuster India.