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Can Tom Paulin (LRB, 7 March) and I possibly be thinking of the same banyan tree? The one I visited stands in the Botanical Gardens across the Howrah Bridge from Calcutta, and I especially crossed the Hooghly in order to see it. A placard stated (I am relying on thirty-year-old memories) that it is the oldest tree in the world and that it was already extensive at the time of Alexander the Great’s invasion of India. It is indeed a magnificent grove, the central trunk long gone, but with horizontal beams running in every direction supported on sturdy columns, such that the experience of being inside it resembles being lost inside a surreally alive temple. The poet seems to have underestimated the tree’s age and has not given it the poetic evocation which it well deserves.
Xaghra, Gozo, Malta