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The Mind Tree: A Review

The Mind TreeThis astounding book was written by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, a non-verbal autistic boy whose mother taught him to write at the age of five. He wrote The Mind Tree between the ages of eight and eleven, and it is nothing short of amazing.

The first half of the book is a detailed autobiographical account from age two to eleven. Tito writes in the first person point of view, but uses the third person when referring to his younger self (for instance, “It was a worse show when he was three and a half years old.”) He also describes the thoughts and feelings of his parents in many situations, exhibiting a surprisingly advanced theory of mind. One of the delights of this book is Tito’s insight and his ability to explain some of his autistic behavior, such as analyzing why he spins. He says that his body felt “scattered and it was difficult to collect it together. He saw himself as a hand or as a leg and would turn himself around to assemble his parts to a whole.” And “He got the idea of spinning from the fan as he saw that its blades were otherwise separate joined together to a complete circle, when they turned in speed.” Tito also describes the “distorted . . . meaningless babblings” that he made, and suggests to “guardians” of other autistics that they discourage those sounds, claiming, “Being mute is better than distortion.” Later, he tells about how his mother helped him to “find” his voice by physically forcing it out of him via pushing on his back as he attempted to verbalize sounds. I found all of Tito’s detailed descriptions of his childhood to be intensely fascinating.

Equally wonderful are the remaining parts of the book, including a section of essays written about his interpretations of color and how they manifest themselves in his autistic mind. Tito also writes beautifully crafted, evocative poetry, such as “All the world was a busy place, And I was an idle kind, Disqualified in the human race, A different form of mind.” We readers are also treated to the lovely imagery of his short story called “The Mind Tree,” which is a touching tale told from the point of view of a tree.  Tito is truly a gifted writer.

This book is quite a find. I stumbled upon it in a bookstore a few years ago, and I am drawn in each time I read it. Tito’s message of hope is evident in every word he writes, but especially in the ending to his first biographical section, which he wrote at age eight: “One day I dream that we can grow in a matured society where nobody would be ‘normal or abnormal’ but just human beings, accepting any other human being – ready to grow together.” His words certainly prove the maxim that not being able to talk does not mean the same as not having anything to say.