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The Voice of the Mountain by Mamang Dai


The Voice of the Mountain is resonant with the voices sounding and re-sounding about the Northeast, from Assam to Nagaland to Tripura, Arunachal and Mizoram bordering Burma, Tibet and China and even going beyond the Himalayan fringes. The voices keep calling and calling and we feel it to go it nearer to hear, overhear them resounding and echoing and this is but the call of Nature not only that but of the mountains and rivers. Which way Hiuen-tsang crossed over? How were they Naga sadhus? How was it their hagiography? We know these not. The folksongs of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, we could not feel it then even after the independence of India, long after. Just Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh hung it heavy upon with the Aryan narration. But the spaces needed it to be dug and re-dug for a re-understanding. How our sociology, how our anthropology? How our sense of history? How was it the tribes? How are they now after? How their tongues and speeches? And what have we for? We are silent about all that. The tales of Putana, Hidimbi, Surpanakha, we know it not. Who was it Ghatotkach? How the Jatayu vulture?

Our myths, folklores and puppetry we know it not. We never strove to know cutting the mythic ice, the cultural space. And we were busy writing the history of Delhi, not the whole of India. Regional history we could never feel it as we were just after the classical and the classics. How were our roadways linking up to? How was the terrain exotic so full of flora and fauna?

Leave you talking about the drumbeats of Africa. The drumbeats of Africa not, but of India we know it not, how the folk beats keep resounding the forests and the wilds. How do the hamlets keep vibrating with? The India of hamlets, we have photographed them not. Do the Americas know about their Mayan people? But Western studies have helped us from the agrarian, cultural, anthropological, sociological, linguistic, demographic points of view.

From the land’s end not, but from the hill’s end, she can say it about the worlds to be viewed, the countries and tracts and their trajectories, how do they keep unfolding? How the environs and climes? What do the winds keep sighing by? Where do the ranges and terrains lead to? How does the place remain land-locked? How do the hills block the ways, and the routes are searched? The ethnic villages tell the ethnic tales. Oral literature will remain oral as has not been scripted. Folktales will go as they have been handed down to generation after generation. Exotic people go with their indigenous traditions and rituals, festivity and culture. How to give scripts to the scriptless? How to describe the nondescript villages? Our rural history we know it not as the persona of it a nameless person as Jayanta speaks of in one of his poems.

The poetess tells about Arunachal where she was born, she grew up to be a woman and who can better say about than her? About the hills of Arunachal Pradesh? About the hamlets and speeches of it? The tribes and tribesmen and their folk beats? How the beats of drums vibrating with? How their flora and fauna? Under the shadow of the mountains, she grows up to be woman, under the canopy of the skies with the trees hinging upon. But far from where the horizons seem to lurking around to meet the clear skies there lies in the border unfolding unto to trespass into other domains.

Does Adil Jussawalla not say about the land’s end? Does Jayanta Mahapatra not about Orissa, its sociology, topography, places, rocks, stones and trees, the Oriya good earth? About villages and dark daughters, sun-burnt hamlets and seashores and beaches and rivers? 

To read her poem is to locate it on the map of India, to trace and re-trace it, how the history and tradition of it? How was it in the past? How the peoples who peopled the place? How their houses and dwellings? How their hamlets and homes? How their speeches and tongues? How their traditions and cultures? How their attires and food habits? How the scene and panorama? How their roads and ways?

There is the symbolism of the hills; there is the myth of the hills in it tinged with feminism where the sole speaker is a woman of the hills. What it the history of the place, she knows it not, what it the history of the people and races, what it in the sense of literature. Just the hills are the legacy; just the hills tell the stories of the earth of the hilly terrains and ranges.

From the highland, sitting on a high platform she can see the ferry lights criss-crossing the big river. She can see the towns as well as the last banks where colour drains from heaven and she can outline the chapters of the world. This is how she identifies with the land; rocks, stones and trees.

Sometimes speaking through the matrilineal voice, sometimes through the patriarchal and sometimes genderlessly says she, speaks she the tales of Arunachal Pradesh, the history of the hills and mountains, passes, rivers and wilds, rocks, stones and trees. Who is she? How her  history? How the family? How the clan? How her cultures, how her traditions? What the thing about her nativity? Who she is in reality? How her myth? How the universe she peoples? How the folk songs and drumbeats? It is really difficult to cut the cultural ice; it is really difficult to understand her psyche. What god is her god?

Her psyche is the psyche of gorges, passes and canyons; mountains, hills and wilds. The mountains are on her mind and the pictures and images of the azure, the sun shining over and rising with a glow of own in her heart. She may not have a language, but has a dialect of her own. She may not have a script, but script you her speech. We know it not how they have trekked along time clutching history and myth, but without scripting it and none too ever strove to script the unscripted.

To know her is to know the Adi tribe and their history, art and culture; trend and tradition; society, custom and manner. To know her is to know the other tribes and their cultures. To know her is to know Assam, Sikkim, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram ascending through Gorkhaland, passing through Siliguri, Darjeeling to Gauhati and so on. Can we judge her if know we not the Gorkhas, the Lepchas and the Bhutias? Can we judge if feel we not the Neelachal hills and the Brahmaputra by the Kamakhya temple? To assess her is to map Arunachal Pradesh. How to re-locate the history of Sylhet and Silchar? How were the Hajongs and the Chakmas expelled from?

It is her relationship with Arunachal which she speaks about in this poem as Jayanta Mahapatra speaks about his relationship with Odisha and the Oriyas in his book Relationship. It is the Leaves of Grass which they pipe about as Tennyson too plucks the grass blade and sings the songs in his memory In Memoriam. To go through Mamang Dai is to talk of the linguistic stocks, speeches and dialects of India. Especially the Tibeto-Chinese, the Tibeto-Burman dialects need to be mentioned.

The history of Nature, how to write it? The history of sound, how to script it? If something lies it unwritten for years and unscripted so far, how to re-create the times gone by? What is man? But a part of nature. What is speech? But the sound passing by. How our assessment? It is all but feeling. How does the attire change with time? How do the roads map it our relations otherwise? We hear the song of the river through its musical flow and murmur, the song of the mountain through the wind gliding. Now the question is, who am I? What my identity? Where my hamlet, where my home in the lap of the mountain, in the midst of wild greenery and vegetation? My history is but folk history, my myth ethnic, racial; my dialect oral and scriptless. I am one with the mountains, glaciers, canyons, ravines, vales and forests.

How the voice of the mountain? How the clouds playing upon? How the sunlight falling upon and radiating the mountain peaks? The clouds, winds and birds can say it. How have the trekkers and climbers taken to breaking silence? How have the sounds materialized and vibrated from the hamlets into the lap of Nature and mountainous regions? But what can a lone man do it alone? From the high mountains, how do civilizations appear to be? From the solitude prevailing around a valley, what does it break silence? Away from human haunt, how does life appear to be? Nature’s domain is purely of Nature; it is of rocks, stones and trees. So is our life archetypal, agrarian, rural, anthropological.

As about the languages, these have often changed from territory to territory which is but a feature of India and its linguistic stock. But as far as the oral languages are concerned, the Northeast is so varied and plentiful.

How have the communities drawn sabres and clashed with? How much lies it battled and fatigued? It is shameful to say it how we have combated and fought pitched battles destroying peace. How many has it been battered and bartered for peace? But are we peaceful indeed? How many times have we taken to counsel and good mind?

The song of the wild bird they have heard it for so long, they have seen the rivers flowing forever and have the winds playing in the forests, the mountain tops shining in the glow of the rising sun, the clouds hanging over for a burst and the hamlets lying in the lap of Nature away from civilization and development going in their own way scriptless.

From where I sit on the high platform

I can see the ferry lights crossing
criss-crossing the big river.

I know the towns, the estuary mouth.
There, beyond the last bank
where the colour drains from heaven
I can outline the chapters of the world.

The other day a young man arrived from the village.
Because he could not speak
he brought a gift of fish
from the land of rivers.
It seems such acts are repeated:
We live in territories forever ancient and new,
and as we speak in changing languages.

I, also, leave my spear leaning by the tree
and try to make a sign.

I am an old man sipping the breeze
that is forever young.
In my life I have lived many lives.
My voice is sea waves and mountain peaks,
In the transfer of symbols
I am the chance syllable that orders the world
Instructed with history and miracles.

I am the desert and the rain.
The wild bird that sits in the west.
The past that recreates itself
and particles of life that clutch and cling
For thousands of years –
I know, I know these things
as rocks know, burning in the sun’s embrace,
about clouds, and sudden rain;
as I know a cloud is a cloud is a cloud,
A cloud is this uncertain pulse
that sits over my heart.

In the end the universe yields nothing
except a dream of permanence.
Peace is a falsity.
A moment of rest comes after long combat:

From the east the warrior returns
with the blood of peonies.
I am the child who died at the edge of the world,
the distance between end and hope.
The star diagram that fell from the sky,
The summer that makes men weep.
I am the woman lost in translation
who survives, with happiness to carry on.

I am the breath that opens the mouth of the canyon,
the sunlight on the tips of trees;
There, where the narrow gorge hastens the wind
I am the place where memory escapes
the myth of time,
I am the sleep in the mind of the mountain.

To read her is to talk about the tribes and tribesmen of the seven sisters, the northeast and their culture, trend or tradition. Under the shadow of the mountains, she views it life and the landscape, how does it keep pulsating, vibrating with? How the gorges and canyons, how their scenic, panoramic view? What to say about the myth of time wherein there lies it everything hidden? The myth of the land too, we have not explored it for years and years.

Images (c)


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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