Literary Shelf

Mamang Dai: Small Towns and the River

A Re-interpretation

Small Towns and The River by Mamang Dai is  one of the representative poems of the poetess which tell of the land of her birth, nativity and rearing,  how the ethos and nomenclature doing the rounds,  how the realms of race,  ethnicity and gender and above all how the geological and geographical things relating to topography, cartography and the land amassed in the form of the mountains and hilly tracts forested and aboriginal so dense and deep, dark and tedious to journey across, full of trekking and adventure, dotted by the typical houses and huts in which pulsate the lives of the inhabitants.

Small towns by the river, dotting the river way tell of life and living across the land she belongs to. The poem takes us not just to Assam, but beyond the fringes of the borders and the high domains which we know not. How are their dialects, trends, traditions, clothing, dressing-styles, food habits and so on? When we sit to read, the images of primitive races, tribal homes and huts, rocks, stones and mountains flash upon the mind’s plane.

To read her is to know the history and culture of the sisterly states, the northeast, that is the trends and traditions of Assam, Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

Small towns remind her of death, but her hometown lies it calmly amidst the trees reminding it ever the archetypal existence of it. The town is almost the same in winter or summer with the dust flying or the wind howling through the gorge.

While doing the memorial services, doing the condolences, one comes to grapple with, what does remain here? Man comes and goes, but rites and rituals are permanent and this too is but a temporal outlook. Nothing can compensate for loss and bereavement, but instead of weeping in silence, commemoration of services and laying of the wreath of tuber roses make up for here instantly.

The river has a soul definitely as it is symbolic of life-force, life-cycle as is that of ours. It is a source of water and water is the source of life. Civilizations have developed on the river valleys. Similarly mountains are the origins of the rivers. Vapours, mists, evaporations, cloudbursts and rains are but all interconnected with.

Rain, rain in the waste land, how to seek for blessings, the bounty showered upon? Mist, mist on the mountaintops quenching our thirst with its crystal dripping, glaciers running down, rivers drying in summer, are the images. Vegetation and resurrection images rare there. Our connection is with the rivers and mountains, and we cannot live without them. How to cut our primitive bonds, archetypal links?

Without disturbing nature, the pristine beauty of it, how to keep it intact is the thing? How to save the mountains and rivers? Can the rivers be rivers without water? Mountains are but Shiva, the images and shadows lurking, from whose locks or where from comes it down the mythical Ganges, carrying holy waters.

A shrine of happy pictures is but a childhood memory in which she keeps reposing, dreaming and revelling, how to live with the remnants of dreams as these can never be one’s own? Reality is bare and far from and has nothing to do with dreams.

We are just waiting to walk with the gods in small towns walking by the river. Let the dead be placed pointing to the west as the soul which rises will walk from the east glowing with the flash of the red sun. The rising sun, the glowing east will illuminate the soul in search of the pathway end, will radiate the path we seem to be searching for, trekking along for inner solace. In the bamboo restored in sunlight, under the shade and roofing of it, or thickets adding to canopies, she thinks of the life pulsating. The small towns are enough to hold in their dreams. Even though anxiety seems to be marring the future of small towns, the poetess thinks of continual processes surfing down it all to thwart what it ails us.

To turn to Dai is to turn to the call of the mountains, rivers, valleys and forests, gorges, ravines, highlands and passes, to turn to her is to turn to anthropological, genealogical, linguistic and sociological matters. Under the shadows of the mountains, she keeps dreaming her dreams under the lurking bluish and gloomy mountains so full of exotic and wild greenery and vegetation.

It is a poem of man and his relationship with nature. Under the lurking shadows of the mountains and hills, she has grown and if this be the tale of her bonding, how to cut that?

Small towns always remind me of death.
My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees,
it is always the same,
in summer or winter,
with the dust flying,
or the wind howling down the gorge.

Just the other day someone died.
In the dreadful silence we wept
looking at the sad wreath of tuberoses.
Life and death, life and death,
only the rituals are permanent.

The river has a soul.
In the summer it cuts through the land
like a torrent of grief. Sometimes,
sometimes, I think it holds its breath
seeking a land of fish and stars

The river has a soul.
It knows, stretching past the town,
from the first drop of rain to dry earth
and mist on the mountaintops,
the river knows
the immortality of water.

A shrine of happy pictures
marks the days of childhood.
Small towns grow with anxiety
for the future.
The dead are placed pointing west.
When the soul rises
it will walk into the golden east,
into the house of the sun.

In the cool bamboo,
restored in sunlight,
life matters, like this.

In small towns by the river
we all want to walk with the gods.

31-Mar-2024

More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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