Small Towns and the River Questions and Answers 10/15,5,2
[BROAD TYPE QUESTIONS: 10/15 MARKS]
Small Towns and the River Questions and Answers
1. The Theme
[Q. What is the theme of Mamang Dai’s Small Towns and the River.
Q. Analyze the major themes in Mamang Dai’s ‘Small Towns and the River’.]
The poem ‘Small Towns and Rivers’ written by Mamang Dai is a beautiful wordpicture. It is also a lament of the poet about her beautiful native land of Arunachal Pradesh. This theme shows in the way she begins the poem that small towns remind her of death. It is shocking. She implies the town is unchanging in all weathers, but development comes along and changes everything. There is irony in that the cycle of life and death shows that life is not permanent, but the rituals are permanent. In the poem, Small Towns and the River,Mamang Dai talks of the presence of the mountain even though the dominant theme is the river. The river knows the immortality of water as it sees the first drop of rain on the thirsty earth and then the same water rising as a mist on the mountain-tops.
The mountain is shrouded in mystery and as it is covered in mist it gets a uniqueness of distance and enigma. Much like the invisibility of the northeastern states from the national radar, even the lofty mountains of Arunachal remain hidden in mystery from the so-called mainland. The mountain as a metaphor for the mysterious, the unknown and the mighty can also be seen as representative of the resilient, the steadfast and the powerful.
We hear voices from the village like in Mamang Dai’s “Small Towns and the River” and voices from nature. There are both real and surreal voices as well as voices of supposed madness, dislocation, home and abroad or one’s search for identity. Many voices are shaped by intertextuality as they draw on classical Indian myths and poetry.
‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai contains some important themes such as mortality, life vs death, eternity, nature, and spirituality. The theme of mortality haunts the poet the most. Through the symbol of “small towns”, the poet introduces
this theme. Moreover, the theme of life vs death is integral to the poetic reflection on mortality. The imagery used to depict this theme can be found in the “wreath of tuberoses” and the river that remains constant throughout the poem. In the poem, the river symbolically depicts nature and its permanence. Apart from that, the poet resorts to the cozy bosom of spirituality for recovering from grief. The hope of the afterlife gives the poet peace of mind.
In the poem the poet portrays the important place that mountains have in tribal pantheons. The antiquity of the mountains, their sacredness and mystique in Mamang Dais’ poems adequately bring out their symbolism and significance. The poet weaves around them antique tales and myths, which are part of an ancient oral tradition and which also have a close connection to modern day concerns about environmental protection.
The text of the poem is a must to guess the kind of turn the poetry of Mamang Dai has taken from the world of romanticism to that of social realism.
2. The Significance of the Title
[Q. Justify the appropriateness of the title ‘Small Towns and the River’.]
The poem ‘Small Towns and Rivers’ written by Mamang Dai is a beautiful wordpicture. It is also a lament of the poet about her beautiful native land of Arunachal Pradesh. This theme shows in the way she begins the poem that small towns remind her of death. It is shocking. She implies the town is unchanging in all weathers, but development comes along and changes everything. There is irony in that the cycle of life and death shows that life is not permanent, but the rituals are permanent.
She uses metaphor that the rivers are not only alive like us humans, but actually immortal. She personifies the river by way the river ‘holds its breadth’ because it is choking. It is flowing in search of a plane where it will flow clean and clear. The poet uses metaphor of the water cycle to Illustrate the river has a soul and its waters are immortal.
The poet builds a clumar, with ‘shrines of happy’ childhood memories. This becomes growing up- ‘grow with anxiety’. Then she speaks of how the dead are placed pointing west so the soul can ascend directly into the sun’s golden home in the east. This tells us about the traditions of her region.
The poem is in free verse and seems to be in easy language, but we can understand the full depth of meaning only after reading it more than once. The poem is a lament about the destruction of nature for development. We all will feel the sorrow of the poet when we read about how nature’s beauty is damaged for man’s greed called ‘progress’.
Poems are so full of ideas that a reading of their paraphrase helps immensely in using them for reference in the future. Moreover, in order to write an answer to the
questions from a poem, a reading of its paraphrase helps immensely. After all, the language of poetry is different from the language we use in writing. A paraphrase of Small Town and the River helps in bridging up this difference. These general ideas are fully applicable to “Small Towns and the River”.
The speaker says that small towns create in her an impression of death. The reason for such a view is that these places are devoid of trees. So far as her hometown Pasighat is concerned, life here is enjoyable despite the change of season. To be precise in summer the flying of dust is a common phenomenon. Then in winter, the blowing of wind produces a loud sound in the valley. Both these seasons, despite their difference in character, are enjoyable. What makes life bearable here despite such radical change in the character of these seasons is the fact the town is covered with trees.
‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai presents a dusty and gloomy picture of small towns in the first two stanzas. According to the poet, in small towns, every other day news of someone’s death comes and makes one sad. In contrast, the following stanzas, depict the immortality of the river that flows by the towns. The river is permanent in comparison to people living in the towns. Moreover, in the following stanzas, the poet talks about eternal life. The concept of the afterlife and having God as a guide pacifies the poet amidst the death-ridden thoughts which constantly cause pain to her soul.
“Small Towns and the River” by Mamang Dai poetizes the concern of the poetess about the problematic life existing in the “Small Towns” of Arunachal Pradesh. The phrase “The River” makes its appearance in the title”Small Towns and the River” because it refers to Pasighat, the hometown of the poetess through which it passes. Since the poetess looks upon her hometown as free from the anxieties which characterize the small towns of Arunachal Pradesh, the poem states her wish to transform the lives of these small towns to their primordial form.
The title of the poem ‘Small Town and Rivers’ shows the reality of increasing small towns and its impact on the natural elements like the river. In this poem, the world of Nature is represented, primarily, by the river. The increasing towns had a harsh impact on nature in the form of bad condition of the rivers in poet’s area. / erriod
3. The Structure
[Q. Critically discuss the poetic devices used in Mamang Dai’s ‘Small Towns and the River’.]
‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai consists of four stanzas each having an irregular line-count. The overall poem doesn’t contain any specific rhyme scheme. But, the rhythm of the poem isn’t monotonous at all. The flow depends on the intricacy of internal rhyming. Moreover, there are a few instances where the poet uses slant rhymes. Apart from that, the metrical scheme of the poem is also irregular.
As the syllable count differs in each line, it is hard to frame the lyric in a specific meter. For reference, the first line begins with a spondee followed by lambic feet. And, in most of the cases, the poet uses the lambic meter accompanied by the anapestic meter.
‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dal begins with a paradox. Poets generally associate the idea of death with small towns or any such habitations. In this stanza, there is personification. Here, the poet personifies her “hometown”, “dust”, and “wind”. Moving forward, in “dreadful silence” there is a personal metaphor. Apart from that, the lines of the second stanza, as well as the other stanzas, mostly get connected by the use of enjambment. However, in “sad wreath of tuberoses”, the poet uses pathetic fallacy. Along with that, there is an epigram in “Life and death, life and death,/ only the rituals are permanent.” In the third stanza, there is a simile in the comparison between the river to a “torrent of grief”. In “torrent of grief” there is a metaphor.
There is a refrain, “The river has a soul” at the beginning of the fifth stanza. Moreover, in “mist on the mountaintops”, there is alliteration. Here, the “m” sound gets repeated. In the following stanza, there is metonymy in “golden east”. And the “house of the sun” contains a circumlocution or periphrasis. However, the last two lines contain another paradox. The meaning of these two lines depends on the idea present in the previous sections of the poem.
The poem ‘Small Towns and the River’ is written by Mamang Dai, a writer from North-east India. It is a nature poem, but with a difference that while celebrating nature around her hometown, the poet also laments the destruction of that nature to make way for the lifeless small towns along the river. The poem consists of seven stanzas of unequal length and is written in free verse, which means that it does not have a rhyme scheme. In fact, the poet begins by narrating the flip side of small towns situated amidst trees, which remind her of death with their flying dust and howling wind. She treats life and death as transient, but the nature and rituals as permanent.
The river has a predominant presence in her poem. It is depicted as the one alongside which lie numerous small towns, the one with a soul, the one which ‘knows’, the one which brings grief to inhabitants of the towns in summer, and the one which knows about the immortality’ of its water. She speaks of life during childhood, full of happiness, transitioning into the later life of anxiety, as symbolized by the growth of the small towns by the river. The lines are short and the verses are lucid. The poet has used poetic devices like Alliteration, Antithesis, Inversion, Metaphor, Onomatopoeia, Personification, Repetition, Simile, and Transferred Epithet to beautify the poem.
The extensive use of Personification can be seen in the animate/human qualities attributed to the river “the river has a soul”, “it holds its breath” and “the river
knows”. The traditional belief that the souls of the dead dwell in nature, and rise with the sun, the cold bamboo that springs back with the sunlight, and the significance of the same in life, form imagery in the poem. The depiction of the towns during the summer and winter seasons adds to the visual imagery of the poem. The elaborate descriptions of the river as a living entity also make for the special feature of imagery used by the poet.
The main message of the poem is the conveying of the poet’s mixed, almost antithetical, feelings about nature and the small towns which lie by the river. While the poet employs nature to imply positivity, she looks upon the small towns as a symbol of death, since they have grown at the cost of nature. Overall, the poem is an interesting read and I like it for its curious mix of the positive and the negative aspects. 51
Observe how a similar picture of monotonous life in a small town is presented by Mamang Dai, a poet from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.
My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees,
it is always the same,
in the summer or winter
with the dust flying,
or the wind howling down the gorge.
Consider the lineation of the poem “Small Towns.” The first four stanzas begin with a kind of statement and most of the lines are punctuated phrases or complete sentences in which each line constitutes what in literary term is called “end-stop.” Occasional enjambments and caesuras somehow interpose the monotony. The lines are short and the sentences simple arranged mostly without the use of connecting words, but sometimes linked by additive or coordinating connectors like “and,” “or,” and “for”: this literary technique is called parataxis.
Parataxis is also used to describe a poetic technique in which dissimilar and opposing images are juxtaposed without a clear connection. The poem is built on parataxis. In one of the stanzas, an image of happy childhood days, anxiety of small towns and traditional belief on death are put together like a collage. By literally coming between the two opposing images, the lines (that small towns grow with anxiety) complicate the connections between the two images.
The imagery that Dai employs in the poem draws the reader’s attention to the contrast of the stillness of the towns and the energy of the river. The dominant imagery of the towns is suggestive of tediousness: “My hometown lies calmly”; “it is always the same”; and even people mourn in “dreadful silence.” The idea of repetitiveness in the human life circle is accentuated by repeating the phrase, “life and death”; besides, rituals denote a repetition of acts. The natural elements, on the contrary, display vigour: the dust flies; the wind howls; and the river cuts through the land, stretches past the town, and sometimes holds its breath. “Death” in the
opening line seems to symbolise boredom (besides its connotative sense of stillness). By implication, the cause of anxiety is inherent in the towns rather than caused by external forces. What then is the relationship between small towns and the river? Or rather what comes between the bond of humans and nature, small towns’ growing anxiety? Are traditions a constitutive factor of anxiety? There are no easy conclusions. By the way, what restores the cool bamboo in sunlight, acceptance of life as it comes (life matters, like this”), or reinvention of traditions and reconnection with nature? However, the need for such pursuit seems to have been obviated by the assertion in the concluding couplet that they have the desire to live a life informed by the traditions and in communion with nature: “In small towns by the river / we all want to walk with gods.”
In the lyric, it is easy to equate the poetic voice with the voice of the poet: more so in the case of reflective poems like “Small Towns.” The speaker in the poem neither assumes a persona, nor addresses a particular audience. S/he is neither alienated, nor in harmony with the milieu. What seems certain is the speaker’s viewpoint an adult’s remembrances of hometown which is reflected by the paratactic syntax connoting choppy memory. The mood is nostalgic, but without a sense of longing and the tone is both celebratory and disapproving. What the poem lacks is therefore the cohering elements that could bring the opposing factors together, not to a closure, but to form an organic whole. –
4. The Role of Nature
[Q. Write a short essay on the treatment of Nature in Mamang Dai’s ‘Small Towns and the River’ with illustrative reference.]
Mamang Dai’s poetic world is one of river, forest and mountain, a limpid and lyrical reflection of the terrain of her home state. Nature here is mysterious, verdant with myth, dense with sacred memory. There is magic to be found everywhere: in the way lilies “navigating on a heartbeat. . . are shooting up like swordfish”, in the quiet equipoise of “cool bamboo,/ restored in sunlight”, in the “speechless ardour” of mountains. And there is no doubt whatsoever that “the river has a soul”.
You might be inclined to wonder initially if this is a somewhat facile lyricism. But as you read closer, you sense a more sinister undertow: you realize this paradisiacal landscape is also one of “guns and gulls”, punctuated by “the footfall of soldiers”.
Consider the poem ‘Small Towns and the River’, where the reiteration of the river’s soul coexists with a mounting sense of human anxiety, leading you to the unexpected close: “In small towns by the river/ we all want to walk with the gods.” […]
The strength of this poetry is its unforced clarity, its ability to steer clear of easy flamboyance. So when she describes herself as a member of a tribe of “ten thousand
messengers/ carrying the whispers of the world”, you realise you have a pretty succinct definition of what being a poet means to Mamang Dai. You also realize what makes Dai such an effective messenger.
You also realize that the simplicity of Dai’s verse is not without guile. It possesses a gentle persuasive riverine tug that can lead you to moments of heart-stopping
surprise. Consider the poem ‘Small Towns and the River’, where the reiteration of the river’s soul coexists with a mounting sense of human anxiety, leading you to the unexpected close: “In small towns by the river/ we all want to walk with the gods.” For all its simplicity, Dai’s poetry does not arrive at easy conclusions. There is no dishonest sense of anchor here, no blissful pastoral idyll. The poet describes her people as “foragers for a destiny” and her work is pervaded by a deep unease about erased histories and an uncertain future. And yet, implicit in Dai’s poetics is the refusal to divorce protest from love. (An interview with her in which she eloquently articulates this view, accompanies this edition.) This seems to translate into a commitment to a poetry of quiet surges and eddies rather than gritty textures and edges. It also translates into a voice that is never raised in rage or indignation; a tone that is hushed, wondering, thoughtful, reflective. The strength of this poetry is its unforced clarity, its ability to steer clear of easy flamboyance.
So when she describes herself as a member of a tribe of “ten thousand messengers/ carrying the whispers of the world”, you realise you have a pretty succinct definition of what being a poet means to Mamang Dai. You also realize what makes Dai such an effective messenger.
Thus nature, natural landscape have repeated occurrences in the poetry of North East Indian English poets. They are very much aware of the ecology of the region and the intricate relationship that exists between man and nature. Through the use of myths and legends through different imagery Mamang Dai asserts the root of tribal identity in her poems. She is very much conscious of the natural landscapes of her homeland thereby capturing the essential beauty of the land, when that beauty is almost on the brink of being wiped out at the onset of modern industrialization. Through most of her poems, with different images, she tries to weave the myths of nature, the traditional tribal beliefs as such. Nature has a mystical presence in her works and she wants to explore through the mysteries of nature.
Thus nature is viewed not only as a passive object, but is also as a dynamic force that plays a pivotal role in shaping an ecological consciousness of the poet as well as the general reader.
5. Co-existence of Life and Death
[Q. Life and death have harmonious coexistence in Mamang Dai’s ‘Small Towns and the River’. Comment briefly.
Or, Q. How does Mamang Dai blend issues of life and death in her poem ‘Small Towns and the River’.]
The poem “Small Towns and the River” mainly deals with the life and death of human beings. In the poem we can find that the poet depicts the picture of the people who have lost their near and dear ones. The people feel sorry for the death of dear ones and the whole town groans for the loss. The Poet uses the imagery of the river to depict the eternity of life, in which human beings are led for the decay and destruction. Because of the use of various types of imagery the poem becomes interesting among the readers. In the first stanza we can find the imagery of sorrowfulness of the people and the town as well. The poet says that small towns always remind her of death. She says that her hometown remains calm and peaceful among the trees. It may be summer season or winter season, there will not be any change in the appearance of the village. The dust is flying and the winds are howling among the trees.
The twin foci in Mamang Dai’s quote from ‘Small Towns s and the River’, at the STO beginning of the text are death and the lethargy that dominate small towns-these two ideas are seen at play throughout the text. 46 noipila
In the second stanza the poet says that the next day ay there was news of the death of someone and the news made everyone sorry. The people wept and groaned in silence. People always look at the sad wreath of tuberoses after the death of every THOX. H individual. Life is not permanent and death is inevitable for every living being. Life and death is a continuous process in everyone’s life. The tradition, ritual, custom are permanent in our society, not life. The poet uses the imagery of the river to compare the life of the people. The river is permanent but the life of human beings is temporary. The river has a spirit through which it can overcome sorrows in its paths. The poet uses the imagery of the river to emphasize the permanency of water while comparing the mortality of man. The river knows everything about the town and the frequent deaths of people of this town. The river knows about the rains which touch the dry earth and about the mists in the mountains.
The imagery of rivers is used in a charismatic way. Images of explorers are also used here who explore the fish and stars. The stage of childhood is the most important part of an individual. The beginning stage of life, childhood is like the purity of the soul at the dawn. The small towns tensed about the future. The sight of the sun in the golden east helps the poet with new and positive kinds of energy. The poet emphasizes on the meaning and importance of everyone’s life. Without life we can’t be a lively spirit of this universe. We can sense the thoughts of eternity and spirituality in the poem. The poet believes in the concept of afterlife. The rhythm of harmony makes our mind peaceful. We can mainly find the natural aspects in the poem.
Nature is home for everyone, from the giant galaxy, universe to a tiny microorganism including the non-living rivers and mountains. Nature is also constructed of
untouchable and unseen dreams, memories, imaginations, culture, tradition, folklore and cycle of life that is, ‘Life and Death. She was deeply in the mysterious presence of this gigantic natural object which was undoubtedly ‘dead’ but which seemed in some ways alive and open to questions. Death has a symbolic meaning in Dai’s poem. Heroic death is always sung out in neo-romantic poems. Life and death are part of nature that nobody can escape; this feeling can be seen ironically in the first line of her poem ‘Small Towns and the River”:
Small towns always remind me of death.
It follows in lines,
Life and death, life and death,
Only the rituals are permanent.
‘Small towns and the river’ by Mamang Dai is a poem about life and mortality. The town symbolizing death presents a weeping picture of those who have lost their dear ones. In this poem, not only the poet grieves but the town also mourns the loss. Moreover, the poet presents a contrast in the image of the river that lives eternally.
In a country where religion and caste politics have always reigned from the helm, these pieces indicate how they are now threatening to irretrievably erode all notions of syncretic coexistence. Religious politicization and vigilantism emerge as the most significant factors evoking or threatening to evoke, most brutal, animalistic responses in the hinterlands of contemporary India and spreading fear and posing a menace to democracy.
[Q. Discuss some significant symbols in the poem.
Q. There is a reiteration of the coexistence of the river’s soul in Mamang Dai’s ‘Small Towns and The River’ – Discuss.]
‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai is a poem about life and mortality. The town symbolizing death presents a weeping picture of those who have lost their dear ones. In this poem, not only the poet grieves but the town also mourns the loss. Moreover, the poet presents a contrast in the image of the river that lives eternally. Whereas, humans are prone to death and decay. However, the symbolism and the imagery used in the poem make the poet’s idea more thought-provoking and interesting to the readers.
Flowers are the manifestation of the soul which is ever present in the seed which thereby is transmitted to the plant and then to the flower. The radiance the flower transmits is reflective in nature. Author subtly describes the radiance emitted by the flower as beautiful. The flower is short-lived but is immortal as the same flower gets transformed into seed and another plant or sapling. So the author indirectly says that
as the river is immortal so is flower The fragrance, brightness and presence of flower is subtly described by the author.
Flowers like tuberoses are used into wreaths which are placed as a symbol of love and respect on the body of the dead. Life and Death
Life and death are part of nature that nobody can escape; this feeling can be seen ironically in the first line of her poem “Small Towns and the River”: Small towns always remind me of death.
It follows in lines,
Life and death, life and death,
Only the rituals are permanent.
The significance of the river is well known from time immemorial. The people of Arunachal believe that rivers too have souls like human beings. The river is always equated with goddess and so is considered immortal. The water in the river is deemed as eternal.
The people show their reverence to the river as it has a soul and its water is immortal. River is always taken as one of the richest sources of water. Poet feels that the river has a soul. Soul never perishes. The physical structure might but the soul remains immortal So does the river according to the poet.
She also equates it with the water cycle. Says the river water evaporates goes to the tip of mountain and form icicles which ladens the cloud and falls back in to the river as rainwater. Thus, the river water is immortal. It’s exalted to the highest position among tribals in Arunachal.
Fish and Stars
The land of fish and stars is used to tell the fact that the rivers are in a pathetic situation and she wants to escape from it and once again want to return her former glory and become a land for fish and stars as it was in the past. Bamboo
It is a part of nature which restores sunlight but its coolness and green colour provide solace to people. Bamboo is always regarded as a coolant. The atmospheric temperature is considerably brought down by bamboo. So the poet calls it cool. The bamboo sheaths are used in small towns as ceilings. Thus, insulating the house from heat.
Childhood is a time of enjoyment. As the things outside his or her world hardly matter to the child, he or she is happy. However, children living in towns that are devoid of the association of Nature have a tough time ahead of them because they
will have to fight with all kinds of environmental problems. Naturally, they have every reason to become anxious.
The people of th the community to which the poetess belongs, namely the Adi community believe that the dead persons will be reborn from their grave and will walk accordingly. That is why these people keep the dead bodies of human beings with their heads in the western direction. They do so because they believe that when the dead being will become alive, they will move towards the east which is golden in colour because the sun rises there. This east side is the house of the sun.
It is a direction that is highly revered by the people of Arunachal. Sun is regarded as God. The rising of the sun is in the east so the direction is given special status. Even the mortal remains of a person is placed pointing west as they feel the soul will reach the sun directly. East is always numerouno among directions. For them it means heaven, the abode of the sun.
7. As A Neo-Romantic Poem
[Q. Briefly discuss Mamang Dai’s Small Towns and the River as a NeoRomantic poem.]
Nature is home for everyone, from the giant galaxy, universe to a tiny microorganism including the non-living rivers and mountains. Nature is also constructed of untouchable and unseen dreams, memories, imaginations, culture, tradition, folklore and cycle of life that is, ‘Life and Death’. She was deeply in the mysterious presence of this gigantic natural object which was undoubtedly ‘dead’ but which seemed in some ways alive and open to questions. Death has a symbolic meaning in Dai’s poem. Heroic death is always sung out in neo-romantic poems. Life and death are part of nature that nobody can escape; this feeling can be seen ironically in the e first line of her poem “Small Towns and the River”:
Small towns always remind me of death.
It follows in lines,
Life and death, life and death,
Only the rituals are permanent.
The Second Element of Neo-Romanticism in Dai’s poetry is longing for the past, being nostalgic about old days. She expresses her deep longing for the past days, especially happiness. The desire for escape to the countryside and yearning for happy childhood days all are more understandable by the following lines:
A shrine of happy pictures
Marks the days of childhood. Small towns grow with anxiety For the future. 19 to Sintu s 2 houby D
In Mamang Dai’s River Poems the poet shows her love for and association with the objects of nature, such as trees, mountains, hills, clouds, river, seasons, mist, rain, landscape etc., blending history and myth associated with her land (Dai, River Poems). Her communion with nature finds avowed expression in her poem “Small Towns and the River”.
‘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’.
Mamang Dai, a poetess from Itanagar in the North-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in ‘Small Towns and the River’ expresses: “Small towns always remind me of death.
My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees(.)”
For Mamang, each small raindrop sings. Dai has described the natural world with great precision. Nature has always inspired her to see beauty within. She connects life very closely to Nature and its phenomenon. She wrote about Nature as a source of beauty and a refuge from the stresses and strains of life in the modern world. For Dai the world of nature is the closest we can come to an ideal world or a utopian world, a sort of “Eden” and is the only real environment that can approach the ideal forms created by human imagination. Humankind is not the dominant force as it assumes in this postmodern world, it has always been ‘the Nature’, the refuge, the giver the destroyer and the preserver.
Interwoven into the lucid descriptive lines is the anguish of the people. Having been brought up amidst the grandeur of nature in all its diversified forms and simultaneously experiencing the shocks of terrorist activities, Dai’s writings are an amalgamation of the Romantic spirit and the revolutionary fervor. Love for her homeland is distinctively evident in her poems in lines like,
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.
The river has a soul.
In the summer it cuts through the land
like a torrent of grief.
8. Aspects of Traditional Belief System
[Q. Discuss the aspects of a traditional belief system as shown by Mamang Dai in her poem ‘Small Towns and the River.]
Every village, clan and family has a history, and many places are associated with myths and legends. A river in its every turn weaves stories as it flows. The source of the river, an uncanny looking boulder in the river, and a dangerously looking whirlpool would tell their own story.
When Dai speaks of the “spirit of place,” she is echoing an important creed of the traditional belief system of this part of the world. In the traditional belief system, the natural world is alive with spirits. A house, a field, or a river has a soul. One cannot simply own a land or dispose of it.
One has to perform certain rituals in order to propitiate the spirit of the land, so that the soul of the owner may become one with the spirit of the land. For instance, Nagas believed that it is inauspicious for a person to reclaim a piece of land that he had abandoned, or to reoccupy the house he had left, for the unity of soul once severed cannot be merged again. This simple background knowledge may make some lines more comprehensible:
The river has a soul.
In the summer it cuts
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through the land like a torrent of grief. Sometimes,
sometimes, I think it holds its breath
seeking a land of fish and stars.
To say that a river has a soul is to believe that it has a will of its own. Therefore, “it cuts through the land,” “it holds its breath” and it seeks “a land of fish and stars” as though the river is acting on its own volition. This is not to say that the river cannot be used as an instance of personification. Imagined in terms of human characteristics, the river is said to hold its breath. However, to explicitly iterate that “The river has a soul” sounds more like a statement of belief than an instance of personification. Besides, rivers (and not humans)cut through the land.
Regarding the idea of eschatology, human existence continues even after death. The dead go to the underworld called “the land of the dead” or “the valley of the dead” where they live as it is in their previous lives retaining the same status and position.
However, his worthiness in the underworld partly depends on the ways his living kin treat him. The following lines describe the position in which a dead body is kept and buried, and the direction to which the dead goes:
The Dead are placed pointing west.
When the soul rises
it will walk into the golden east,
into the house of the sun.
The last line – that the dead goes to the house of the sun – perhaps alludes to the traditional belief called Donyi-Polo, which literally means “sun” and “moon”.
9. Representation of Temporality and Permanence – The Message
[Q. How far does the theme of temporality and permanence occur in the poem? Discuss broadly.]
There are certain facts in a poem and these are likely to go beyond our memory because of the overpowering impression which poetry produces in us. Reading some very short facts from the poem “Small Towns and the River” we can gather a lot of information about the life of the people belonging to the Adi community of Arunachal Pradesh.
The tone of the poem “Small Towns and the River” is immediately set by the opening line: “Small towns always remind me of death.” The voice of anxiety established in the opening line is reinforced in the second stanza by the actual death of someone. It is interesting to note that the speaker is not related to the person who died, yet “In the dreadful silence we wept.” The occasion is poignant enough to remind the speaker of human condition: life and death. If human life is defined by temporality, rituals are characterised by permanence, and so is the river. “The river” may, by synecdochic extension, represent “natural world.”
Therefore, the transience of human life is juxtaposed against the permanence of traditions and nature, the idea that is powerfully conveyed by the line, “In the summer it cuts through the land / like a torrent of grief.” Here, the way in which rivers cut through the land – human habitat – is compared to “a torrent of grief.” In what may be seen as the central stanza of the poem, images of happy childhood days, anxiety of small towns and traditional belief on death are all put together in a stanza like a collage. The medley of disconnected ideas seems to suggest the difficulty of identifying the source of anxiety, the anxiety that seems to entail not only the loss of childhood memories, but which is also compounded by the gradual disappearance of traditions.
The next stanza reinstates a sense of calm contentment, “In the cool bamboo, / restored in sunlight / life matters, like this,” which is reaffirmed by the speaker’s assumption of communal voice, “We all want to walk with the gods.” Is the speaker reaffirming their desire to live in the traditional ways of life? If so, true to what Dai said that “the literature of the Northeast is about the language of hope,” the poem concludes in an optimistic mood by suggesting that the restorative power lies in a meaningful relation with the traditional beliefs.
In pursuance with this thematic approach, also note the things that exist in perpetuity, and things that decay with time: the rituals; “the immortality of water”: the river that flows forever; “the breeze/ that is forever young.” Things governed by time or ideas that suggest impermanence: childhood days; fairy lights crossing;
changing languages. Even “The small towns grow with anxiety for the future.” Human life, their actions and creations are all shown to be governed by time and subjected to changes.
What is permanent is the desire to “walk with gods” and “the mind of the mountain” “where memory escapes the myths of time.” Only the “spirit of place” as embodied in the traditional cultures and beliefs is presented as truly permanent.
In “Small Towns,” repetition of the phrase “life and death” underscores the theme of permanence and transience by reiterating the tension of the poem.
Mamang Dai’s “Small Towns and the River” poetizes the poetess’ sense of worry at the ‘anxiety’ of the people belonging to “Small towns” and her expectation for the betterment of the situation of these people.
At the very outset, the poetess draws a contrast between “Small towns” and “My hometown” on the basis of their association with Nature. While “Small towns” remind her of ‘death’, her ‘hometown’ i.e. Pasighat provides an enjoyable existence despite the diametrically opposite nature of seasons:
“it is always the same,
in summer or winter”.
She looks upon ‘death’ not in the literal sense but in the metaphorical sense of
the absence of joie de vivre which she believes can be provided by Nature only. By associating summer with “dust flying” and winter with “the winter howling down the gorge” she looks upon Nature not as it has been modified by industrialization but rather in its primordial form. The utopian projection of the poetess’ ‘hometown’ is where the poetess wants to take the “small towns” of Arunachal Pradesh. Then the poetess presents ‘death’ in the literal sense: “Just the other day someone died”. This ‘someone’ as the poetess herself acknowledges in the course of her interview with Prof. Jaydeep Sarangi is the younger sister of her mother who died at a clinic in New Delhi. The ‘death’ makes people ‘sad’ and produces “dreadful silence” because the person dies young and possesses a loved character and thereby establishes the helplessness of human beings before Death. The “wreath of tuberoses” establishes the ‘permanent’ nature of the “the rituals” done to the dead human beings and contrasts it to the mutability of human existence by juxtaposing “life and death” in a single phrase.
After this account is titled “Small Town,” the poem takes a shift and focuses on “the River” i.e. the Siang River. By asserting that “the river has a soul” the poetess in conformity to the belief of the Adi community about Nature looks upon it as a living entity. Carrying on the belief she states that the river, reduced to a trickle in summer, expresses ‘grief’ like a human being. However, what the river wants to be is “a land of fish” implying happiness and activity. 90
Existing from the ‘past’ and indirectly causing “the first drop of rain to dry earth and mist on the mountaintops” the river surely establishes “the immortality of water”.
The image of “mist on the mountaintops” imparts seclusion end enigma to the mountains. Incidentally, there is a sense of seclusion and enigma in the lives of the people of Arunachal Pradesh which is a place circumscribed by hills.
It is in this primordial form of “the River” to which the poetess wants to take the “Small Towns” back. Childhood as one experiences here is a collection of “happy pictures”. However, when these children grow in age they cannot but suffer from ‘anxiety’ – anxiety caused by insurgency, migration, industrialization, Maoist infiltration, etc. Needless to say, this ‘anxiety’ jeopardizes and destroys the peaceful life pattern of this area.
Tanganin In order to free the yet to be born people of this territory of this “mind forged manacles” as William Blake would call it, the living ones believing in the regeneration of the souls in the form of living beings place them “pointing west” so that on assuming the human form they “will walk into the golden east” which is “the house of the sun”. The image of ‘bamboo’ which refers to the age-old business of the Adipeople is referred to in this context because these people believe that the changing society will be akin to the age-old society. The superhuman power that will affect this positive move is none other than God.
Mamang Dai as one Thus, the poem under review p presents Mamang society towards a better tomorrow so to say.
[Q. Write an appreciation of the poem ‘Small towns and Rivers’.]
Mamang Dai is a modern Indian poet of the North-East region. She was born in the Adi tribal community of Arunachal Pradesh. She was raised up in a close vicinity of Nature and thus got an opportunity to understand the tribal life that was intertwined with all aspects of Nature. At the same time, she also observed the growing political unrest and suffering of the common people due to insurgency. All these issues find an expression in her poems.
The North-East region of India has been a site of political tensions for a long time. These tensions exist between the states and the central government as well as between the natives and the migrants from other parts of India. The violent clashes between the insurgents and the army also led to massive bloodshed. This is conveyed in the poem by the line: “Just the other day someone died.” This expression makes it appear as if such deaths due to insurgency are very common and happen almost every day. This is how the poetess conveys the intensity of people’s suffering. The expression “dreadful silence” refers to the curfews after such clashes.
Human life, therefore, is temporary and ephemeral because it ends so soon. The speaker contrasts this perishability of human life with the permanence of rituals and nature. The tribal rituals have been in existence since time immemorial. They have
been passed down from one generation to another for thousands of years. Thus, they have a sort of permanence in contrast to the human life which is caught in a vicious cycle of life and death: “Life and death, life and death, /only the rituals are permanent. The speaker also gives some instances of prevalent rituals. For example, she mentions the ritual of placing the dead with their head pointing westwards so that when their soul rises it would go towards the “golden east”, meaning, heaven.
She celebrates the rich culture and rituals of the North-East region. However, the speaker also expresses a feeling of lament because these perennial rituals and traditions are threatened by the so-called modernization. Thus she says: “Small towns grow with anxiety for the future.” Through her poem, the poetess in fact tries to secure these rituals against the waves of time. In this process memory plays an important role. The North-Eastern tribal communities have largely followed an oral culture, in which their myths, folklores, conventions, and beliefs are passed orally from one generation to another. Dai tries to recall those memories from her “shrine of happy pictures” and tries to make her memory more permanent by giving it a written form in the form of this poem.
The speaker also contrasts the transient nature of human life and endeavors with the eternity of nature. In this poem, the world of Nature is represented, primarily, by the river. Whereas human deaths are so frequent, the river is immortal: “the river knows/ the immortality of water.” At the same time, while the human world is marked by sadness and stagnancy, the natural world is full of vigour and movement. This contrast can be observed in the very first stanza of the poem. While the speaker’s hometown lies “calmly” amidst the trees, and “is always the same”, the “dust” is “flying” and the “wind” is “howling down the gorge.”
The Adi tribe, just like Wordsworth, believed in the philosophy of Pantheism. For them the world of Nature was not dead, but alive with spirits. Thus, they worshipped the mountains, the rivers and the trees. Dai herself confessed that for her Nature is “a living presence” with which one can connect and empathise. This thought is reflected in the line: “The river has a soul”. In fact, the world of Nature also responds to the happenings in the human world. For instance, in this poem, the pain and suffering in the human world due to insurgency is echoed in the natural world by the river which cuts through the land “like a torrent of grief.” The erosion of culture and tradition in the North-East also saddens and thus, it “holds its breath” and seeks a land of fish and stars. The land of fish and stars refers to the river’s desire to escape into a mythical land, when the universe was being created and everything was pure. This can also be seen as an allusion to the Australian Aborigine’s folklore about the creation of the universe.
From the stylistic aspect too, the poem is a masterpiece. First of all, it is a fine specimen of modern poetry. It has no specific metrical form and is largely written in free verse. But, there are some internal rhymes like: summer/ winter(stanza 1),flying/
howling(stanza 1). There has been an extensive use of repetitions and alliterations. An example of repetition is the line: “Life and death, life and death”(stanza 2). The line “The river has a soul” has been used as a sort of refrain for the stanzas 3 and 4. The repetition of ‘s'(Sibilant) sound is very prominent in the poem. This can be seen in the line: “seeking a land of fish and stars” in which the ‘s’ sound has been repeated four times. All these grant a musical effect to the poem. The poem also contains some beautiful imagery related to the world of nature: “wreath of tuberoses”, “mist on mountaintops”, “cool bamboo, restored in sunlight”. Commenting on the poetic beauty of Dai’s poetry, the famous Indian poet, Keki N. Daruwalla had rightly remarked that her poems are like a “race of fireflies bargaining with the night.”
The poem finally ends on an optimistic note, with the speaker finding a solution for the various problems of the North-East region in the adherence to their age old culture, rituals and spirituality. Thus she says: “In small towns by the river/ we all want to walk with the gods.”
A TEXTUAL EVALUATION [BROAD TYPE QUESTIONS: 5 MARKS]
1. How does the speaker compare her hometown with small towns? How did the death of someone affect the poetess?
By the phrase “small towns” the speaker refers to those places which are devoid of the attachment of Nature. Naturally, life here is suffocating. The speaker does not enjoy her existence here. Not only that, but the place also creates in her the impression of death. However, death here does not imply the absence of life; rather it stands for the absence of the joy of living.
On the other hand, the hometown of the speaker i.e. Pasighat which is located in the foothills on the right bank of the river Siang has a very close attachment with Nature. So, there is the throbbing of life here. No wonder the speaker enjoys her stay here. Even the disparity of weather as the one existing between summer and winter does not change her impression.
In the course of the poem the poetess mentions that she finds someone who is very near to her death. This person may be the younger sister of her mother who died in a clinic in New Delhi. She felt sad for the dead person because the latter was loved by others and she died at a young age. As a result, she wept. The death caused inher the feeling that she was bound to die someday.
Naturally, she became afraid. Garlands made of tuberoses were brought to decorate the dead body. From this, she gathered the impression that though there is a continuous change in the pattern of life and death, the ritual done to the dead persons remains unchanged.
2. List and explain the metaphorical expressions from the poem.
Torrent of grief: The river sweeps along with great speed as if it is pouring out sorrow. Intense grief is indirectly compared to the torrent of water.
Wind howling down the gorge: The wind blowing through the narrow gorges creates a sound exactly like howling. Indirect comparison between the howling of wind and the howling of human beings.
The river has a soul: The river is spoken of as a living being, a human. Indirect comparison between the river with soul and the human soul.
It holds its breadth: The river may be choking with debris and filth. Indirect comparison between the river’s holding of breath and human’s holding of death.
Small towns grow with anxiety: This means when small-town communities expand, growth and prosperity bring the negative points also. If the town has to grow something of nature in the surroundings has to be destroyed. The ecosystem is upset. So even if growth means prosperity, there is also reason to worry about the damage we cause.
Want to walk with the gods: The poet says that the people want to live in peace, among nature which God created. In the middle of natural surroundings, one feels god’s presence. Living there feels like living in god’s presence.
3. How does the poetess establish the fact that “The river has a soul”? Discuss the importance of nature in the lives of the people from the Northeastern part of India as expressed in the poem with reference to – (a) Flowers (b) River (c) Bamboo (d) East.
According to the poetess the river has a soul, meaning that it is a living entity. The poet establishes this fact by explaining its course in summer. At this time there is very little water in the river. Therefore, it flows slowly and with minimum power. It seems as if the river is expressing grief.
At times the flow of the river stops. It seems as if the river has stopped its breath. Actually the river wants a large amount of water and to flow at great speed. The river wants to be a reservoir of a great number of fishes.
Moreover, the river wants crystal clear water so that it reflects the stars which though unseen are there in the sky and which are not being reflected in the water. (a) Flowers – Tuberoses are woven into wreaths to be placed on the body of a departed as a mark of love and respect.
(b) River – The people believe the river has a soul. They respect their rivers and even refer it as divine as its waters are immortal.
(c) Bamboo – The poet says ‘in the cool bamboo. The colour is a cool green. The place where the bamboo grows is also cool.
(d) East – The direction of sunrise is very important for the people of Arunachal
Pradesh. They ensure the dead are placed pointing west so that their soul directly enters the golden house of the sun. They believe that finally souls must attain the sun’s abode in the east.
4. The poet is convinced with the thought of immortality of water. Pick out the relevant lines. The poet has described her small town in Arunachal Pradesh. Pick out the lines that describe the poet’s town.
The river has a soul.
from the first drop of rain to dry earth.
mist on the mountaintops.
the immortality of water.
The lines which describe poet’s town are :The town has A shrine of happy pictures’ to mark the days of childhood; Small towns grow with anxiety for the future; Like her town, ‘small towns’ are ‘by the river’; ‘My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees’;
‘it is always the same; In summer and winter; With the dust flying; Or the wind howling down the gorge’.
5. ‘The river has a soul’. Elaborate the concept in your words as the poet has explained it in the poem. How do the expressions “The river has a soul” and “Life and death” indicate different figures of speech?
The poem has neo-romantic elements in it. The poetess believes in the ideology of pantheism which means nature is the manifestation / creation of god. She believes that god exists in every part of nature. The north eastern people worship the element of nature for this belief. The poetess also thinks that the river has the soul as it is part of nature. It is immortal whereas human life is temporal. People have emotional attachment with nature. So, their grief is expressed by the river as a torrent of grief.
When the poet says ‘The river has a soul’ she personifies the river. The river flows with great force like a torrent or grief’. The river flowing with great force can be like a person pouring out grief in a storm of emotion. The river also seems to be holding its breadth, maybe because it is choking with filth. There are no fish. It is not clear and sparkling. So the poet says- ‘I think it holds its breadth seeking a land of fish and stars’.
The soul is deathless. The water that flows in the river came from the drops of the rain. The water evaporated to form clouds and poured down on earth and flowed again. Thus, the river goes on being immortal and deathless. (a) ‘Life and death’ :
In the first usage it is used as antithesis, to emphasise the beginning and end. In the second instance it is irony to indicate that neither life nor death is permanent. Ironically the rituals are permanent. In this line two opposite words (life x death) are used. So, this figure of speech is based on ‘difference or contrast.
In this line an ironical statement to indicate the temporality of life and death. So, this figure of speech is based on ‘difference or contrast’.
(b) ‘The river has a soul’ :
In the first instance it is used to personify the river. Several human-like qualities are attributed to the river. In this line the word ‘soul’ is the human quality shown in the river. So, this figure of speech is based on ‘Imagination.
It is an overstatement, too. So, this figure of speech is based on ‘imagination. It cuts through the land it is cascading in grief
it holds its breadth
it seeks a land
6. How does the poet establish “the immortality of water”? Why do the people of the Adi community place the dead bodies west?
Human life is short-lived. In contrast, water has a sense of immortality in it. For example, in summer the amount of water in the river is very little. Then the water flows very slowly. It seems as if the water is expressing grief. At times even the water seems to stop its flow. Actually, the water wants to be a land of fish and stars. This is what it does in the monsoon. The water in the rain has some different kinds of functions. It injects new life into the dry soil. It changes to mist when it appears on the mountains and envelops it. Thus, water not only exists in all forms but also in all time. No wonder, the poetess finds a sense of immortality in it.
The folklore of Arunachal Pradesh in general and that of the Adi community in particular shares the belief that the dead bodies are reborn and that too in the shape the dead bodies are laid down. That is why they keep the bodies of their dead people with their heads directed to the west. They do so with the hope that when these bodies will come into existence, they will walk towards the east. The east according to them has a positive association because the sun rises here. They look upon the eastern horizon as the house of the sun.
7. The poet has used some unconventional expressions like a) torrent of grief, b) shrine of happy pictures, c) the land of fish and stars. Illustrate them in your own words.
(a) Torrent of grief: The sorrows / grief of the north east people due to the continued blood shed because of the political unrest is as great as the strong, forceful flow/ torrent of the river. The poet describes the river flowing in summer with great speed. Just like someone becomes emotional in great sadness, the force of the water seems to be like the outpouring of sorrow of the river.
(b) The shrine of Happy pictures: The poetess tries to recall those sweet memories of her childhood when her town was free of bloodsheds and organization. There is a shrine probably in the town which has pictures inside. The pictures may be those of the happy moments experienced by the people in the town. Those memories are
so sacred that it is a shrine to them. They protect and guard it because they have only sad and grim things happening at present.
(c) The land of fish and stars: Perhaps due to the sorrow or perhaps due to the urbanization the river is looking for the land of fish and stars. The land of fish and stars means the fairy land at the creation of the world which is pure and unpolluted. The poet says she thinks the river is holding its breadth. One has to hold one’s breath when he/she is unable to breathe or does not want to breathe. The river may be choking with garbage and is not able to breathe. The river may be stinking and may not be able to breathe.
As the river is so filthy there are no fish. It is dirty; the water is not sparkling in the day and cannot reflect the stars at night. So the river is in the search of a land where it can flow clean, it will have fish and where its clear water will sparkle in the sun and glitter with stars at night.
8. Find out the beauty of the free verse reflected in this poem. The poet has connected the need to preserve Nature with the belief of a particular community and her childhood memories. Write down the measures you would take to convince the people regarding the need to conserve nature.
“Small towns and Rivers” is written in free-verse. Since there are irregular lengths of lines and no rhymes, the reading of the poem is almost like story-telling. Each stanza has a different number of lines and there is no order for mixing up the short and long lines.
The poem is not confined by an obvious rhythm so we feel there is a kind of freedom. We are free to manage the widespread setting of the North-eastern terrain of mountains and rivers, mists, golden sunlight and the town by the river.
We have to make people at large realize that we are a part of nature not apart from nature. Saving nature is to save ourselves. To bring about this realization I can address my steps to two sections. The first would be the children. Saving the water would be the first thing to teach children. Storytelling, poems, songs, games, and cartoons can easily bring the conservation ideas to young minds. I would take my ideas to schools, parks, malls and try to spread this to the young ones. The other section is of course the adult public across economic and social levels. The well-off people must not be careless if they can afford to pay bills they can waste resources. I will do everything possible. I will use social media to spread various messages.
There is no rhyme except the internal rhyme at a few places in the poem. It does not have regular metre and does not follow any rhyme scheme. But the poetic language breaks in lines, and the use of refrain gives a five sense of poetry. The poetess has expressed her inner feelings without the limitation of rhyming words freely and spontaneously. She describes the beauty of nature and the feeling of unrest freely. She does not worry about the use and adjustment of words for the sake of monotonous rhyme and metre.
9. The poet is anxious about the existence of the natural beauty of her town in the future. But she touches the strings of the hearts while appealing to conserve Nature. Explain the way she has expressed it in the first and the last line of the poem.
The central government wants to implement various scenes in the name of progress and urbanization. But the militants oppose as they fear it will destroy the peace, nature, culture, tradition and folklore of the region. Nature is very important for them as they believe god resides in every object of nature. Conflicts, bloodsheds and deaths take place regularly as expressed in the first line.
The poetess says in the last line that all people of the town want to walk with the gods means they want to live peacefully in the lap of nature in which god resides.
10. How does the poetess describe the life of the small towns?
Life of the small towns is devoid of the association of Nature. Naturally, there is a sense of lifelessness here. Moreover, small towns always suffer from the anxiety of being engulfed by big towns. Though this event is likely to occur in the future, the joy of their present existence is affected. Bamboo in all forms is no longer looked upon as the main business here. The people living in small towns want a kind of rescue. So they look forward to God as a path maker. The poetess herself has an optimistic frame of mind so to say.
North-East India is one bountiful region abounding in nature’s richness and hence has been the apple of the eye of the neighbouring countries. The negligence of the Indian government has helped infiltrators and Maoists to occupy these regions and at the same time given rise to insurgencies against its policies. The peaceful, innocent tribal groups have thus become victims of terrorist ravages of man and nature. Deeply affected by the death she has seen at close quarters, her poem Small Towns and the River, depicts the anxiety,
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.
The conflict in the region has been an all pervasive phenomena, and in its violent form, it has not only affected the territorial and political sovereignty of the Indian state, but also the life of the various people living in the region in incomprehensible and inexplicable terms. In a drastic and dreaded sense, there is a “culture” of conflict and unfortunately, people have submitted to such an existence. However, amidst the widespread sense of helplessness, there is also an overwhelming desire and force
to be free from such a situation of conflict which cripples the people from all sides. In NorthEast poetry, nature is not a refuge; rather, a repository for histories and loresrealised with a Blakean zeal sans the opacity of images. Thus Mamang Dai, a poet from Arunachal Pradesh, says in a simple prophetic tone:
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. Almost everywhere, in “small towns by the river”, there is a sacred wish that is desirous of life and peace. The north and the east in the poetry of this nook of India is only an imposed axis.
SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS
1. Who is the poet? What do you know about him/her?
Mamang Dai is a Modern Indian poet, journalist and former civil servant from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, the North-East region of India.
2. Where from the poem is taken?
The poem ‘Small Towns and the River’ is taken from the collection of Mamang Dai’s poems called The River Poems.
3. The poem is based on which belief?
The poem is based on the beliefs of the tribal people the Adi people from NorthEast India. –
4. What does the speaker mean by “small towns”?
By the phrase ‘small towns” the speaker means those towns which do not have the association of Nature. Naturally, life in such places is suffocating.
5. What does the poem describe? What is its implication?
The poem describes a landscape and the Nature where a river is a dominant phenomenon.
The poetess implies that the towns have prospered when Nature has been destroyed. She makes us aware of the lively nature and its preservation.
6. Why is the earth called ‘dry’? Where does the mist fall and to what effect?
It is summer. Naturally, there is very little or no rainfall. Therefore, the earth is called dry.
The mist falls on the mountaintops. As a result, the full view of the mountains is obstructed.
7. What is the hometown of the speaker?
The hometown of the speaker is Pasighat. It is located in the foothills on the right bank of the river Siang.
8. How does the poem open?
The poem opens with the poet’s sad memory that the small towns always remind ‘the death’. Here, death means that the towns are prospering with the destruction of nature.
9. Write down the expressions related to the seasons’ from the poem.
Summer or winter it is always the same, in summer or winter, In the summer – In the summer it cuts through the land
10. How does the speaker characterize summer?
The speaker characterizes summer as the time when the dust flies in all directions.
11. What according to the poetess marks the days of childhood?
According to the poetess happy incidents mark the days of childhood. It is at this time that the child creates a world of his own and does not allow the interference of any incident belonging to the outer world. Naturally, a thing like political unrest though it exists in society hardly affects the child.
12. How does the speaker describe her hometown?
The poet describes her hometown in the poem very soberly. It lies calmly amidst the trees, and it is always the same in summer and winter, the dust flies and the wind makes the sound while blowing down the valley.
13. Why was there a dreadful silence?
There was dreadful silence after the death because the violent clashes between the insurgents and the local administration or army led to massive bloodshed there.
14. How does the speaker characterize winter?
The speaker attributes winter as the time when the wind flows down the valley and produces a loud sound.
15. What was the speaker’s reaction to the event of bloodshed?
The poetess cries over the loss of human life in her hometown. The violence in her hometown may have become the daily routine of their life. That is why she is sad.
16. With what do the small towns grow?
According to the poetess small towns grow with the anxiety of being swallowed by the big towns for migration, industrialization, and territorial shifting. There may also be a reference to political anxiety which affects the small towns of Arunachal Pradesh.
17. What is cool, happy, dreadful and dry respectively? How are the dead placed?
Bamboos are cool, pictures are happy, whereas silence is dreadful, and earth is dry.
The dead bodies of human beings are placed with their head directed to the west. It is done deliberately so that these dead beings when coming to life can walk straight to the east which is looked upon as the house of the sun.
18. Explain the phrase “sad wreath of tuberoses”.
The phrase “wreath of tuberoses” refers to a garland made of tuberose flowers. Such garlands are put in the neck of dead persons. The thought of these dead persons makes one ‘sad’.
19. What does ‘life and death’ mean?
The speaker talks about the facts of life with the help of contradictory terms life and death’. Life is transitory but the rituals are not.
20. What does the river hope?
The poetess describes the immortality of the river. It has a soul. It gets dried in summer but hopes to escape from this pathetic situation and return to her former glory in monsoon.
21. Why does the poetess refer to bamboo?
Bamboo in all forms is a part of the business of the Adi community. Thus, it is a part of their life. Therefore, the poetess in order to refer to the life desired by the people of the Adi community refers to bamboo.
22. Why is ‘silence’ called ‘dreadful’?
The ‘silence’ referred to is caused due to the death of someone. This death reminds others of their mortal nature. It is because of this association that the said ‘silence’ is called ‘dreadful’.
23. Make a list of natural elements mentioned in the poem.N Following are the natural elements mentioned in the poem :
Trees, winter, summer, wind, tuberoses, life, land, river, fish, stars, earth, mountaintops, sun, sunlight, bamboo. 201302
24. What does the poet speak about her childhood?
The poetess touches the strings of the heart by narrating her childhood memories related to religious or holy places, and how the dead bodies are buried pointing their heads towards the West so that their soul may rise to heaven.
25. Why does the poetess juxtapose life and death?
Through her experience of seeing someone near and dear to her dying poetess realizes that life is transient. Thus, she comes to know that after the end dying the down of life there is nothing but death. Quite naturally she juxtaposes life and death.
26. What is Heaven? In the expression, “life matters, like this” what kind of life does the poetess speak of?
According to the speaker, Heaven is the house of the Sun.
The poetess speaks of life in its primordial form. This life embodies bamboo business and eating fish in their meal. Moreover, there is a kind of hankering after freedom from the anxiety of all forms.
27. “Small towns always remind me of death. / My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees.” What do you mean by these eloquent lines?
The place is the poet’s hometown, Pasighat. Her mother’s younger sister had passed away in a clinic in New Delhi and her body was being brought home. It was a sad gathering, deeply mourned, because her aunt was beautiful and loved, and she died young.
28. Why does the poetess say “only the rituals are permanent”?
The poetess sees people dying one after another. Thus she comes to realize that human life is transitory. Side by side she sees that the rituals done to the dead persons do not change with the change of time. Therefore, she says, “only the rituals are permanent”.
29. Why is the speaker worried?
The speaker is worried about the development work in the small towns. So she appeals to readers to walk with God to live with Nature. –
30. Explain the figure of speech “a sad wreath of tuberoses. / Is the wreath sad”.
The figure of speech is transferred epithet. The sad mourners have placed the wreath of tuberoses on the dead. The emotion of sadness has been transferred to the flowers for effect.
31. Why does the poetess say “In small towns by the river/ we all want to walk with the gods”?
The poetess knows that life in small towns is full of anxiety – anxiety related to politics and also to other things. So, they look upon God as one who can save them from this anxiety.
32. How does the river cut through the land in summer?
In summer the river cuts through the land slowly and with minimum power. It seems as if the river is expressing its grief.
33. What is the theme of the poem?
The theme of the poem is preservation and conservation of Natural elements in vicinity.
34. Why and what type of poetic devices have been used in the poem?
The use of poetic devices enriches the content of the poem.
The poetess has used a variety of poetic devices like Alliteration, Metaphor, Simile, Personification, Antithesis, Repetition, Transferred Epithet and Inversion in this poem.
35. Why does according to the poetess does the river sometimes hold its breath?
According to the poetess the river sometimes holds its breath because it wants to find out the land of fish and stars. Quite possibly it refers to a big source of water.
36. The poem is convinced with the thought of immortality of water. Pick out the relevant lines.
(a) The river has a soul.
the immortality of water. (c) In small towns by the river we all want to walk with the gods. (d) From the first drop of rain to dry earth. (e) Mist on the mountaintops.
(b) The river knows
37. What does the poetess mean by the phrase “a land of fish and stars”?
By the phrase “a land of fish and stars” the poetess probably refers to a large water source abounding in fishes. Moreover, the water of this source is so transparent that it reflects that stars that are there in the sky at day time but which though not seen due to the glaring light of the sun are being reflected in the transparent water.
38. What is the message of the poem ‘Small Towns and the River?
The poetess gives the readers a message that we should be aware of the degradation of the natural elements in our vicinity. There is a need to protect and conserve the natural elements.
39. Where does the river stretch past? What does the river know?
The river stretches past the town. With all possibilities, it is a reference to the hometown of the poetess which is Pasighat.
The river knows the immortality of water. Actually, irrespective of the amount of
water in it the river exists both in summer and in winter.
40. Why has the poet used free verse in writing ‘Small Towns and the River?
The poetess has used free verse to deal with the universal theme – the protection and conservation of the natural elements in our vicinity in the poem. So there is no rhyming scheme and the use of a transferred epithet helps to express the feelings of the poet very straightforwardly.
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