Melody of the Mountains

Towering poems just like the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh  

Earlier this year, in April, we travelled to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. I wish I could explain what the trip felt like. I want to, but I am unable to. When I speak of the two-week trip, I fall short of describing my experience of the spectacular Northeast. Our holiday saw us travel insane distances; at one time driving through, in order, snowfall, rain and hail. We tasted food we’d never heard of, saw handicrafts that left us speechless and felt the true contentment of a simple life. I am sure life isn’t simple there; it’s a region torn apart by natural and man-made troubles. Yet, there’s majesty, and beauty to be experienced.

The mountains of Arunachal Pradesh have gravitas. They soar, not just in the obvious sense of the word. The world is white, or monochrome and the landscape stretches beyond the eyes can see. When I read Mamang Dai’s poetry, I can easily visualise where the exquisiteness of her work comes from. “ There are mountains./Oh! There are mountains./We climbed every slope./We slept by the river,” she proclaims in ‘An Obscure Place’.

Yes, her writing carries the fragrance of river water and the shimmer of sun-kissed scales. It is as gentle as it is confrontational. It is steeped in the land as much as it engages with the world outside of it. It has to come from where she belongs. In her keynote address at the annual Publishing Next conference this year, hers was an odd voice. In a world dominated by technology of all kinds, she spoke of writing in solitude, cut off from everything. I like what she says in her speech: “Writing is a technique in concealment.”

In ‘The Voice of the Mountain’, the poet says, “ 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.” This is a leitmotif; her involvement with and celebration of the land she comes from. But the splendour of the land, distracting as it can be, does not insulate her from the troubles of the world she lives in. She speaks of them too, not concealing, but acknowledging.

In ‘The Sorrow of Women’, she thinks of, “ how I may lose you/to war, and big issues/more important than me.” All through the poem, we see contrasts; there’s a place, “ where rice flows on the streets,” and even the leaves of trees, are gold. But the poet strikes a sombre, almost wistful note, “ And they are talking about escape/about liberty, men and guns/Ah! The urgency for survival./But what will they do/Not knowing the sorrow of women.

While describing her writing process, Mamang Dai speaks of how the poem always begins with an illumination, with an image. She builds her poem around it. I suppose this is true for so many poets; there is a trigger, often it is an image, an event, a turn of phrase, even a line from someone’s work.

I am reminded of the illuminated image when I read, I thought: “ The rain clouds are swollen because they cannot speak./Who would say/the loveliness of trees has failed this year./They wait in vain because the sun is tight lipped/about time and distance./Like a falling net/The wilderness has trapped us/in the songs of approaching clouds./Sheltering in this town/poised on the serrated edge of moments/Look! Step by step I have drawn a field/immense with possibilities.

Informed as her writing is by her land, its occupations and preoccupations, it is not surprising to see strong emotions of loss and hurt in so much of her work. In fact, it would be an error to think of her work as just beautiful. She speaks of some uncomfortable truths and, in doing so, holds up a Klieg lamp to the world she inhabits. In ‘The Wind and The Rain’, she says, “ Soft fruit, flesh, blood./There is a war and directly now/it must be about guns, metal, dust/and the fear that climbs the trees every night/when our names are written/without will or favour in the present/watching the frailty of our lives/spilled in the blood of these hills/right before our disbelieving eyes.”

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Printable version | May 1, 2021 10:39:30 PM |

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