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Postcolonial Literatures Unit 12 Small Town and River
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Small Town and River
VERY SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. Who is the writer of the poem Small towns and the River?
Ans: Mamang Dai is the writer of the poem Small towns and the River.
2. What does the speaker mean by the “small towns”?
Ans: By the phrase ‘small town; the speaker means those towns which do not have the association of Nature. Naturally, life in such places is suffocating.
3. What is the hometown of the speaker?
Ans: The hometown of the speaker is Pasighat. It is located in the foothills on the right bank of the river Siang.
4. How does the speaker characterise the summer?
Ans: The speaker characterises summer as the time when the dust flies in all directions.
5. How does the speaker characterise winter?
Ans: The speaker attributes winter as the time when the wind flows down the valley and produces a loud sound.
6. Explain the phrase ‘sad wreath of tuberoses”.
Ans: The phrase “wreath of tuberoses” refers to a garland made of tuberose flowers.
7. Why is ‘silence’ called ‘dreadful”?
Ans: 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 they said ‘silence’ is called ‘dreadful’.
8. Why the poetess juxtaposes life and death?
Ans: Through her experience of seeing someone near and dear to her dying the poetess realises that life is transient. Thus, she comes to know that after the end of life there is nothing but death. Quite, naturally she juxtaposes life and death.
9. Why does the poetess say “only the rituals are permanent”?
Ans: The poetess sees people dying one after another. Thus she comes to realise that human life is transitor. Side by side she sees that the ritual done to the dead person does not change with the change of time. Therefore, she says “only rituals are permanent”.
10. How does the river cut through the land in summer?
Ans: In summer the river cuts through the land slowly and with minimum power. It seems as if the river is expressing its grief.
11. Why does according to the poetess does the river sometimes hold its breath?
Ans: According to the poetess the river sometimes hold its breath because it wants to find out the land of fish and stars. Quite possibly it refers to a big source of water.
12. Where does the river stretch past?
Ans: The River stretches past the town. With all possibilities, it is a reference to the hometown of the poetess which is Pasighat.
13. What does the river know?
Ans: 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.
14. Why the Earth is called dry?
Ans: It is summer. Naturally, there is very little or no rainfall. Therefore the earth is called dry.
15. Where does the mist fall and to what effect?
Ans: The mist falls on the mountain tops as a result the full view of the mountain is obstructed.
16. Why does the poetess refer to bamboo?
Ans: The poetess speaks of life in its primordial form. This life embodies bamboo business and eating fish in the meal. Moreover, there is a kind of hankering after freedom from the anxiety of all forms.
17. Why does the poetess say “In small towns by the river/we all want to walk with the gods”?
Ans: The poetess knows that life in small towns is full of anxiety-anxiety related to politics and also to other things. So they looked upon God as one who can save them from this anxiety.
SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. How does the speaker compare his hometown with the small town?
Ans: 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 stays here. Even the disparity of weather as the one existing between summer and winter does not change her impression.
2. How did the death of someone affect the poetess?
Ans: 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 young age. As a result, she wept. The death caused in her the feeling that she was bound to die someday. Naturally, she became afraid. Garland made of tuberoses was 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 person remains unchanged.
3. What does the poetess mean by the phrase “a land of fish and stars”?
Ans: 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.
4. How does the poetess establish the fact that “The river has a soul”?
Ans: According to the poetess the river has a soul, meaning that 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 serves as if the river is expressing grief. At times the flow of the rivers 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 and there in the sky and which are not being reflected in the water.
5. How does the poet establish, “the immortality of water”
Ans: In contrast, water has a sense of immortality in it. For example in summer the amount of water in the river is very little. When the water flows very slowly. 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 types 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 all time. No wonder, the poetess finds a sense of immortality in it.
6. What according to the poetess marks the days of childhood?
Ans: According to the poetess happy incidents mark the days of childhood. It is 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 likę political unrest though it exists in society hardly affects the child.
7. With what do the small towns grow?
Ans: 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.
8. How are the dead placed?
Ans: 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.
9. Why do the people of the Adi community place the dead bodies west?
Ans: 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 of the dead bodies are laid down. That is why they keep the bodie of their dead couple with the heads directed to the west. They do so with the hope that when this 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.
10. How does the poetess describe the life of the small towns?
Ans: 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 the 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.
LONG TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. 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–
Ans: (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.
2. The poet has used some unconventional expressions. Illustrate them in your own words.
(a) Torrent of grief.
(b) Shrine of happy pictures.
(c) The land of fish and stars.
Ans: (a) Torrent of Grief: 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: 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 things happening at present.
(c) The land of fish and stars: The poet says she thinks the river is holding it’s breadth. One has to hold one’s breadth 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 og 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.
3. Give a brief analysis of the poem.
Ans: ‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai introduces the first paradox of the poem. The poet says the “small towns” remind her of nothing other than death. She lives in a town amidst the trees but the life there is the same. According to the poet, living in the town is a monotonous journey that ends at the hands of death. Here, the dust is a synecdoche that presents another symbol of death in this section. Moreover, the howling of the wind creates a gloomy mood.
“Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai presents the theme of death in the second stanza. Just the other day someone dies in small towns. The news makes the poet sad and she mourns the loss. After seeing the sad wreath lying on a dead person’s bosom somehow reminds the poet of her mortality. Here, the poet presents the tuberose as a messenger of death. Moreover, there is a repetition of “Life and death” in this stanza. It refers to a continuous cycle of life and death. These two things are temporary. According to the poet, “only the rituals are permanent”. Here, the poet turns the maxim, “Nothing is permanent except birth and death”, upside down. The last two lines reflect the poet’s disillusionment about life after seeing many deaths.
In the third stanza of ‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai, the poet presents a contrast whereas in the previous section she discussed mortality. In this section, she highlights the permanence of the river. She
says the river has a soul. In summer it flows across lands. Here, she uses the metaphor of “torrent of grief” to portray the river’s course in the dry season. Moreover, the poet personifies the river to invest it with the idea of holding the breath and seeking something. She thinks as if the river ist an explorer who seeks the land of fish and stars. This imagery reflects the course of the river water and its flow.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Small Towns and The River’, Mamang Dai reiterates, “The river has a soul”. The river knows about the towns where death lays her icy hands. Her knowledge isn’t limited to towns only. She knows the first drop of rain that rejuvenates the dry earth and the mist on the mountaintops that circles the mountain like a scarf. Last but not least, she is aware of the immortality of water. In this way, the poet also immortalises the river.
The fifth stanza of ‘Small Towns and The River’, presents another contrast. Firstly, Mamang Dai refers to the “shrine of happy pictures” of childhood. Childhood is the beginning stage of life. The happy pictures of one’s childhood remind her of the purity of the soul at its dawn. That’s why she compares the childhood days to a shrine. In contrast, small towns grow anxious about the future. It’s the poet’s anxiety about death that eagerly awaits in the future. In the following lines, the poet refers to the eternity of the soul. The hope of shedding off the mortal burden and ascending to the “house of the sun” in the “golden east” revives the poet with new energy.
‘Small Towns and The River’ by Mamang Dai the meaning of life and its importance in this short stanza. According to the poet, life is like the sunlight that warms the cool bamboo. It’s temporary and still beautiful. Moreover, the “cool bamboo” is a reference to the body and the sunlight is a symbol of the soul. Apart from that, the poet says sunlight is important to any living plants. Likewise, life is also important for keeping the spirit of the universe alive.
In the last two lines of ‘Small Towns and The River’, Mamang Dai transplants her dead thoughts from her mind. She says living in small towns has made the poet strong. Now, the thoughts of spirituality and eternity are in her mind. Like the poet, others of the “small towns” only wish to “walk with the gods” after their death. This section highlights the poet’s belief in the afterlife and eternal bliss. Apart from that, there is a repetition of the “w” sound in the last line. Such a harmonious rhythm reflects the poet’s peaceful state of mind.
4. Give a critical analysis of the poem.
Ans: 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.
The 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 since 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 empathies. 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 folklores about the creation of 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.”
5. Comment on the critical appreciation of the poem.
Ans: 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 symbolised 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.
6. How does Mamang Dai present a picture of life and mortality in the poem ‘Small Towns and the River’?
Ans: Mamang Dai’s poem, “Small Towns and the River” is a part of River Poems” (2004). Mamang Dai is a poetess, born in Pasighat, East Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh. The images of small towns, rivers and gorge in this poem reflect her proximity to her birthplace. Every subtle movement of poetry has the essence of Arunachal Pradesh. Furthermore, the reference to the tuberoses and the spiritual elements of the poem present the theme of Indian-ness. Apart from these, the poem reflects how close the people of the “small towns” of India are. The death of a person in the neighbourhood somehow pained the whole city. Thus, the poetess depicts the nature and values of the people living in the villages and small towns of India.
However, the poem “Small Towns and Rivers” is primarily concerned with human life and mortality. In the poem we see that the poetess depicts people who have lost their loved ones. People mourn the loss of loved ones and the whole city cries for the loss also. The poetess has used images of rivers to depict the unique life of the river, whereas people are led to decay and destruction. The poem becomes interesting among the readers due to the use of different types of images. At the first level we can find images of the plight of the people and the city. The poetess says that small towns always remind her of death. She says her town is calm and quiet in the trees. It can be summer season or winter season, there will be no change in the look of the village. The dust is blowing and the wind is howling in the trees. On the other hand, the poetess says that the next day there was news of someone’s death and the news made everyone sad. The people cried in silence. After the death of each person, people always see the pathetic wreath of tuberose. Life is not permanent and death is inevitable for every living thing.
Life and death are an uninterrupted process in everyone’s life. In our society, traditions, customs, rituals are permanent, not life. Therefore, the poetess uses the image of the river to compare human life. Rivers are permanent but human life is temporary. The river has a spirit through which it can overcome sorrow in its path. The poetess uses river imagery to emphasise water sustainability when comparing human mortality. Rivers knows all about this city and the frequent deaths of people in this city. The river knows about the rainfall and mountain holes that touch the dry earth. River imagery is used in a charismatic way. Moreover, the images of explorers who explore fish and stars are also used here. The stars are seen as symbols of the sky. They represent infinite divine love. In addition to love, they also possess qualities such as guidance, awareness, inspiration, brightness and intuition. Fish spirits, on the other hand, teach us to heal ourselves over time, to fill in the gaps, and to replace them with something better. It is a symbol of rebirth, renewal and self-sustainability.
According to the poetess, the stage of childhood is the most important part of a person. The first stage of life, childhood is like the purity of the soul towards dawn. Small towns are worried about the future. Seeing the sun before gold helps the poetess with new and positive kinds of energy. The poetess emphasizes the meaning and importance of everyone’s life. Without life we cannot be the living soul of this universe. In poetry we can realize the thought of eternity and spirituality. The poetess believes in the idea of the hereafter. The rhythm of harmony gives us peace of mind.
In poetry we can basically find natural aspects. Thus, the poem ‘Small Towns and the Rivers’ written by Mamang Dai is a poem about life and mortality. The symbolic city of death presents a sad image of those who have lost their loved ones. In this poem, the miser not only mourns, but the city also mourns the loss. Moreover, the poetess have presented a contrast in the image of the river that survives forever, on the other hand, man is prone to death and decay. However, the symbolism and imagery used in the poems have made the idea of poetess more thought-provoking and attractive to the readers.
7. Write a critical appreciation of the poem.
Ans: 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 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 transient, but nature and ritual as Permanent. The River has a predominant presence in the poem. It is depicted as the one alongside which lie numerous small towns, the one with a soul, 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 symbolised 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 tiver. 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.