Eco-thoughts in the Select Poetry from Northeast India: Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

Eco-thoughts  in the Select  Poetry from Northeast India: Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

Greenhouse Gases  in the atmosphere have reached dangerous tipping point,    causing  dangerous climate change.  Climate  change experts warn us that we are already at risk   as carbon emissions have grown sharply since 2000,   having  grown at a rate of 3.5% per year.  As per Report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):Climate disasters are on the rise. Around 70 percent of disasters are now climate related – up from around 50 percent from two decades ago (“Greenhouse gases.”

UN sealed the climate deal  at the Copenhagen Accord to combat global warming in  December 2009, agreeing to limit global warming to two  degrees till 2050 without having set any target for carbon cuts. The big bang show to save Planet earth ended in a whimper with a face saver proposal by  US led group of five countries including China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The 193  nation summit,  considered the   most important meeting in the history of the world, nearly came to a  total collapse and their talks  merely took note of the new accord which was a non-binding deal for combating global warming.  The plan does not specify greenhouse gas cuts required to achieve 2 Celsius goal  to ward off more floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas.

Ecologists are alarmed  by the “awareness that we have reached the age of  environmental limits, a time when consequences of human actions are damaging the planet’s basic life support systems…Either  we change  our ways or we face global catastrophe, destroying much of beauty and exterminating countless fellow species in our headlong race to apocalypse” ( Glotfelty  xx).  It is not merely environmental rhetoric  that is continually challenging us by various green movements and their plea to save planet earth.  Various eco-philososphies  confront us with their diversified and some times radical approaches. Those who subscribe to the  different approaches seek to solve the environmental crisis in their own   ways, some being very subversive and revolutionary.

In the backdrop of the growing  global ecological concerns, study of  ecologically related poems becomes very relevant.   As it has been   observed by  Jonathan Bate that  Nature    is  a term that  needs to be contested, not rejected. It is profoundly unhelpful to say ‘there is no nature’ at a time when  our most  urgent need is to address  and redress the consequences of human civilization’s  insatiable desire   to  consume the  products of the earth. We are confronted for the first time in history with the possibility of  there being  no part of the earth  left untouched by man  (Bate 171).

         India’s Northeast consisting of eight hill states (Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh), are located between 87°32’E to 97°52’E latitude and 21° 34′ N to 29°50’N latitude. Known as ‘eight sisters’  the region is replete  with nature’s bounty and beauty.  The region,  home to numerous colourful and valiant tribes, is  famous   for picturesque landscapes with dense forests,  varied flora and fauna and  soothing climatic conditions.

The Northeast is a genetic treasure house of plant, animal and microbial resources. The region forms a distinctive part of the Indo-Burma Hotspot which ranks the 6th among the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world and is a prime one among the two identified for the Indian sub-continent. The region also falls in the bio-geographic tri-junction of the Indian, the Himalaya and the oriental landmass. This active centre of speciation is a centre of gene diversity of domesticated crops and a secondary centre for several economically important plant and animal species (Singh, Rajmuhon. 

The Indo-Burma Hotspot is home to 13,500 plant species (2.3% of the global agencies) of which 7000 are endemics and 2,185 vertebrates (1.9 % of the global species) of which 528 are endemics. Avian fauna is represented by 1,170 species with 140 as endemics. Mammalian diversity constitutes 329 species with 73 endemics. The species richness in terms of numbers of reptiles and amphibians are 484 and 202 with 201 and 114 endemics respectively (Singh, Rajmuhon. 

Though the  beauty filled region is free from  mounting pollution due negligible industrial growth, environmentalists  are alarmed at the way  rapid deforestation is aggravating ecological imbalance.  Hence, a peep into   eco-thoughts in  the select poets from the northeast would be of great  encouragement to nature lovers.

          Bupati Das (Assam)  is a reflective poet who talks of growing environmental degradation leading  modern man to search for  meaning  in “Synthetic happiness.”   Global Warming is caused mostly by   Green house gases   like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.  These are the ingredients of the atmosphere that add to the greenhouse  effect. Since we are not able to control,  the Earth is dashing toward an immensely warmer future (“Global warming awareness”  The poet is alarmed by the way morning sun is unable to peep through the misty clouds of  poisonous gases. He  regrets that modern man has to search for synthetic joys  to  replace nature’s bounty.

Peeping through a hotel window

in Hongkong

I saw

the newborn sun

distributing smiles

to the countless poor

the sunrays

lit up the starved faces

I looked at

the street again

through the morning mist

the hungry faces were still there

can we

buy happiness duty free?  (Das 29).

In her nature poems Easterine Iralu (Nagaland) has a peculiar eye for the insignificant in nature. Everything in nature is beautiful even those  that look apparently ugly and  meaningless.  In “For My Son” the poet  expresses her deep felt pain  reflecting on the  beauty of nature being systematically  destroyed by man in his reckless greed for money. The northeastern region of India  suffers grievously from illegal logging of its teak forests, devastating much of the economy and environment to profit criminals and corrupt politicians. The area    was long closed to outsiders, with the benefits of protection for natural resources and low immigration. Now the government promotes tourism, which encourages outsiders to come and facilitates illegal logging.

The poet  anguishes  as  she awaits the birth of her son,  scared of an ecologically broken world of  deforestation and  pollution.

Before you are born

into an ever changing world

before the green  pines

fall prey to the woodcutter’s axe

and stumps stand, gory


of once beautiful trees;

before the  gloriously

setting sun

is veiled in city smog (Iralu 111).

The idea of a natural world will be  an utopia of the past when her child will be  born  as nature would have been consumed  by then.

before the changing world

churns itself into ashes

let me imprint

upon your infant mind

the vision of a forest

growing abundantly,

unashamedly asserting its right to life (111-12)


All that she can tell her son would be stories of the past when everything was green and now instead transformed into mere forest stumps.

I will leave for the bleak

the lonely darkened forest of stumps

forgive me if I lose myself in its endless miles (112).

Ramdinthari (Mizoram) in “At the Sleeping Saw Mill” speaks of the logging industry, destroying the beauty of Mizoram. North Eastern Region   is very rich in respect of forest resources. Forests once covered about 65.17 per cent of the total geographical area of the region. The areas under forest cover  is quite high in Mizoram with   89 %   (“Forest.”    

The poet is pained by the growing logging industry  with mushrooming of  saw mills. At the end, all that will remain will be mere   “wooden carcass” when the lush green forests will be cleared  by the woodcutters.  In the silence  of the night, in the midst of a serene starlit forest, only the drumming at the saw mill could be heard, singing  dirges for  the carcass of trees.   She observes :

At the sleeping saw mill

A veil of dusk disappears into the small dark haze

Hammered by silent drumming.

For us the fogged lights of green leaves

And the thick lamp-post of crushed boulders

Are antipodes where we build our huts

After the drain water steals

Into the buried eyes of the night

There’ll be just memories of you

Where there was a wooden carcass before (ACPN 196-8).

         Sudhanya Tripura (Tripura)  bemoans the pathetic  state of a  jhum hill in “Woo-wang”  after the crops have been  harvested and gleaned from the field. Jhum or shifting cultivation is the traditional way of cultivation of northeastern states of India, which is based on indigenous knowledge. Jhum is referred as ‘slash and burn’ method of agriculture and is mainly practiced by the indigenous tribals. Jhum cultivation usually involves cutting of bamboo forests, which usually begins in January or February. The slashed vegetation is allowed to dry on the hill slopes for one to two months prior to burning in March or April. Crops are sown with the first rains in April. Usually, inter-cropping of one or more paddy varieties with 15 to 20 other crops including vegetables, maize, chilies, gourds, cotton, arum and mustard is carried out. The pattern and details of shifting cultivation differ in different places and tribes.  For the northeast  Jhum cultivation is not only a livelihood but also a way of life  (“Jhum.”  

The crops of the jhum are lifted,

now in the empty jhum hill

the groans of my heart

stand speechless.


The stilt house is silent

the Woo-wang bird is calling.

a fleet of black terror

claws my dream.

the world stands silent

like the speechless stilt-house

on the jhum hill (DE 299).

Nature is silent as life has come to a pathetic halt. The farmer has no reason to celebrate when he hears the call of the Woo-wang bird as all the greens have disappeared from his land. There is no life for a farmer  with out nature growing around him. The is the basis of any deep ecology  which  advocates  a biocentric  view,  which recognizes the non-human world as having value independently  of its usefulness to human beings, who have no right to destroy it except to meet vital needs. Deep Ecology proposes drastic changes in our habits of consumption, not only to avert catastrophe but as spiritual and moral awakening  (Kerridge 536).


         Dayananda Pathak (Assam) humorously presents human manipulation of planet earth in “Globe.”  Beholding a globe in his hand the poet resumes to fashion a new dream for it by redefining it.

I have larger promises,

ideas, quest for subtler excellence;

desirous of redesigning the globe

bought from the uncle’s shop

I like to change its shape,

lines, latitudes and longitudes,

its reds, blacks and blues,

putting an end to mushroom growth

over a barren land (Pathak 14).


Geoengineering, which is usually defined as the deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the earth’s climate to offset the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, has long been a taboo subject among top climate scientists and policymakers.  And yet, because of our failure to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as growing alarm about how quickly our climate is changing, the taboo is fading.  Some geoengineering proposals – like sending trillions of small sun-reflecting shades into space – can sound outlandish and exorbitantly expensive. But researchers say the time has come to start thinking about a “climate emergency system,” a way to halt runaway global warming if humanity is unable to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Since mankind has been unable to do that so far, scientists say we should start discussing some “last resort” options to cool the Earth quickly.(“Geoengineering: Manipulating Nature 

Like an eco-feminist, Temsula Ao (Nagaland) exposes  the ever increasing  deforestation and destruction of nature by man in “lament for Earth.” The poet is  Keatsian in her description of the ‘verdant, virgin’ forest that was the  ‘majestic splendour’ of the  earth   made ‘Silent / Stunned  and stamped’ in course of time. She continues to  describe  in eco-feminist  terms and  grieves for the rape  of mother earth. She asserts  like some feminists ‘that women are closer to nature, to the environment, to a matriarchal principle at once biological and ecological’ (Showalter 324). On her breasts where once  elephants roamed about is  replaced by  the rumble of lorries carrying logs. The river that flowed through her verdant  green is muddied and bleached. The  forest is  made  barren as:

No life stirs in her belly now

The  bomb

And the bleaching powder

Have left her  with no  tomorrow.

Alas for  this earth

Thus ravaged

Stripped of her  lushness (Ao 1988: 46-47).

Temsula   laments the fading beauty of the forest that has thus been ravished and left ‘old and  decrepit.’  Her symbolic expressions and personification of nature  makes her also an ecocritic in expression.   The poet is  deeply affected by the  sorry  sight of mountains and rocks, furrowed by constant logging.  The sight of  one of such  giant rocks in her village makes the poet  lament  the sorry sight of “The Bald Giant.” Like true ecocritics, Temsula finds ‘a renewed  version  of Romantic  joy in the  contemplation of  nature may offer the best chance of the sexiness and hedonism that environmentalism needs’ (Kerridge 541). The poem reminisces her childhood days when the giant rock looked very majestic, shining in the  greenery of summer. In autumn the rock had its  distinguishing beauty with golden patches on it. The winter appearance  of the  rock enveloped  in the mist  gave it a mystical look. Now the  poet laments the sorry sight of the giant rock made bald by  deforestation  and awaiting its  final disintegration and doom.

Once I thought him friendly

But  now  he looks menacing

And I resent his  presence

In my horizon

Because I dread

That when the earth shakes

He will surely disintegrate

And carry me to our common doom (Ao 2003: 2).

In  the folkpoem “U Lum Sohpet Bneng,”  Esther Syem (Meghalaya), recounts  the origin of  the Khasis from the mount of Heaven’s navel, from where seven of the sixteen families came to live on earth. Finally they cut off their ties with their original heavenly abode, opting for the mount of the earth. For them earth became their second heaven, where they toiled and set up their “bamboo thatching” and cultivated. And earth offered herself to them in her plenty.

I gave them free reign

of my valleys

and my valleys

and my rolling plateaus

as I fostered  life for them.

but they constructed of an existence

apart from me.

And with their lifestyles

and their hatchets,

they tore me asunder

and prised  me away

from springs of my life

till I was ridged with pain

and shrank back in humiliation

until ka jinkieng,  (golden ladder)

Fell, lifeless away from me (Syiem 62).

The message of the folkpoem keeps deriding  inhabitants of the earth, who keep tearing it apart through  exploitation of its resources in  multifarious ways.

Mamang Dai (Arunachal Pradesh) has a full collection of poems entitled  River Poems, all written in the background of myths and mysteries of nature.  Every poem has some reference to lifegiving river.  Arunachal Pradesh can be proud of its abundant  rivers with their basins such as  Tawang,   Kameng,   Dikrong,   Subansiri,   Siang,   Sisiri,   Dibang,   Lohit,   Tirap-Dehing  and Tissa. These  basins ultimately drain to Brahmaputra River. This is a boon for the State for development of agriculture, power and industry sectors but at the same time these rivers bring destructive  floods  rendering many people homeless and devastate agriculture and  road communication.  Though the rivers  show their fury, they are held in high reverence which the poet celebrates. Her eco-thoughts   can be gathered from some lines occurring in several  of these river poems.

(“Flood Control.” 

 Why did we think survival was simple

that river and field would stand for ever

invulnerable, even to the dreams of strangers (Dai 16).

xxx   xxx     xxx

 In the sound of the rain

is contained

all the spirit of the jungle.

Living, breathing,

crushed, regenerative

dark, always watchful (25)

xxx   xxx     xxx

 The river has a soul

the immortality of water

In small towns by the river

We all want to walk with the gods (29).

xxx   xxx     xxx

 yes, I believe in gods,

In the forest faith of good and evil,

spirit of the river,

and the dream world of the dawn (57).

xxx   xxx     xxx

And I see the land drenched in rain,

And the roads rising like vapour

And I see the land blazing with summer,

and I see the hills falling from the sky (59).

Mamang Dai has  sought shelter in magic realism to create awareness of the river being so much alive, being part and parcel of  the myths of Arunachal Pradesh.  Her sensibility is like that of  Ben Okri who speaks of the land of the spirits where “In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world” (Okri 3).

         Monalisa Changkija (Nagaland) in “Environmental Extinction & Star Wars” brings to focus her  forebodings of  the extinction of planet earth even though scientific man has scaled other planets and is on the verge of star wars. Environmental studies have shown that nearly 16,000 of the world’s plant and animal species face extinction largely because of the destructive behaviour of mankind   Over-exploitation, climate change and habitat destruction are to blame for a crisis that has wiped out at least 27 species from the wild over the last two decades, according to the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species. The report says more than 7000 animal species are threatened with extinction (“Species” 

I often write

On leaving  behind

“footprints on the sands of time”

with one thought constantly

at the back

of my mind-

At the rate

we’re “advancing”

we forget, there is no

place in space

to leave behind

our footprints

at any point of time (Changkija  42).

R.K. Madhubir (Manipur) in “Hunter Hunter Pitiless Hunter” calls attention to end irrational  killing  of   animals and  birds to maintain ecological balance.  The protection and preservation of animal and plant species along with their natural habitat are urgent and important tasks today.

Hunter, hunter, pitiless hunter

How pitiless you are:

Stop shooting your poisonous arrows

not only birds, fishes  and animals

but also trees and grasses of the forest

are now withered to roots

with poison of your arrows.

A far away place from city

the forest lies beyond human touch

the resting place of mother Nature (Madhubir 17).

Wetshokhrolo Lasuh (Nagaland) becomes philosophical when he wants to  be one  with nature merging his soul and body with  it.  But the ideal relationship with nature is disrupted by man’s greed  bringing about destruction of nature.  In “The Tree Cries Out” Lasuh makes  nature cry out in  agony. The poet  is  a perfect ecocritic  speaking for  dumb nature  through his powerful    personification.

You hear not my sighs,

For  you are different.

You hear not my cries,

For  they are silent.

You know not my pain,

For red is not my blood.

You chop me away

For money,

In madness,

For chopping’s sake (Lasuh 60).

The poet tries to bring man to his senses reminding him of the consequences of  irresponsible exploitation of the resources of nature. Nature warns: ‘Tears of mourning/ Shall well up in your eyes/ Should you not reason.’    With didacticism in mind, various ecological disaster are recounted.   For many trees are a daily sight and they rarely give them a second glance. The poet believes that the    trees have spirits and they suffer   when they are torn loose from their place on earth  or cut down.

Heat waves which will kill,

The  good soil shall journey

To the oceans,

Rains shall scarcely visit

And thus your crops fail.

Woe shall be your children;

Live and let live (60).

         In  “Puliebadze,” a poem on the    Puliebadze peak in Kohima, Nini Lungalang (Nagaland)  writes about its uniqueness  as a place of natural beauty.

Stern sentinel trees silently guard

The secret pulse that  throbs beneath the skirts

Of ancient Ancestress Puliebadze (Lungaland 46).

As  the  trekkers encounter the beauty of the mountain climb the poet reminds them of the sacredness of the place like the way Moses was told by Yahweh when he reached the mount Horeb, mountain of God: “Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

Walk with care: for here is  holy ground.

Let not your footfall sound farther

Than the  crisping crush of twig or leaf!

Let not your breath rise

Higher than the  wisps of mist that stroke

That flanks of old Puliebadze! (46).

The sacredness of nature makes the poet bow in silence to listen to the  shrill sounds of cicadas and water falls.

Here, the  silence is vast and deep

And loud with cicadas’ keening shrill.

The drip of unseen water measures out

Your fearful hastening heartbeats,

The thrill and flutter of hidden wings

Warns of your unwanted approach

To you, they will not trill their psaltry  (46).

Nini’s  “Going Home ”   has    mystical and metaphysical overtones. The poet is tired  of the city life,    representative of  life here on earth and longs to return to  the land of her dream – the pristine Eden-like  world of the mountains. She says, ‘I am going back to my mountain.’ She has left behind her beloved in the city with its cares, struggles and toils.

So I’m  going back home, I’m terrified here,

I’m  going to the sanctuary of my mountains-

So I return to where I began,

I go, because I must;

I return to the dust of which I was formed   (228-9)

The status of man in society is calculated purely  on the riches he hoards. The materialistic pursuit has left man ‘a stranger among his own’ and his home is built purely by the standard of wealth. Home is defined merely as ‘a space between walls.’  The poet wants to escape from such a city life to return to her ideal world, ‘the sanctuary of her mountains.’ Mystics and sanyasis live  in  the mountains in their quest for  God  through meditation and prayer. Tired of  a  city life steeped in consumerism and materialism, the poet is in quest of   deeper spiritual values.   The final lines  give a religious significance to the poem when death engulfs life and one is turned to dust with the hope of eternal life. The  poet speaks in familiar terms   to dwell on a deeper  spiritual motif.

   World over environmental awareness is created to make people live more eco-friendly and to bring about environmental conservation through protection of flora and fauna and  by  providing  clean energy and sustainable development.   Global Peace is being  threatened today not only by warfare and conflicts, but also through lack of   due respect for nature by its irresponsible and reckless exploitation and destruction.

The ecological concerns voiced by the poets from the Northeast India, draw  attention  to responsible   stewardship of the earth  and to maintain  the delicate balance of the total created order supporting life on this earth. Critics have pointed out the danger facing our environment and turn desperate about the future of planet earth.  Bill McKibben rightly bemoans: ‘We have changed the atmosphere, and thus we are changing the weather. By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth manmade and artificial. We have deprived nature of its independence, and that  is fatal to its meaning. Nature’s independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us’  (McKibben 54).  The poets  assessed in this paper make us  conscious of the Environmental degradation ecologists  are alarmed by  ‘man’s assault upon the environment  through   contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials  (Carson 23). Their voices, though feeble, will ultimately be the whimper to accelerate the  environmental  concerns among the masses of the region in their effort to  protect its pristine beauty from further exploitation.


 Works Cited

 Ao, Temsula. Songs that Tell. Calcutta: Writers Workshop,  1988.    

—–. Songs from Here and There. Shillong: NEHU Publications, 2003.   

Bate, Jonathan.  “Foreword”. The Green Studies Reader. Laurence Coupe. Ed. Reprint. London

And New York: Routledge, 2004,167-171.

Bible, The Holy. (1966).Revised Standard Version. London: Catholic Trust Society.

       All Biblical references are taken from this edition.

Carson, R.  Silent Spring. London: Penguin, 1999.  First published 1962.

Changkija, Monalisa.   Monsoon Mourning. Dimapur: Write-on Publication, 2007. 

       Dai, Mamang. River Poems. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 2004.

       Das,  Bhupati. Life and Beyond Life.  Guwahati: Katha Publications, 2004.

 “Flood Control.”“Forest.”  “Geoengineering: Manipulating Nature.”

“Global warming awareness”

Glotfelty, Cheryll.   “Introduction.”The Ecocritism Reader:Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Glotfelty,   

         Cheryll and Harold Fromm (Eds). Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1996, xv-xxxvii.

“Greenhouse gases.”

 Iralu, Easterine.   The Windhover Collection, Poona,  Steven Herlekar, 2001.                 


Kerridge, Richard. “Environmentalism and ecocriticism.” Literary Theory and Criticism.  Ed. Patricia

     Waugh. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Lasuh,  WetshokhroloThe First Chapter.  Dimapur: Creative Printers, 2007. 

Lungalang, Nini.   The Morning Years. Dimapur: Write-on Publication, 1990. 

Madhubir, R.K. The Timebomb and Other Poems. Imphal: Vagya Publications, 1987.

McKibben, Bill.   The End of Nature. London: Penguin, 1990.

Ngangom, Robin, S and Kynpham, S. Nongkynrih. Eds. Dancing Earth: An Anthology of Poetry  from

       Northeast India. New Delhi: Penguin, 2009. (Abbreviated: DE)

Nongkynrih, Kynpham, Singh and Ngangom, Robin, S.  Eds.   Anthology of  Contemporary Poetry

      from  the Northeast.  Shillong: NEHU Publications, 2003.   (Abbreviated  ACPN)

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road. London: Vintage,  2003.

Pathak, Dayananda. Coral Island. Guwahati:Parvati Prakash, 1998.

 Showalter, Elaine.   “Feminist criticism in the wilderness.” Modern Criticism and   Theory. David

       Lodge, Nigel Wood, 2003, 2nd ed. Delhi: Pearson Education.

Singh, Rajmuhon.


Syiem, Esther. Oral Scriptings. Culcutta.: Writers Workshop, 2005.