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.” http://www.globalstewards.org).
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.http://www.manipuronline.com).
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.http://www.manipuronline.com).
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” www.globalwarming.org). 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
the newborn sun
to the countless poor
lit up the starved faces
I looked at
the street again
through the morning mist
the hungry faces were still there
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
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
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.” http://databank.nedfi.com).
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.” http://www.india9.com).
The crops of the jhum are lifted,
now in the empty jhum hill
the groans of my heart
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” http://knowledge.allianz.com).
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
And the bleaching powder
Have left her with no tomorrow.
Alas for this earth
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.” http://www.arunwrd.org).
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
all the spirit of the jungle.
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”http://www.smh.com.au/articles).
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 forget, there is no
place in space
to leave behind
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 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.
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