Poet and novelist Mamang Dai: A member of a tribe of “ten thousand messengers / carrying the whispers of the world” – Arunachal Pradesh

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The Inheritance of Words: Writings from Arunachal Pradesh edited by Mamang Dai
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Mamang Dai (India, 1957) is a poet and novelist. She lives in Itanagar in the North-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. She has one collection of poetry, River Poems, to her credit. Her next collection, Midsummer-Survival Lyrics, is due for publication in 2011. She writes in English. […]

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”. 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.” […]

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.

Source: Mamang Dai (poet) – India by Arundhathi Subramaniam, Poetry International, Saturday 1 May 2010
Address: http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poet/item/16974/27/Mamang-Dai
Date Visited: Sun Jan 29 2017 12:04:45 GMT+0100 (CET)

Situated in the lap of the Himalayas, Arunachal Pradesh is a unifying abode of diverse ethnic communities following their own distinct tongues and cultures. There are 26 major tribes and hundreds of sub tribes with more than 90 languages being spoken. But amidst this plurality, there is one common feature among all the communities, that is that they are great storytellers.

Without any authorised script of their own, they preserved their stories of time in their memories and disseminated them through word of mouth. This is how they were passed down to subsequent generations. When they took the form of chants, the stories were narrated by shamans and rhapsodists in social gatherings and at occasions like birth, marriage and at death ceremonies. They were didactic in nature and were meant to teach collective beliefs.

When we talk about the literature of Arunachal Pradesh we mean both the oral and the written.

Oral literature is a manifestation of folklore and comprises sayings, anecdotes and stories of the origin myths as well as stories of animals and the universe, and of human beliefs and customs. Written literature includes works of fiction, poetry, drama, short stories, in creative interaction with oral literatures. There is an organic relationship between oral and written literature. […]

Since the introduction of English and Hindi in Arunachal [in 1972] a new generation of writers has emerged. Jumsi Siram’s Aye-Aluk (1993) is the first novel in Hindi by an indigenous writer from the state. Yumlam Tana’s The Man and the Tiger (1999) and Mamang Dai’s The Legend of Pensam (2006) registered the entry of Arunachali writers in the literary canon of English and Hindi and also helped to take Arunachali writings beyond the borders of the state. 

Mamang Dai re-created the pre-historic past of Arunachal Pradesh in The Legends of Pensam and Black Hills. Jumsi Siram in his novel Matmur Jamoh Gumnam Swantantri Senani re-invented the history of the murder of Captain Noel Williamson leading the Anglo-Abor War of 1911. […]

In recent years a number of young, educated writers have taken their place on the literary scene. What differentiates them from the writers of the first generation is their willingness to experiment with new styles and genres. With their refreshing tales and unique temperament, they have established themselves in the global literary arena. […]

The emergence of creative literature in Arunachal Pradesh is a relatively recent phenomenon. With a handful of writers it made its debut in the middle of the 20th century. Within this short journey the many awards and honours won by Arunachali writers speak of their versatility.

Source: “Bards from the dawn-lit mountains: What is the literature of Arunachal Pradesh?” by Yater Nyokir (Scroll.in, 2 March 2021)
URL: https://scroll.in/article/988180/bards-from-the-dawn-lit-mountains-what-is-the-literature-of-arunachal-pradesh
Date Visited: 12 February 2022

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