Mamang Dai

1. The river

Do not stay too long by the river.
The river is a wayward god.
It is an elephant, a lion,
Sometimes they call it horse.
One summer we thought it was a peacock
Turning in the yellow dust
That filled our eyes with gold.

I saw a woman floating in a lily pond,
In a mountain of mist, wrapped in a cloud
streaming with tendrils and pollen dust.

I thought: the river is a woman.
A country, a name.
A note of music trapped in the white current,
a sheet of paper carrying a secret map.
The skyline is where it begins
between the darkness and the summit,
in the birthplace of thirst.

Do not stay too long by the river.
It is a drowning spirit,
A strong armed god
Drawing and withdrawing such seasons-
Flowing river, standing still,
River sea, river ocean
River of all our summers
Collecting the salt of our lives.
*** ** ***
2. The sorrow of women

They are talking about hunger.
They are saying
there is an unquenchable fire
burning in our hearts.
My love, what shall I do?
I am thinking how I may lose you
to war, and big issues;
More important than me.

Life is so hard, like this.
Nobody knows why. It is like fire,
it is like rainwater, sand, glass;
What will I do, my love,
if my reflection disappears?

They are talking about a place
where rice flows on the streets,
about a place where there is gold
in the leaves of trees.
They are talking about displacement
when the opium poppy was growing,
dizzy in the sun,
happy, in a state of believing;

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.

3. Small towns and the river

Small towns always remind me of death.
My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees,
it is always the same—
in the summer, or winter
with the dust flying
or the wind howling down the gorge.

Just the other day someone died.
In the dreadful silence we wept
looking at the sad wreath of tuberose—
Life and death, life and death,
only the rituals are permanent.

The river has a soul.
In the summer it cuts through the land
like a torrent of grief. Sometimes,
sometimes I think it holds its breath
seeking the land of fish and stars.

The river has a soul---
it knows, stretching past the town,
from the first drop of rain to dry earth
and mist on the mountain tops
the river knows
the immortality of water.

A shrine of happy pictures
marks the days of childhood.
Small towns grow with anxiety
for future generations.
The dead are placed pointing west---
when the soul rises
it will walk into the golden east,
into the house of the sun.

In the cool bamboo,
restored in the sunlight
Life matters, like this---

In small towns by the river
we all want to walk with the gods.

*** ** ***

4. Prayer flags-

The wet mountain road.
This is where we spent all our time
wondering if we would get across.

Someone planted a prayer flag in my heart.
Green- living, yellow- earth,
white-clouds, and juniper incense
mingled with the blue left by a sea
that once owned this land.

Perhaps the storm will blow it down
after it has halted the wind
a thousand times.

We found each other yesterday,
when they told us the past is over.
Now we are floating smudges of colour
flying high
over the mountain barrier.

*** ** ***

Mamang Dai
Dai is a poet and novelist from Arunachal Pradesh. A former journalist Dai was President, Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, and has written extensively on culture, politics and customs of the state. Her first publication ‘Arunachal Pradesh- the hidden land,’ (2003) documenting the culture and customs of her land received the state’s Dr.Verrier Elwin Award. Her other publications include novels, poetry and children’s literature and her poems, fiction and articles have been published in numerous journals and anthologies.
Dai also worked with World Wide Fund for nature in the Eastern Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspots programme and was Member of the Arunachal Pradesh State Public Service Commission (2011-2017).
In 2011 Dai was awarded the Padma Shri (literature and education), and her novel The Black Hill received the Sahitya Akademi Award 2017, in English.
Dai lives in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.

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