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Volume 2 | Issue 4 | May 2008 | 

Fusion of Journalism and Poetry
An email Interview with Mamang Dai by Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal


Mamang Dai is a journalist accredited to the government of Arunachal Pradesh. She is also an active radio and TV journalist covering news programmes and interviews for All India Radio and Door Darshan, Itanagar. This leading journalist of the North East, who was also the President of Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ), has to her credit a poetry collection and also a work of fiction. Her poetry collection River Poems was published by Writers Workshop, while Penguin Books India brought out her fictional work The Legends of Pensam.

A former member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), she left the service to pursue a career in writing. She is also the author of Arunachal Pradesh-- The Hidden Land & a recipient of the state’s first Annual Verrier Elwin Awards, 2003 (in the field of publication in print media) for the book.

She was a programme officer with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) during the first years of its establishment in the state, and worked with the Bio-diversity Hotspots Conservation programmne in the field of research, survey and protection of the flora and fauna of the eastern Himalayas.

Dai is a Member, North East Writers’ Forum (NEWF), an organization dedicated to the cause of promoting the literature of North East India.
Her writings are completely soaked in North-Eastern culture of India. Beneath this regional exterior, her works show certain values and issues which are truly universal. The expression “The jungle is a big eater, / hiding terror in the carnivorous green” from the poem “Remembrance” is one such example of universal element in her poetry. Every human being will be disturbed by the just-mentioned ferocity of nature.

This leading journalist of North East, having a poetic heart, discusses with Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal the features of her poetry, condition of North-Eastern literature And several other literary and social issues.

About Interviewer:
In former issues of thanalonline you may find more details about interviewer Dr. Neelanshu Kumar Agarwal is Senior Lecturer in English at Feroze Gandhi College, Rae Bareli, (U.P.).

NKA: Your poetry abounds in evocative nature imagery. It appears the poet in you creates vibrating sensations in your heart, when you see ‘the colours of the morning’, ‘afternoon’s golden chain’ and ‘the silver anklets of the moon’. To be very honest, natural beauty of the land makes you sing in ‘a full-throated ease’. How has your association with World Wide Fund For Nature and Bio-Diversity Hotspots Conservation Programme helped you in becoming a supreme worshipper of Nature? Obviously, the just mentioned organizations must have provided you with the necessary input for the play of your creative imagination. Or are there certain other sources for this nature adoration, working at the unconscious/subconscious layers of your psyche? Please elaborate.

MD: It has more to do with the environment. If you come to Arunachal I think you will see what I mean. It is very green, it is quiet and one can be quite absorbed by this abundance if one has the temperament for it. My stint with WWF helped with facts, data collection and scientific surveys but I was writing before this.

NKA: In many a poem, nature appears to be the starting point. Beginning with nature, you touch several other human issues. In a way, nature seems to remind you of eternal note of human misery. In the poem “A Stone Breaks the Sleeping Water”, there is a perfect union between human mood and nature, when you say, “Now when it rains/ I equate the white magnolia with perfect joy./Spring clouds, stroke of sunlight,/the brushstrokes of my transformed heart.” Is this union between nature and man not like the monism/ non dualism of ancient Indian philosophy? Or is there any other influence in forming this image of Nature-Man union in your mind, heart and soul? Please illumine.

MD: The traditional belief of the Adi community to which I belong is full of this union. Everything has life -- rocks, stones, trees, rivers, hills, and all life is sacred. This is called Donyi- Polo, literally meaning Donyi- Sun, and Polo- moon as the physical manifestation of a supreme deity, or what I like to interpret as ‘world spirit.’ Yes, in this way it is a set of values like ancient Indian philosophy or ancient Mayan / Aztec, Northern Europe, Egyptian, Chinese beliefs where similarities between ancient civilizations and the first glimmerings of man’s quest for faith are tied together. We also have a rich oral tradition with narrative ballads of birth and creation of man and his surroundings that can last for many days, chanted by special priests. There is hardship in life, yes, but there is also human effort and human belief.

NKA: In some of the poems, you have given notes. These notes explicate certain North-Eastern cultural aspects. The poems like “Tapu”, “Let No Tear”, “Song of the Dancers”, “Man and Brother” and “The Missing Link” use these explanatory notes. What is the necessity of these notes in your poetry? Are these notes not because you are writing about your own culture in an alien language? Will it not be better to write about our indigenous culture in our own native languages? The expression of indigenous culture in alien language will definitely raise these problems. Moreover, this dragon like alien language may eliminate the regional languages one day. We must do something to preserve our languages. To be short, what should be the language of poetic expression’ our native regional language or an alien one? Your views, please.

MD: The notes are there because some of the references are to special customary practice and belief. If I write in Adi I will still have to use Roman script since we are a non-script language. Currently there is a move to devise a new script for the Tani group of tribes of Arunachal. i.e. the tribes practicing Donyi-Polo and who claim common ancestry from a legendary forefather called Tani, but we have 26 tribes in Arunachal and more than a 100 sub-clans so the consensus is more for English and Hindi as the lingua franca and for writing. At the moment we have also launched an Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society to promote writing in local languages / dialects/ which may be translated into English or Hindi or other major Indian languages. About the language of poetic expression – people say -- well, Spanish and French for love, Urdu for ghazal, something else for Haiku, but I think poetry in any language will have meaning depending on the honesty of feeling.

NKA: Poetry is the emotional outburst of personal feelings. A poet transmits his own subjective feelings in his poetry. In a way, a poet universalizes his personal emotions in his poetry. In your poetry, I have found that beneath the treatment of nature and social customs of Arunachal Pradesh, there is an undercurrent of pain. The opening lines of “Broken Verse” hint towards that grief. Are there certain personal concerns responsible for this treatment of grief? What personal factors are responsible for poetry in you? Please illuminate.

MD: Always difficult to pin point what started anyone on a particular course or path, or why one writes the way one does. There are many changes happening in Arunachal today so the treatment of nature and social customs is something that I feel an affinity for and it is my way of viewing this change or the passage of time. Things happen. We learn only to learn that there is more to learn and it goes on. There’s a new understanding for everything if one doesn’t lose faith and writing is of course an act of hope, in the sense that you will overcome barriers of misunderstanding, grief, loss, through some new creation like an act of transformation, metamorphosis.

NKA: You left IAS. You are a journalist and also a poet. Out of the three, which profession is closest to your heart and why? Has your career as a journalist helped you as a poet? Please enlighten the readers.

MD: Journalism combines a lot of things because it is about information, collecting it and reporting/ and so even if I were an administrator I might have been asking questions like a journalist (albeit certainly more restricted!) and it keeps one, hopefully, from getting too sentimental since the shorter one can write to tell a story the better. It is also about evidence, truth, and that is about poetry.

NKA: As a woman poet and journalist, did you feel disturbed in the patriarchal male Indian society? Are the males prejudiced towards a woman poet? Your views, please.

MD: No. I have never felt this. As it is we have very few writers (published ) in Arunachal, and we have few readers too! But all the same my own society, friends and relatives have been encouraging.
NKA: What are the other important poetic voices from Arunachal Pradesh? As a member of North East Writers’ Forum, what do you think are the major problems, faced by the North Eastern poets?

MD: There is Y.D. Thong chi and late Lummer Dai, well known authors of Arunachal Pradesh. Both their works are in Assamese and Thong chi is a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, 2005, for his novel ‘Mouna Ounth Mukhar Hriday,’written in Assamese.
The major problems faced by NE poets must be language- translations. There are many fine poets writing in Meitei, Bodo, Mishing, regional languages but translated copies/ good translators/ of their works are few and hard to find. This has kept a large body of literature of the region hidden.

NKA: In your article “Arunachal Pradesh: The Myth of Tranquility”, you have emphasized that your state is outside the sphere of change. Tribal customs are protected there. You had emphatically stated in that article, ”Arunachal is still one of the last frontiers of the world where the indigenous faith and practices still survive in a form close to the original beliefs handed down since generations.” It is nice to see that tribal culture is being preserved there. What factors, in your opinion, are responsible for the preservation of the tribal culture in Arunachal Pradesh? Can those measures be applied to other tribes too? Please tell.
The strict adherence to the traditional culture may hamper the educational development of the tribes on modern lines. In a way, the tribes may be streamlined. Though, the world has become a global village, the tribes, in order to preserve their cultural identity, may avoid contact with the outside world. It may, in the long run, prove injurious to the well-being of the tribes. Which methods may bring them into the mainstream Indian society without disturbance to their culture? Please enlighten.

MD: Well, I will have to qualify that… it is still a bastion of indigenous culture but I did not mean this to be in favour of absolute preservation. We are fortunate not to be displaced from our territory, this was also due to historical and geographical reasons in the past -- The British policy of non-intervention and the Inner Line Regulation Act, etc, followed by the Nehruvian policy of keeping the region safe from the influence of more dominant societies until they had more time to adapt, etc. Today Non locals coming from abroad and from other parts of the country require Inner Line permits and Restricted Area Permits(RAP) . This has come into focus recently -- whether it is still relevant especially as the state wants to project itself as a tourist destination. I, personally believe in change -- as a form of evolving, but then a lot depends on our leaders if change for a whole society is for the better and whether it is made as an informed choice. Changes are happening -- religious, political, socio-economic. At the same time feelings of insecurity or an increasing gap between the beneficiaries of change and those left out, vis-à-vis access to education, health, opportunities, employment, empowerment for women, can bring on a militant reaction against change and a return to ‘pure’ indigenous antecedents that becomes moral policing and vigilantism. It will be good if the benefits of change as modern societies at par with the rest of the world can come about with less conflict. Here civil society and media attention and awareness will come into play, and good governance. After all, what should government give it’s citizens? Good policies.









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