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The Ecocritical and Ecological Outlooks in Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land


The Ecocritical and Ecological Outlooks in Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land

Ishita Haldar

Ph.D. Research Scholar

Seacom Skills University

Bolpur, Birbhum, West Bengal



Mamang Dai is a strong indigenous voice of North-East India. The North-East region’s captivating scenery, mystic experiences, colourful ethnography, mythology, folklore, and myths collectively make up her nature of fiction. The current study looks at the ecocritical aspects of her fictional work. The article concentrates only on a few key elements of the conceptual framework of ecocriticism and leaves out several other aspects. The taboos, rites, customs, and habits of numerous ethnic groupings coexist peacefully in parts of North- East India. Ecocriticism investigates the connections between literature and the environment. The interaction between nature and the local culture determines ecological values. The study of literature helps to identify the causes of ecological issues, which are tied to environmental campaigning. North-east Indian authors include Jahnavi Barua, Malsawmi Jacob, Mitra Phukan, Mamang Dai, Meenaxi Bhattacharjee, Easterine Kire, Robin S. Ngangom, Pankaj Thapa, and others. This paper will investigate environmental and ecological consciousness and evaluate societal characteristics in relation to how nature is viewed. Dai’s Escaping the Land demonstrates the ecocritical aspects of the landscape and, thereby, projects the ecological values of the environment.

Keywords: Ecocritical, Ecological, Taboos, Nature, Ethnic

Mamang Dai, the daughter of Matin Dai and Odi Dai, the Adi tribal community, has broadened her conception of reality to include tribal societies in villages and cities in addition to love poetry and short fiction. Her non-fiction books include Mountain Harvest: The Food of Arunachal Pradesh (2004) and Arunachal Pradesh: The Hidden Land (2003). In addition, she has penned a few folklore books, including The Sky Queen and Once Upon a Moontime (2003). The fiction Escaping the Land weaves together history, myth, and contemporary politics to tell the narrative of a beautiful but occasionally uncomfortable place and its people. From the mystical nation of Kojum-Koja to Arunachal Pradesh, Dai takes us on a fascinating journey. “River Poems” (2004), “The Balm of Time” (2008), “Hambreelmai’s Loom” (2014), and “Midsummer Survival Lyrics” (2014) are a few of her poetry volumes. “El Balsamo Del YTiempo”, an Assamese translation of “The Balm of Time”, is also available.

Ecocriticism investigates the connection between literature and nature. In the essay “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism”, William Rueckert coined the term ‘ecocriticism’ in 1978. It identifies, on one hand, the social, cultural, financial, and political ideas that are behind ecological catastrophes. On the other hand, ecology, which is the study of the environment, enables us to comprehend how different types of creatures coexist in various kinds of physical settings. It is an inquiry into living things and how they relate to their surroundings. In 1866, the term was coined by the zoologist Ernest Haeckel. An ecologist researches the interactions between organisms and their environments. The diverse landscape, biological hotspots, and cultural tapestry are all depicted in North-East Indian fiction. The North-East Indian regions are unique. Tribal people in this area are straightforward, constantly attempting to assist others, and standing by one another in times of need. The North-Eastern regions have a lot of lovely vegetation and are less dirty. It has an abundance of vegetation, animals, and natural resources. In the North-East, many traditions, holidays, and ethnic groups unite to create unity in variety. Ecocriticism investigates how nature and culture are connected and have an impact on one another. Environmental activism and literary studies are related. According to Raymond Williams, in The Country and the City, one component of ecocriticism is the connection between environment, impoverishment, seasons, cities, and countryside in English literature (Nayar 242). It also pinpoints the causes of the ecological disaster.

Mamang Dai’s Escaping the Land begins with the information of the house of calendars, where ‘everything was still’ (Dai 5). The house is surrounded by hills, flowers, lakes, waterfalls, etc. Hills and mountains take care of tribal people. The situation in which a person lives or works can be used to understand human nature. The whole of land, water, woodlands, nature, and culture is thus quantified. Surprisingly, 165 men were charged in October 1953 in Assam Subansiri river valley in a little village called Aching mori. The revenge for the chief’s passing is the goal of the operation. The army stopped speaking and ‘breathe without a sound’ acting like animals (Dai 9). Lomey and Dinu, who are known as ‘political interpreters’ actually serve as translators between the tribal members and the government officials. Ecological consciousness is fundamentally shaped by its language and literature. Since poetry is often interpreted as ‘models of flux of energy, formation of communities, and ecosystems’, an understanding of ecology is essential for the understanding of literature (Rueckert 110). So, it is true that ecology is ‘the study of organisms in relation to each other and to the surroundings in which they live’ (Nottingham 8).

The ecological values are devastated by the British Government’s business of oil and tea in the Brahmaputra valley. This technological development is causing an ecological shift in the region. The region is composed not only because of the topographical features but also because of the mental set-up of people. To subdue the government officials, the Indian Frontier Administrative Service was formed, which provides some positive vibes in the minds of tribal people. A crucial aspect of human existence, the environment, is strengthened by mindful living in social places. Along’s beauty is so captivating that tribal people fly over the untamed rivers and jungles by turning days and months of the calendar of the ‘wide canvas’ of the earth (Dai 18). But environmental beauty does not exist permanently. In ‘the shadowy space of all that escapes the light of public speech’, where ‘tragedy occurs’, all individuals, including plants and animals, are the ‘subalterns’ (Lyotard 135). He asserts that ecology, which is relevant to ecocriticism, is the ‘discourse of the secluded’. The major goal of ecocriticism is to elevate the voices of marginalised people and foster an affinity between culture and the environment. The tribal society is patriarchal in nature. The tribal men do not wish to grant prestige and status to tribal women; thus they want to restore the mother’s supernatural powers through a number of offerings to the spirits. Hence, her brother receives the superpower and transforms into ‘rain man’. He can summon the spirits and save mankind from the grasps of death. So, the goal of tribal people is to establish autonomous, dispersed, self-governing communities where ‘culture is integrated with nature at the level of the particular ecosystem’ (Gorsline and House 39). In a male-dominated society, tribal women ‘bent over steaming pots of rice and cooked meat day and night’ (Dai 88). They have ecological sensitivity, which keeps them from harming nature (Rangarajan172). The tribal communities go through various journeys in their lives, and they witness the changing course of the river, which proves that the ecological shift of the region is occurring. The social, political, economic, and cultural lives are determined by the ecological stability of the region. Assam is surrounded by a ‘row of pine trees’ and the snowy white pumi grass ‘glinted like a waving sea’ (Dai 27-28). But natural disasters like landslides and avalanches destroyed the area in1948. Environmental pollution is ‘both an external phenomenon resulting from the fragmentation and alienation of human personality’ (Goodbody 63).

After joining the Indian Frontier Administrative Service, Lipun built an outpost in Anini in 1959. The Idu people dwell there and make their living by exporting war jackets, musk, wool, and yeast. Anini is a region covered in high snow ranges. The rhododendron and oak forests serve as symbols of the area’s ecological stability. Ecocriticism and environmental politics have been influenced by the ‘messianic essentialism about the human and natural’ which perceives ‘nature’ as unplanned and connected with isolated or untamed locations that are largely uninhabited by humans (Clark 78).

After hearing unexpectedly that Bomdila has been taken prisoner by the enemy, Lipun makes the decision to travel via a jungle-covered hillside to Seijosa in the Assam foothills. Tribal people seek cover in Itakhola, Assam’s ‘old market town’ when they arrive thereon November 19, 1962. Lipun and Darin, who are buddies from their time spent together at the NEFA dormitory in Shillong, also happens to cross paths at the same time (Dai 36-37). People should oversee their surroundings to become a self-sufficient, independentlocal population of their surroundings (Naess 204-06). The Chinese regiment is fending off the Indian soldiers; tea estates, bank currencies, and the entire town are set on fire; and the tribal residents are made to use boats to cross the streams and rivers. In that dangerous circumstance, Lutor meets Umsi, who wears two flashy earrings and has bowl-shaped hair like the Adi tribes. The Adi tribal society exhibits unique traits. The Adi tribes practise this specific haircutting since it violates their cultural norms and social customs, which give them their unique identity as an Adi tribal community in the context of the environment. Once more, there is a strict taboo against looking at the faces of warriors because doing so portends ill for the future. Taboo is one type of human behaviour performed by a particular community based on the cultural and social behaviour of the individual. According to Henry Presler, taboos are:

…caution established to guard against supernaturally dangerous things like plants, person especially those possess mana. (Presler 10)

The ‘districts’ are formed by transforming NEFA, and the young troops are assaulted by a tribal group in the Kameng highlands and brutally slaughtered. This attack causes ‘great silence’ and ‘dark cloud’ over the entire area (Dai 42-44).

Rituals and language are the two ingredients by which tribal people form bonds with each other and with the environment. The ethics of the environment are maintained by the ecological stability and consciousness of human minds. Tribal communities undergo different rituals and ceremonies, like chicken sacrifices made during times of illness, marriage rituals, birth rituals, etc. In cases of marriage, one tribal clan is required to marry into its own to uphold its position and manners.

Tribal people live peacefully unless political upheaval takes place due to the launch of the All-NEFA Peoples’ Party (ANP). With countless tribal members, the refugees infringe on the land, slaughter helpless animals, and ruin the forests. The extinction of species is linked to an ecologically dispersed terrain. This type of extinction of species and change in climate proves the ecological degradation of the environment. The political turbulence, lack of proper employment, and particular wage allocation are responsible for the economic devastation of the environment. Individuals do not depend on nature for their necessities, as they obtain their suitable value partly from trading rather than straight from the environment (Burkett 58). So, one of the problems for Pasighat’s ecological stability is the ‘security issue’ of tribal people (Dai 81).

Life depends on the change in climate. Food and water are necessary for a living world. Climate influences the growth and development of plants, which tend to produce food for us. As a result, erratic climate change will endanger millions of lives. The balance in nature is not maintained due to the changes in weather. Excessive use of natural resources, population growth, and a shortage of political determination are the primary causes of global warming. Melting of glaciers, biotic and abiotic shifts, and the transformation of tea gardens into crop cultivation areas are some of the observable environmental repercussions of global climate degradation. Human behaviours are directly responsible for global warming. Scarcity of rainfall, escalating temperatures, the rise of floods, landslides, and cyclones, elevated sea levels, and the collapse of polar ice are some of the consequences to be expected. The ecological and social repercussions of these changes are projected to include forest loss and island destruction (Chopel).

One of the causes of the environment’s ecological volatility is deforestation. Tribal communities chop trees and other vegetation for their livelihoods, which contributes to a lack of rainfall, deforestation, and severe changes in climate. It is impossible to imagine living creatures’ existence in the environment without trees and forests because of the crucial role they play in the ecology of the environment. The best air filters are trees and forests. If there is significant deforestation in this area, the debate about climate change will be all but meaningless (Bologna). So, tribal people must rely on gardening after the transformation of tea plantations into ordinary gardens. The ecosystem of the earth is restored by planting trees. Thus, people are also restored by nature, and hence, there exists a close relationship between living things, the environment, and the earth’s resources.

Ecology and literature are interrelated in a way that combines nature and the ‘nature’of the text. The tribal societies compete with one another. Ecocriticism is a collection of environmental concerns that span from political to purely spiritual viewpoints. According to Thomas K. Dean:

Although ecocriticism can touch virtually any discipline, when it translates into action, it generally comes back to its home ground – the human relationship with the earth (Dean 4).

The establishment of weaving and craft institutes by the NEFA administration in several smaller cities and settlements were a technological advancement that contributed to the employment of indigenous tribal women. Timber business is the new way of livelihood for villagers. However, the timber business destroys the ecology of the environment. Human concentration shifts from nature to the utilisation of natural resources. Marxist theory claims that this ecological and environmental problem affecting tribal people is a result of ‘red environmentalism’, in which overuse of minerals may result in a sickness of the land (Rangarajan 183). The most recent craze is to cut down trees to make money and the Forest Department has also given permission to do so for the sake of five trees (Dai 180). Some of the tribal people regard the removal of trees as commerce, and the young tribal members are looking for work. As a result, large tracts of pristine, dense forest are being destroyed by the state. The Supreme Court has issued an order banning the timber-cutting industry. Therefore, numerous youth organisations, political leaders, entrepreneurs, and industrialists relocate to New Delhi in the hopes of receiving funding to maintain the forest. Actually, ‘cities are anti- ecological’ in comparison to the villages (Harvey 435). Lutor and Umsi’s meeting is just a coincidence of such a result. Armed men enter the village of Murem and demand that the residents battle for their sovereignty. Rasa, a political supporter of Lutor’s, has made the decision to withhold the information from the police because she believes that they will assault the villagers rather than assist them. Education enlightens the lives of everyone. Among the tribal women, Lipun’s wife, Neha, is the first native graduate. The tribal clan shattered the taboo of treating tribal women differently from other members of society. During monsoon season, the hills and mountains are ‘chanting in ecstasy’ and the origin of that pleasure is because of the love for the land. The natives are content enough with the untamed trees, hills, mountains, rocks, and rivers. They battle and fight for survival, and realisation comes with the connection between land and their lives (Dai 208). At the same time, election preparation starts, and tribal people travel to various locations and construct their homes by acquiring small plots of land. The deep and gloomy forest is burned for the advantage of human lives. Urban ecocriticism refers to the ecocriticism of both the city and the natural world. It comprehends urban living as the culture of the human intellect.

According to Lewis Mumford:

The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, or a run of mackerel or an ant-heap (Mumford5).

Lutor wails for the accidental death of Kellan. Tribal members attend multiple covert sessions to discuss future elections and money. The earnings from the election are now, however, the new source of income. So, it is true that the ‘material conceptualisation of the mind’ is the ecological interaction between human beings and the environment (Rangarajan 78). After the completion of the election, Lutor and Umsi return to Itanagar with green shadows in their hearts.

Mamang Dai does a good job of interpreting the connections made within the harmony between nature and the universe. Her fiction is the source of the unending tranquillity that the environment provides. She emphasises the responsibility of individuals to cultivate a spiritual connection with the environment. So, it follows that the tribal communities in Northeast India have adopted sustainable lifestyles. However, while being renowned for its incredible cultural diversity, abundant resources, and tradition, this gorgeous region is gradually making the shift from an autonomous sector to a capitalist economy with the aim of experiencing exponential development. The area’s creative authors are leery of such developing techniques, especially given their potential to have a harmful impact on the environment. So, they are rewriting the ideas and principles that govern how we perceive nature and people in literary writings. The North-East Indian authors are seeking to come up with a creative strategy considering environmental concerns including rising temperatures, resource scarcity, and diseases brought on by the environment.

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