Friday, October 24, 2014

Critical Study of “Songs of the Ganga” by A. K. Mehrotra


 Mehrotra is generally known for his surrealistic technique. His is the discovery of various modern, post-modernist and earlier avant-garde style and poetics. He likes to juxtapose bits and pieces of sensibility as represented by clich├ęd language, sentiments and situations. Surrealism, artistic and literary movement that explored and celebrated the realm of dreams and the unconscious mind through the creation of visual art, poetry, and motion pictures notably, the nostalgic moments and reminiscences of Allahabad can be seen in abundance in his poetry. Mehrotra`s increasing pre-occupation with personal and local realities particularly Allahabadism can be seen in Songs of the Ganga.


Songs of the Ganga is a saga of Indian life and myth, a typical of Hindu culture. Like that of Carl Sandburg’s Chicago, Songs of the Ganga looking lovingly, if not cynically, at its countryside. In fact, Ganga has been worshiped   because of its usefulness, beauty, or fear-inspiring aspect. It is considered either as holy in them or as the dwelling places of spirits. The basis of Gangaism seems to lie in the world view of some societies that assume a specific relationship between human beings and the powers of nature, a relationship that serves as the foundation for a classificatory scheme. Gangaism may thus be interpreted as a conceptual device for sorting out social groups by means of natural emblems. Furthermore, some scholars point out that when different social groups within the same society draw their names and identities from Ganga, these ideologies serve as symbolic devices showing that society, although divided into many groups, still remains a whole. 


In the opening lines of Carl Sandburg's Chicago addressed and described the city of business:
“Hog Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders . . .”


Similarly Songs of the Ganga begins with an emphatic ‘I’- the Ganga, a source of life stream which flows en-route hills and valleys and carries its small streams into the sea of life. It also entails the business of it's own merits as well as mythical introspection of every Indians. But notably Ganga is not a femenine gender- it is  an emblem of humanity. Remember, world cannot be created either by men or women. Thus, it is unified self:

I am both man and woman


Metaphorical   ambiguity in the quoted line reminds the diversified actions of river Ganga. Ganga, the daughter of the mountain god,   Himalaya can wash away one’s sins, and ashes placed in the river can reach to heaven. Such numerous references to the Ganga are found in Hindu mythology and literature. Indian bards have written extensively about the beauty of the Ganga. Mehrotra’s Songs of the Ganga   is a poem in praise of Ganga in its ability to control the life of Indians. It has geographically mothered fertile plains, steep foothills and many a streams assimilate into the river:

I am the plains
I am the foothills
I carry the wishes of my streams
To the sea


Ganga flows through varying diversities cleansing impurities in us both physically and spiritually. We all mythically wish that great things to happen. Now the wishes of the streams and the wishes of the masses metaphorically blend together. Truly we cannot meet the sea of life i.e. the zenith of spiritualism unless we share our living experiences with that of the Ganga.  

Paper boats made by Children, fishing net thrown by Fishermen or holy prayer by Shaven monks are equally met by Ganga. It mirrors the every movement near and around. Like that of omniscience, it mentors every essence of lives and litters:

I am paper boats for children
I am habits for the fisherman
I am cloud for shaven monks
I reflect all movements

Ganga is said to be the bridge between life and death, from materiality to spirituality, from time distant. The description of Ganga is related to three aspects of God in some way, seen through the eyes of Hindu culture- Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. These are Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer.  They are fort, archer, and dissolver. In all cultures, human beings make a practice of interacting with what are taken to be spiritual powers. These powers may be in the form of gods, spirits, ancestors, or any kind of sacred reality with which humans believe themselves to be connected. Sometimes a spiritual power is understood broadly as an all-embracing reality, and sometimes it is approached through its manifestation in special symbols. It may be regarded as external to the self, internal, or both. People interact with such a presence in a sacred manner—that is, with reverence and care. Ganga is the term most commonly used to designate this complex and diverse realm of human experience in Indian context:

“I am the bridge.
I am the fort and the archer taking aim.
I am the great dissolver of men.”

 Again, Ganga is all the forces of nature, both physical and spiritual. Ganga is the source of whatever happens, good or bad.   Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind bids its supreme power as:

 “Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!”

Ganga too is hailed as Destroyer and Preserver when it says:

“I give life and I take it too.”

Ardhendu De    


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