Contemporary Concerns

Reclusive Mountains and Soporific Dreams: Analyzing the Textual Representation of Space in Ananya S. Guha’s Hills Of Slow Time
Bonosree Majhi

Bonosree Majhi

Abstract: Human experience is inevitably formed by the intrinsic relationship between time and space. Human experience of space has engaged the brilliant minds from various disciplines of academic exercise through the ages. While Foucault treated it from a sociological-historical perspective, Kristeva was concerned with the subjective space. For Deleuze space cantains the multiple flows of becoming in a social context; Bakhtin’s famous theory of chronotope tries to explain the close connection between the temporal and spatial relations artistically represented in literature. Relatively new approaches, like Geocriticism and Geopoetics, also deal with the influence of geography on the creative spirit and transgressive re-creation of space in art. Ananya S. Guha is a widely published Indian poet, translator, editor, and academician. A distinctive voice from the North East of India, Guha possesses a unique poetic sensibility shaped by the natural space he inhabits. Even though the poet himself is a little apprehensive of the flagrant categorization of the creative productions emerging from the North East region, his works are unmistakably steeped in the luxuriant flavors and hues of the flora and fauna of the mountains. The topology, meteorology and biosphere of the region not only serve as a setting of his creative universe, they ultimately acquire a metaphoric significance. The external physical space produced in his poems is not the only site or locale worth analyzing. The complex mental functions, like dreams, hallucinations, and stories constitute a psychological space whose study would promise an intellectually stimulating experience. However, this is beyond argument that these mental functions are not completely independent entities. They are conditioned by and reactions to the experiences contained in a particular space. The paper will attempt an analysis of the collection of poems Hills of Slow Time by Ananya S. Guha with the help of a spatially inclined approach to literary criticism.

Key-words: space, natural, mental, home, metaphor.

Introduction: Aristotle defined space and time as categories that are necessary for identification and classification of the experience of senses. In this sense, space is merely an empirical tool. Decartes’ conceptualization of space heralded the end of this tradition of thought. With Decartes space transcends the three dimensional mathematical existence and assumes the role of a mental phenomenon; space became the absolute entity that contains all sensory stimulations and all physical bodies at once. Even when Kant revived Aristotlean concept of space as category and empirical tool, it still constituted an all-pervasive a priori realm of consciousness. In later tradition of thoughts, a shift can be observed from the endeavors to define space to comprehend the experience of space.
Ananya S. Guha is a well known intellectual presence in the academia and literary arena of India. His poetic creation originates from a sensibility formed and shaped by the emotional and personal reaction to the physical space which exists in a temporal point and contains all the activities and events the creative mind witnesses. The physical space, when represented in poetry, no longer remains the actual container of human experience constructed by the relationship between temporal and spatial setting. The topology, meteorology and biosphere of the particular region transcend the physical limitation and acquire a metaphorical significance. A meticulous reading Ananya S. Guha’s Hills of Slow Time reveals a mutual exchange between the physical and mental space that weaves the delicate aesthetics.

Reclusive Mountains- Representation of the topology and the concept of Home:
The mountains in the Hills of Slow Time are the things of the past, almost mythological entities. Their origin is in the enigmatic myth, human history failing to record the time they came into being. The topology seems to encompass the entirety of human capacity to comprehend time. Three dimensional space along with three dimensions of time (past, present and future) forms a continuum that can contain history of humanity. This continuum can preserve the prehistoric truth, contain the present activities and anticipate future. The eponymous poem ‘Hills Of Slow Time’ gives beautiful expression to the concept.

The hills I have known, paraded with
my destiny, the hills that moulded clay
into mythic dolls. Yes these were the hills I knew.

Prescient hills you shoot out the future
and supinely lie on the past
in eternal rest.             (Hills Of Slow Time 1)
The movement of time is not perceived entirely from an objective perspective. It is intensely subjective when it refers to the poet’s own life. These mountains, in course of shooting out future from the ancient wombs of the past, mould the poetically blessed individual’s impressionably rich past, creative present and enigmatic future. Inextricably intertwined with the poetic consciousness, these mountains make the home for the poetic spirit. In the poem ‘Those Seas…’ the poet declares his free choice transcending the connection with the past:

They are these bluish green hills where
I built my abode. (Hills Of Slow Time 39)

The poet appears assertive of his personal space. These are the hills where he belongs and this is where he has chosen to make his home.  If the general idea of abode or home is analyzed, certain essential characteristics could be detected. One of these characteristics would be the sense of entitlement or the sense of belongingness. This sense of belongingness concomitantly originates from home’s ability to connect one with his or her past. The mountains perform this exact task by securing a link between the poet and his ancestors, and a link between his present self and childhood. The poem ‘Childhood’ captures this nostalgia pervading a particular area:

That was a time when summer houses
were painted. Fresh smells of the paint
the grease and smattering dust
gave aroma of hopes. Me and you
played in outhouses and trumpeted
a heralding wind. We sang songs
of red cherries and green plums.
We scorched the sun in winter’s
play fields. We drank wine from
cascading golden cups. We drowned
in Hispanic winters. We were.  (HOST 32)

Another definitive characteristic of home would be its capacity to nurture and prepare an individual for the future. The poet here is quite certain that these mountains shape his destiny with the wisdom older than time itself. However, the natural space is not the only space that encapsulates the concept of home. Moving from natural space, we should consider home as the personal realm of an individual as well; here we have to imagine a physical structure which safeguards or gives shelter from danger, and it is necessarily demarcated from the natural space by the wall. For a better understanding of the representation of space in Guha’s poetry, one must understand the intriguing relationship between the natural space and the space defined by architectural structures, both embodying the concept of home.  Heidegger, in his essay, “Building Dwelling Thinking” describes the act of dwelling in the following manner:

The Old Saxon wuon, the Gothic wunian like the old word bauen, mean to remain, to stay in a place. But the Gothic wunian says more distinctly how this remaining is experienced. Wunian means: to be at peace, to be brought to peace, to remain in peace. The word for peace, Friede, means the free, das Frye, and fry means: preserved from harm and danger, preserved from something, safeguarded. To free really means to spare. The sparing itself consists not only in the fact that we do not harm the one whom we spare. Real sparing is something positive and takes place when we leave something beforehand in its own nature, when we return it specifically to its being, when we "free" it in the real sense of the word into a preserve of peace. To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its nature. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing and preserving. It pervades dwelling in its whole range. That range reveals itself to us as soon as we reflect that human being consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth. (3)

One must not forget that feeling at home and having a shelter is not the same. Home is primarily a shelter from the external world, social and natural. Here home does save from the hostile natural phenomena like harsh winter, keen lashes of rain, from whose safe confines one can look out on the world outside through a window:

This winter’s morning
is just an event
saw it across the window
no frost, the sun on parole
this winter’s morning
is like a hesitant shadow.
Shall I ?
The cold is a blurred fantasy
after a night of nothing.      (‘All Three’, HOST 10)
Nevertheless, no romantic illusion is propagated regarding home. Home does not solely stands as a safe personal space where individual along with his keen thrives amidst the warmth and security of his near ones. It is not left unscathed by the onslaughts of hostile circumstances. In this home troubles brew, tragedy strikes, adversity forces its way into.

There are houses nearby
no no dream houses
but they have dreams
they too weep, shout, eat
and drink

And those houses, thatched
lined in a corner, wait
patiently for the next meal.
The children cry, want more
the father walks out grumbling
the mother consoles ( the children)    (‘Suddenly’, HOST 4)
As in the case of private area, natural areas too are unceremoniously stripped of idle romantic trappings. Guha’s representation of the hills shatters the delusion of picturesque landscape.
Rivers are fantasy
for tourists, phoptographers
and the errant harbinger
of news, floods and dithering
Rivers are a dog in the manger. (‘Rivers’, HOST 19)
Moreover, the nostalgia wrapped around the hometown acquires a sinister image amidst the acute awareness of time frozen in oblivion. The time may have moved here slowly but it leaves its definite marks. The poet is ever anxious of the slow but steady passage of ruinous time. In the poem ‘In The Town That I Live In’ the painful acknowledgement of violence of nostalgia makes itself palpable:

In the town that I live
The hills
The town.
The rippling streams
Of effervescence.

In the town that I live
I lie buried, decapitated
by the merciless wind
and the rain admonishes
with wind swept memories.
All, in this town that I live.     (HOST 42)
As it has been already mentioned, home is supposed to nurture the individuals and a community by extension. Unfortunately, the future envisioned by the poet is somewhat bleak. The hills of slow time have certainly failed to sustain a community and promise a future, for a recently grown predilection towards desertion could be seen everywhere.

They are deserting these villages
with no cafes, no restaurants or a plush looking
waiter. Where time’s realities are secretly stolen.
Where gold fish cannot be found, no aquariums
only the hiatus of misty hills, where blue is bluer
greengeener. Where the thatched huts fall under sun’s
monotonous glaze. They are not palaces. Houses.
Houses quivering under fireflies of hope. They are deserting.  (‘Wipe The Tears’, HOST 35)

Meteorological elements turned into Metaphors:
In Hills Of Slow Time meteorological elements transcend their ability to build the geographical background for the benefit of the reader and get elevated to the status of metaphors loaded with potent suggestions. Every element of weather or seasonal cycle becomes a source of symbolic significance. Winters are essentially harsh, sinister. Its agonizing experiences are simply dreaded, and an urge to remain hidden becomes evident from the following lines of the poem ‘Dream Wings’:

We will be left with decrepit masks
in the agonies of winter. (HOST 3)
The winter is certainly not a favourable condition for growth. The poet reiterates that for the growth of new possibilities departure of the winter is necessary.

Possibilities must blow across the land.
Winter must end, and street cars will
get respite of the fog.  (‘Possibilities’ HOST 27)

But this primordial element is thankfully infused with the eternal hope.
Winter happens in myths of time
and denuded forests, when the hills
shiver in quaking cold.
When streams gurgle fearlessly.
Winter is primordial. Ancients know
how it eclipses summer’s moon
and drinks a mouthful of wine till eternity.
It’s insignia is a thumb sketched
ray of shadows in hope. (‘Shadows In Hope’, HOST 31)
However, the hope’s eternal power becomes less trustworthy when in ‘Let Them Grow’ (HOST 56) the winter’s hope is described in terms of being “unbecoming”.
Summer is also an ancient existence. It is pleasant but short-lived and elusive and readers are not permitted even for a moment to forget its transient nature. The joys of summer are invariably juxtaposed with the agonies of winter.

Dream wings are hard hit
by summer’s malefic ways
and winter’s dreaded hibernation. (‘Dream Wings’, HOST 3)
Another element rain is devastating in nature. It brings ruin and merciless reality to the denizens. It reminds one of the hard truth of everyday reality and saves from the unscrupulous romantic representation. The poem ‘Quiet Darkness…’ paints a fearful picture of such destruction.
Roof tops are a slither
and even as the rains transport
you to ether you feel that
they shouldn’t have arrived.
No not now.
The hills lie comatose
in disappointment.
The showers will soon turn
to an octopus sea. Elsewhere
one hears of terrible flood gates.
Disaster, death, houses crumbling
into river fangs. (HOST 21)
It is also credited with being the mystic who materializes with the undiluted truth. It has the power to reveal the truth hidden in the darkest depths of time.

And the morning
is wayward, clouds
thicken and the rains
appear mist like
to unravel hidden thoughts.

I go to these rains to uncover
masks in memories.
The clouds are murky, yet
rains do appear in half translucence.
Slithering away to undiluted truths.   (‘And The Morning’, HOST 23)
Flora and fauna as symbols- Representation of Biosphere
Far from being an innocent part of an Idyllic scene, flowers in Guha’s poetry are attributed with multilayered implications. The flower images used are often cryptic. They are resonant with complicated symbolism. Thus, marigold becomes reminiscent of gashing wounds.
Marigolds will not turn your hair
into wounded gashed fingers. (‘Hills Of Slow Time’, HOST 1)
The marigolds are there to signify dreams, songs denoting past and looking forward to future. When sunflower is mentioned, it is only to inform us of its death. Interestingly, the flowers are often described in terms of being withered or awaiting to be withered or already dead.
Another flower that secures the attention of the poet is lotus. It stands for the pure, unadulterated truth: “Lotus whispers of truths. Many untold.” (17). Moreover, there is an unforgettable image of the mysterious flower which is the custodian of some arcane truth, and the possession of which could enable the poet to call the mountains to him, and give him the taste of eternity.
I never had to because
I never had that flower
that clasped like shower
gives you that you had a taste
of eternity, penumbra. (‘I Never Had To’, HOST 79)
The bird crow is used as a significant image in Hills Of Slow Time. Apart from being the traditional ominous presence, it gnaws and nibbles at the surface of the apparent reality and makes the hurt resurface:

The crow continues to nibble.
Suddenly there is blood.   (‘Suddenly…’ HOST 4)
On other times, “it seems the epitome/ of life that is lost” (‘Decision’ HOST 7)

The social spaces representing the life of a community:
Even though the natural space and the private space are separated to understand the idea of personal and impersonal space, it is redundant to point out that none of the spaces exist in isolation. Each space encroaches upon the other’s territory, influences and imbues itself with the properties of the other. Now the focus would shift to the social spaces. Henri Lefebvre, in his book Production of Space, opines that:

Be that as it may, the places of social space are very different from
those of natural space in that they are not simply juxtaposed: they may
be intercalated, combined, superimposed - they may even sometimes
collide. (96)
It is evident that Lefebvre is of the opinion that natural spaces could be simply juxtaposed, which is rather hasty attempt at oversimplification. However, when it comes to social spaces, he is willing to acknowledge the interpenetration among these innumerable social spaces. They are fluid and there are countless crossways among them. In Hills of Slow Time social spaces like school, hospital registers the collective experiences of a community. The shared trauma of a community finds expression in these eloquent spaces.

…Traumatized teachers
writing on black boards, wearing white.
The penurious were right. The naughty, crafty.
Examinations were a long wait in an endless tunnel. (‘Childhood’ HOST 32)
Road is another symbolically charged space which is used by Guha to trace the eternal cycle of history; the ravages of time and progress of human civilization amidst irrational violence. The sad melody of humanity is played out here.
roads are
mere slaves, they are used
as battle fields to splash colours
like the Holi Festival.

He said yes it is true but roads
have a comeback fervour.
Come back to me when age
overtakes and maurauders
come with weapons, technology
and a mad house of grass growing
in Wilderness.  (‘In Wilderness’, HOST 20)

Mental spaces-Soporific dreams, hallucination, myth, history, grandmother’s stories hiding and revealing truth:
The textual representation of space in the poems of this anthology is not merely constricted to the physical spaces. These poems are equally adequate in representing the enigmatic world of human consciousness. Guha uses different mental functions such as dreams, hallucinations and composition of stories to unravel the mysterious landscape of our psyche. The dreams of the poet are soporific. They lie instead of revealing the truth. They are comforting in that they lull human faculty of reason and take them further away from the hurtful reality. The poet veritably declares that dream wings are soporific. He oscillates between an irresistible urge to escape reality and an insistent pull towards the ever elusive truth.

I reason outside, inside
in dreams, poems, reveries
hallucinations, which mind
in its fervour stumbles upon
thick fences and overnight
reason is left distraught
in crumbling ruins of the present.  (‘Dreams’, HOST 12)
Another curious function of human brains is constructing memories. The memories are not presented in a very positive light here. They are predominantly painful and therefore undesirable. Furthermore, they are unreliable. They could very well be screen memories carefully built and put in mind to hide some violent past. The stories which are products of complex working and reworking materials collected from the surroundings are similarly unreliable and vaguely comforting. In the poem ‘Grandmother And Her Two Sons’ this fabulous but ultimately inadequate process of myth-making is exposed:

Once upon a time I sat on grandmother’s lap
to listen to stories of ghosts, catcalls and her two sons
climbing up the wind, soaring skies after dying of poisonous
fumes of the stomach.
Fabulous, untold stories, of her two sons, flying across
when space crafts did not exist. Now I know. (HOST 11)

Conclusion: The creative sensibility shaped by the physical, social and mental spaces creates a brilliant literary space that conveys a unique poetic experience. Ananya S. Guha reproduces physical and mental space in his poem with a symbolic technique. A certain degree of ambivalence that weaves the symbolic structure provides a balanced approach to human experience in general; the human experience where relentless pursuit of truth and temptation of self delusion coexists; where the grievously devastating circumstances is endowed with the power to reveal supreme truth. The textual representation of space gives an opportunity to witness the complex relationship between the human perception and the physical world exterior to the self.

1. Guha, Ananya S. Hills Of Slow Time. Bhubaneswar: Dhauli Books, 2017. Print.
2. Heidegger, Martin. “Building Dwelling Thinking” Jan 6, 2007. Web 20 March, 2018. URL:
3. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith.Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, Inc. 1991. Print.
Setu, April 2018

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।