Addressing Ecofeminism: A Study of Temsula Ao and Easterine Iralu

- Debarati Das

Abstract: Ecological feminism can be considered as a branch of feminism which probes into the inter-relations between women and nature.The North-Eastern states of India has a well-defined ethnic, linguistic, cultural and geographic identity. This paper aims to analyse the writings of Temsula Ao and Easterine Iralu of the north-eastern region.
Key Words: Ecofeminism, Women, Nature.
 Brief Bio: Dr. Debarati Das, Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Handique Girls’ College, Guwahati-1 Email id:,

Women Writing started in the North-East with the coming of the British and also with the intrusion of the Missionaries which moved into the social and cultural system of North-East India. This resulted in the fall of north-eastern literature as a whole and to women's literature in specific. But it is also appropriate to note that during this period the contribution of women to literature revolved around children’s stories and also to god-fearing or super-natural narratives. Northeast literature can be termed as ‘conflict literature’ because it is engulfed with mythologies and magical elements. These writers beautifully portray the concept of rootedness and rootlessness which prevails within the people of Northeast India. The position of the female community is not culturally, socially, and spiritually empowered as it has to undergo patriarchal domination The reason for this patriarchal domination can be traced back in the age-old customs and practices of the society, which also denied economic and mental independence to women. As women are ringed in the four walled structure their contribution towards literature is very meagre.
The theory of Eco-feminism came into prominence in the twentieth century where multitudinous forms of feminist, environmental theories, and activisms were intersected. It grew as a consequence of the feminist movement of the 1960’s which attempts at the intertextuality between gender and ecology from the cognitive content . In 1974, the term "ecofeminism" was conceived by Francoise d'Eaubonne as a connection of the ecology and women (Morgan,4). “Ecofeminism as a movement resists the domination of nature by humanity and also the domination of women by men, exploring the connection between the two processes and seeking a new relationship between man, woman, and nature”. Plumwood brings forth the history of western philosophy in terms of dichotomy, signifying how the ‘female’ nature has been analytically besmirched, subjugated and demoralized. The rational zenith, which now seems impending, will be the destruction of the planet by ‘the master subject’ in the name of ‘rational economy’ and global profit, unless raison d'être can be remade. The foremost step is to develop ‘the rationality of the mutual self’ which would make certain ‘the incomparable riches of diversity in the world’s cultural and biological life’ and persuade chipping in the ‘community of life’
 Man has attained success in all spheres of life but in this attainment of success he has completely forgotten about the ecological balance of nature which is of utmost necessity for all living organisms to survive. From time immemorial it is believed that nature is the key to our esthetical, rational, and reflective cognitive system which takes us into the world of spiritual and mental satisfaction. Nature in the contemporary scenario is taken for granted and man has intentionally exploited all the natural reserves which has resulted in destructive furies such as fani, tsunami, floods, earthquakes, landslides and other natural calamities. In general Ecofeminism portrays the deplorable condition and victimization of mother nature and women by the patriarchal society which is termed theoretically as androcentrism. Ecological feminism can be considered as a branch of feminism which probes into the inter-relations between women and nature. Its name was coined by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974. Ecofeminism uses the basic feminist tenet of equality between genders, a revaluing of non-patriarchal or nonlinear structures, and a view of the world that respects organic processes, holistic connections, and the merits of intuition and collaboration. 
The central dichotomy constitutes of culture and nature and also of male vindication and female nature. They are raveled approaches of oppression of the human world. The way women have been devalued and denied cultural participation because of their gender, the downgrading of nature has also been disseminated through the depiction of Nature as ‘female’
Nature has been represented as a woman in two rather differing senses: ‘she’ is identified with the body of laws, principles and processes that is the object of scientific scrutiny and experimentation. But ‘she’ is also nature conceived as spatial territory, as the land or earth which is tamed and tilled in agriculture (and with this we may associate a tendency to feminize viewed simply as landscape – trees, woodlands, hills, rivers, streams, ttc are frequently personified as female or figure in similes comparing them to parts of the female body). In both these conceptions, nature is allegorized as either a powerful maternal force, the womb of all human production, or as the site of sexual enticement and ultimate seduction. Nature is both the generative source, but also the potential spouse of science, to be wooed, won, and if necessary forced to submit to intercourse. The Aristotelian philosophy, claimed Bacon, in arguing for an experimental science based on sensory observation, has ‘left Nature herself untouched and invilolate’; those working under its influence had done no more than ‘catch and grasp’ at her, when the point was ‘to seize and detain her’; and the image of nature as the object of the eventually ‘fully carnal’ knowing of science is frequently encountered in Enlightenment thinking and famously pictured in Louis Ernest Barrias’s statue of La Nature devoilant devant la science, a copy of which stood in the Paris Medical faculty in the nineteenth century.(141)
The North-Eastern states of India has a well-defined ethnic, linguistic, cultural and geographic identity. This paper aims to analyse the writings of Temsula Ao and Easterine Iralu of the northeastern region.Temsula Ao is recognized as a poet whose best known collections of poetry are Songs that Tell, Songs that Try to Say, Songs of Many Moods, Songs from Here and There, and Songs from the Other Life. Temsula Ao and Easterine Iralu are both Naga poets. Temsula Ao taught English Literature at North-Eastern Hill University. She was born in Jorhat district, Assam, in 1945. She has published four books of poetry and a collection of short stories. She was also a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Minnesota during 1985-86 and was awarded the Padma Shree in 2007. Easterine Iralu on the other hand teaches literature in the University of Tromso, Norway. She was born in Kohima, Nagaland, in 1959 and has published one book of poems, a literary collection and works on the history and folk poetry of Nagaland. She was awarded the Silver Medal for Best Creative Writing in the All India Essay Contest organized by the Bertrand Russell Study Forum, 1980. Her writings are based in the realistic life of the people in Nagaland of North-East India. Apart from writing, she also performs Jazz poetry with her band Jazzpoesi. Easterine Kire published her first book of poetry Kelhoukevira in 1982 . This is also considered as the first book of Naga poetry to be ever published in English. A Naga Village Remembered published in 2003 is the first novel by a Naga writer to be written in English. Her other novels are A Terrible Matriarchy, Mari, and Bitter Wormwood. Don't Run, My Love is last written in 2017. Apart from these she has also written children's books, articles and essays. Kire has also translated around 200 oral poems from her language. 
In the poem Genesis Easterine Kire speaks of a time when she was worried about her own land and her heart was aching at the sight of confusion that was prevailing in Nagaland. She profoundly goes back to her past and cannot accept the present situation of her state and this is clearly found in the first stanza of her poem thus:
Keviselie speaks of a time
when her hills were untamed
her soil young and virgin
and her warriors worthy
the earth had felt good
and full and rich and kind to his touch. (Genesis, 139).
She deeply remembers about the past history of North-East India when the seven sisters were considered as one North-Eastern state which has now been divided into seven due to the political conflict and also due to the primary conflict of insurgency. This has also affected the naturalness of the Mother Earth and Kire now feels a deep sense of regret for losing the natural abundance of her state due to modernization and advancement of technologies and also due to mutilation done to Mother Earth by the so called savages. This is clearly portrayed in the second stanza of her poem:
Her daughters were seven
with the mountain air in their breath
and hair the colour of soft summer nights
Every evening they would return
their baskets overflowing
with the yield of the land
then they would gather round
and their songs filled all the earth(Genesis 139).
Kire again shows a deep sense of longing for those lost days of the North-Eastern states when these states were filled with hills and valleys and they were undisturbed by the scientific advancement of modern society. She really yearns for the reparation of the former days of Mother Earth when it was filled with total peace and serenity. She very aptly writes this in the poem:
when she will be made whole
restored to herself again
but until such a time
yea, until winter comes
stay,stay the songs of Kelhoukevira (Genesis 140).
She explicitly defines that “For the story of Nagaland is the story of the Naga soul on a long, lonely jouney of pain, loss and bereavement, a silent holocaust in which words seldom were enough to carry the burden of being born a Naga. Therefore I shall use poems to try to tell the Naga story”. (Iralu.The Conflict in Nagaland: Through a Poet’s Eyes). Iralu is of the notion that poetry is language of the soul because it reflects a person’s real human feelings and emotions and also motherly feeling of the women towards the Mother Earth. She is very scared of Nagaland’s natural beauty being destroyed by the technologiacl inventions that invaded the state and this she clearly describes in her poem For Justin-Pierre. She very clearly refers to her poetry as: “The poetry of the hills and dark, dense woods, the spirit stories that nestle in every village, the high romance of star-crossed lovers as well as of the people who turn into stars, and now, in recent years, the long holocaust of genocide, rape and torture of a gentle people”( Should Writers Stay in Prison, 2004). Due to the preponderant social, cultural, economic, and political condition in Nagaland Iralu is perceptive about the fate of nature in her own native state. This is very clearly portrayed in the poem For Justin-Pierre thus:
One day, my son,
when you come to ask me
what colour was the sky
before it turned grey
I will no longer have the answers. (Dancing Earth,142).
            The first story in the book Laburnum For My Head which is also the title of the book portrays an elderly woman’s strange longing for the laburnum flowers which she obstinately wants to be planted during her lifetime. Temsula Ao beautifully thinks: “The laburnum tree on the other hand is alive and ever unchanging in its seasonal cycles: it is resplendent in May; by summer-end the stalks holding its yellow blossoms turn into brown pods; by winter it begins to look scraggly and shorn”.(2) The story Laburnum For My Head opens very aesthetically when Ao describes the month of May which is commonly associated as a month of spring. She dramatically inscribes “Every May something extraordinary happens in the new cemetery of the sleepy little town standing beyond the southernmost corner of the vast expanse of the old cemetery- dotted with concrete vanities, both ornate and simple- the humble Indian laburnum bush erupts in glory, with its blossoms of yellow mellow beauty” (1) . In this story, “Laburnum for My Head”, Lentina the protagonist aspires to plant the laburnum trees which she believes that will keep her alive even after her death. To turn her dream into a reality she takes the help of her age-old driver Babu. She attaches a bond with him and makes him her secret sharer. Her inviolable secret was to fulfil her dream which becomes an ‘epiphanic sensation’ for her. This epiphanic sensation is to have a laburnum tree planted at her grave, one which would live on over her remains as an alternative to an ordinary tombstone. Lentina breaks all the conventional rules in order to fulfil her dream. She even despises her children and with the support of members of the town committee and the public in order to plant the laburnum tree on her tomb. Subsequently, when she is harassed by her age she becomes weak and fragile yet she does not lose hope of seeing the laburnum tree grow on her headstone. She waits all her life to see the sight of the voluptuous efflorescence on her laburnum plant. On reaching home, Lentina was very satiated with the help that Babu had done for her and blessed him for his help gesticulating an end to their relationship as if Lentina has predicted her death. After this very incident Lentina estranged herself from her family stayed in a desolate room and retired from life very soon. After Lentina’s death Ao writes thus: “And every May, this extraordinary wish is fulfilled when the laburnum tree, planted on her grave site in the new cemetery of the sleepy little town, bursts forth in all its glory of buttery-yellow splendour”. (20)
            The poem Lament for an Earth, refers to the state of the Mother Earth which has diminished with the passage of time. She wistfully inscribes:
 There was a forest,
 Verdant, virgin, vibrant
With tall trees
In majestic splendour
Their canopy
Even by the mighty sun,
The stillness humming
With birds‟ cries (1-10).
The slaughter of the magnificence of the forest is equal to the withering of a woman. Here the poet depicts the relationship between Nature and woman. She portrays the grandiose of Mother Nature and depicts its severe challenges and sacrifices in the lines below:
 Cry for the river
 Muddy, mis-shapen
 Chocking with the remains
Of her sister
The forest.
No life stirs in her belly now.
The bomb
And the bleaching powder
Have left her with no tomorrow (53-62).
The river and the forest according to Ao is entangled in the relationship of sisterhood. The flowing water is now at stake with the decadence of industrial revolution. The green bank of the river is now encroached with bricks and cement. The woman and Mother Nature congruity is inscribed in Requim:
 Who will mourn this blackened mass?
This charred carcass
 Of a recent blushing bride
Roasted on the pyre …
 ...And abetted
 By the kitchen stove.
Who will mourn? (1-11)
The above lines in the poem describe how a new bride is tortured by her in-laws for want of material wealth. Added to this Ao also compares a newly wedded bride with all her fresh dreams to a land that hopes for a bright tomorrow. The bride can be considered as a metaphor for the nature of Northeast, and the patriarchal society can be viewed as the members of the industrial world, whose gluttony has engulfed the serenity of our Mother Nature. Added to this, Donna Haraway a critic of biology and a supporter of nature promisingly writes:
In the belly of the local/global monster in which I am gestating, often called the postmodern world, global technology appears to denature everything, to make everything a malleable matter of strategic decisions and mobile production and reproduction processes. Technological decontextualization is ordinary experience for hundreds of millions if not billions of human beings, as well as other organisms. I suggest that this is not a denaturing so much as a particular production of nature. (Promises 297)
The utter worries for the fate of Ao’s Mother Nature shows her motherly love which is portrayed in To the Children of the World. Women are perceived to bring in new life to this world. Therefore, as mothers they are concerned to provide a green ambiance to their new born. But with so much of desecration Ao doubts the greenness of the Mother Earth:
To all you children who are born,
And are yet to be born, …
 Why you were born
To inherit
The plunder of the ages… (1-8)
Temsula Ao’s nature poems raise a strong resistance to the paraphernalia of change that are responsible for the destruction of Mother Nature. In the poem, Earthquake, she gives a warning to the society as well as patriarchy which denatures both Mother earth and woman:
When the earth rumbles
And controts
 To throw up her secret
Like a pregnant woman
After conception,
It is no portent
Of new life.
 But of death and disaster
For those who dwell
Upon her swell (1-10).
Deleuze and Guattari in the realm of politics writes:
But once again so much caution is needed to prevent the plane of consistency from becoming a pure plane of abolition or death, to prevent the involution from turning into a regression to the undifferentiated. Is it not necessary to retain a minimum of strata, a minimum of forms and functions, a minimal subject from which to extract materials, affects, and assemblages?... It is, of course, indispensable for women to conduct a molar politics, with a view to winning back their own organism, their own history, their own subjectivity: ‘we as women...’ makes its appearance as a subject of enunciation. But it is dangerous to confine oneself to such a subject, which does not function without drying up a spring or stopping a flow....It is thus necessary to conceive of a molecular women’s politics that slips into molar confrontations, and passes under or through them.(276-278)
Earthquake is perceived as the vindication taken on human civilization by the Mother Earth. Ao portrays the image of Mother Earth as a pregnant woman who conceives to devastate life by bringing out the basalt from its abyss.
 She gaps open
To devour
 Toppled towers
 And torn limbs,…
 Mountains to slide,
Rivers to rise
And volcanoes
To vomit
 Lava and deadly ash.
She heaves and hurtles
As if to uproot
The very moorings
Of life (11-20).
Here, we can remember, Wordsworth’s poetry where men have gone astray from Mother Nature because of their humdrum desires against nature. Hartman himself states that Wordsworth perceives Mother Nature as “a presence and a power,” not an object, and that the poet’s “sense of mission” is to protect the earth because the human imagination needs to coexist physically and intellectually with it (Romance 290).
Indu Swami states that
This image of the Mother Earth as the destroyer also matches the image of Ma Durga found in the Hindu Mythology. Ma Durga possesses different images in different situations. She is usually known for her Shanti Roop (peace image), Matri Roop (mother image) and Daya Roop (mercy image). But when the Mahisasura dared to destroy her creation and hurled violence on her people, the peaceful, merciful, mother took the violent forms of Chandi, Rudra and Shakti (all three images represents violent and fearful image of Devi Durga) and beheaded the monster to bring peace to the earth. This analogy comes to the reader's‟ mind since Prakiti (Nature) is an image of Devi Durga. The ending of the poem again blends the image of a woman and with that of nature:
 And after her fearsome furore
 Is registered
On the Richter scale
She subsides
 Like a hysterical female
 After her fury is spent
That he has
 Only this unpredictable
 And temperamental Earth
To love And content with (25-39).
Mother Nature is poetically compared with woman and Ao gives an admonition to the human world to preserve the destroying Nature. Temsula Ao through her poems shows the necessity to safeguard and nurture Mother Nature for our posterity. In a similar vein, in the poem The Garden, Ao inscribes:
A slice of the earth
On the ground,
 Or firmed in pots
 Of any imaginable Size, shape and colour
 Becomes the respectable
 For new life (1-7).
They grow Goaded by hormone,
Aided by fertilizers And tended by your loving care (14-17).
 The quaint Mother Earth figure takes the interpreter into the hackneyed society where the mother nurtures the child with her own way of nourishment. Wordsworth expands “maternal love to natural adoption and ideas of interconnectedness in the biosphere. He goes on admiring the greatness of maternal and natural love: From this beloved presence—there exists A virtue which irradiates and exalts All objects through all intercourse of sense. No outcast he, bewildered and depressed; Along his infant veins are inter fused The gravitation and the filial bound Of nature that connect him with the world”. (258-264)
Mother Nature and literature from ancient times have an intimate relationship which is portrayed in all the various works of art. Literature is an embodiment of natural scenario which pageants human fervour for the environment and also portrays but also illustrate human deportment towards Mother Nature. But with the passage of time Mother Nature and human mother though idolized is oppressed and abused to the core. The state of human existence and liaison which is interconnected with Mother Nature of Nagaland and entwined with supernatural power is portrayed beautifully by Temsula Ao though it is not related to the contemporary civilization:
Stone people
 The worshipper
Of unknown, unseen
Of trees and forests
 Of stones and rivers,
Believers of soul
And its varied forms,
Its sojourn heir
 And passage across the water
Into the hereafter (42-52).
Temsula Ao also delineates the need of companionship which is expected by humans, non-humans and nature alike. In the poem Songbird one can find the need of camaraderie which is expected by both the genders also. She longs for her soulmate and loneliness engulfs her when she cannot find one of the same. A mounting disappointment surrounds her while She runs everywhere in search of a companion to share her innermost feelings but finds desolation everywhere.
The little songbird wakes up
to an eerie void, and is instantly alarmed;
no songbirds’ melodies greet the morning,
only a great silence pervades the looming .

She looks for her song mates
but discovers only a vast aloneness
and wonders with mounting fear
what caused all the others to disappear.

She flits from branch to branch
in the abandoned woods
looking for a perch to sing
and call her songfriends back.

Sitting weary on a branch top
she tries to sing some old tunes
but the growing fear chokes her
and the songbird can sing no more.

She is frantic now, hopping
from one desolate branch to another
still trying to sing an old refrain
that every other songbird would know.

But no songs chant on her lips
as they lie dying within
her stricken heart that grieves
for the lost melodies.
She loses all her hope and tries to remember and enchant about her nostalgic times but no one is able to hear reply to her and she lies grief-stricken in her nest. She leaves her own destination and travels far and wide so that her age-old traditions and customs can survive till perpetuity. But she fails in her ambition and is filled with the patriarchal surroundings where she feels forsaken and abandoned.
She leaves the songless desert
and flies off far and wide in search
of old comrades so that
the old songs can live again.

Low in spirit and weak in body
she prolongs her weary search
until she stumbles on a curious space:
the habitat of the two-legged aliens.

In the surreal surroundings,
she spies her former mates
strutting on glittering bars inside gilded cages
trying to sing their old songs!

But there is no soul in the new songs
no harmony trilled in the voices,
no joy glinted in the eyes
and no rhythm frolicked on the feathers.

What they sing now are pathetic travesties
of the soul-filled melodies
they used to sing as unfettered songbirds.
and she knows her songbird-life is over.

Her old world has vanished;
free songs forsaken, song places abandoned,
and former songmates turned to total strangers
strutting and screeching in bonded splendours.

So into the mist of the great unknown
the broken-hearted songbird embarks on
a final journey, content to be a tiny temporary speck
in the limitless freeways of the firmament,
far away from all things that glittered.
            Ecological feminism in general means the deprivation of females and exploitation of Mother Nature by the capitalist society, a concept which is based on the attitudes of patriarchy. Though she cannot go back to her world of fantasy, she tries to adjust with the conventional patriarchal world and remains content with her present world.
If women have been associated with nature, and each denigrated with reference to the other, it may seem worthwhile to attack the hierarchy by reversing the terms, exalting nature, irrationality, emotion and the human or non-human body as against culture, reason and the mind. Some ecofeminists, especially those promoting ‘radical ecofeminism’ and goddess worship, have adopted this approach. Thus, for example, Sharon Doubiago asserts that ‘ecology consciousness is traditional woman consciousness’; ‘Women have always thought like mountains, to allude to Aldo Leopold’s paradigm for ecological thinking ...Charlene Spretnak similarly grounds a kind of women’s spirituality in female biology and acculturation that is comprised of the truths of naturalism and the holistic proclivities of women’(26-27)
Eco-feminism blames the androcentric doubleness between man and woman. It differentiates men from women on the basis of some supposed eminence for example larger brain size, and this characteristic makes men superior over women. Ecofeminism as a concept carves up a common ‘logic of domination’(Warren) and that ‘ women have been associated with nature, the material, emotional, and the particular, while men have been associated with culture, the nonmaterial, the rational, and the abstract’(Davion). Added to this, this concept suggests a universal cause between feminists and ecologists. Eco-feminists who have an idealistic bearing beautifully summits that ‘a truly feminist perspective cannot embrace either the feminine or the masculine uncritically, but requires a critique of gender roles, and this critique must include masculinity and femininity’ (Davion 9).
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