The Sunderbans by Susil Mandal


Summary

The poet, in the poem, tries to draw thoughtful sketches of Dalit life in the far corners of the marshlands (Sunderbans). The dire need to access the dense, impenetrable forests in quest of honey and firewood and the resulting death in the cruel jaws of the fierce Royal Bengal Tiger is the main theme of the poem. When the blood-thirsty tiger devours Subal, his wife had no choice but to commit suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling of her hut.

The speaker ironically asks the visitor who sent him to Kolkata. He claims that tourists come to see tigers, not the people who live in these jungles. They see crocodiles, Hental, Sundari trees, a mangrove, and pen pottery on the colourful leaves. He reflects on how their lives have remained untouched by ink and unnoticed by both the public and the government. They are struggling with the orange peels thrown by the visitors. The poet comments on people’s fascinating feelings when they see The Royal Tiger. However, no one knows about the victims of this tiger, such as Haripada, Subal, Fateh Ali, and others.

Subal’s wife committed suicide last year because she couldn’t bear the fangs of hunger. They waited for the minister, who promised, “The Sundarbans will transform!” However, nothing has changed, and the people of the Sunderbans are still being killed by tigers and facing natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. “Our stomachs are full with the brine-water from the flood,” the speaker begs.

Word Meaning


Hental: it is a wild date tree, but very small and yields but little wood.
Sunderbans is famous for Hental Tree
scavengers: someone who searches through rubbish for food or useful thing
scuffle: to make a living with difficulty, to struggle financially
guzzled: to drink or eat quickly, to gulp down
brine-water: the water of the sea


Analysis

What are Sunderbans?
The Sunderbans is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It comprises closed and open mangrove forests, agriculturally used land, mudflats and barren land, and is intersected by multiple tidal streams and channels.

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This poem is a monologue, and the speaker is a Sunderbans native. The poet highlights the plight of the downtrodden through the speaker. The speaker is questioning the tourist, asking him where he is from and who sent him here (Sunderbans), or why he has come to Sunderbans. The speaker then responds that everyone comes to see the tigers (popular Royal Bengal Tigers), but no one cares about the people or their problems.

The speaker then takes on the role of a tourist guide, describing the beauty of nature, the world-famous Royal Bengal Tigers, Crocodiles, and various trees of the mangrove forest- Hental and Sundari. The tone and mood abruptly change, and the speaker compares and contrasts the plight of the people of Sunderbans. The tourists write about the colourful leaves, the beauty of nature, and so on, but they turn a blind eye to the people of Sunderbans, where ‘black bodies, are unnoticed,’ particularly the Dalits. Their children are scavengers (people who rummage through garbage looking for food or useful items), and they literally fight for food. This demonstrates the children’s pitiful living conditions, which include a lack of food and education. They are struggling to feed themselves.

The speaker asks a rhetorical question once more, saying that the Royal Bengal Tigers fascinate him but that he is unaware of the secret behind them. The tigers that are popular and draw a large number of tourists each year are the same tigers that kill a large number of people each year. Haripada, Subal, Fateh Ali, and many other people have been devoured by the man-eater. Worst of all, Subal’s wife committed suicide by hanging herself because she felt helpless without her husband. She was reliant on her husband, and after the tiger killed him, she was unable to fend for herself and died of starvation. (See the tiger-widows article for more information.) The speaker expresses their helplessness, asking, “What could we do?”

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The speaker declares that they are powerless and that all they can do is wait for the minister, who has only visited Sunderbans once in the previous year, most likely during election season. During his visit, the minister, as usual, made false promises, declaring, “Sunderbans will transform!” However, nothing has changed, and the people of the Sunderbans are still being killed by tigers and facing natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. The speaker literally begs the tourist to deliver the message to the minister, saying, “Our stomachs are full, with the brine-water from the flood.” The speaker is being sarcastic when he says their stomachs are full of saltwater from the flood.

The speaker says that they are helpless and all that they can do is wait for the minister, the one who had visited Sunderbans just once, the previous year, and probably during the time of elections. As usual, the minister made false promises during his visit and said, “Sunderbans will transform!” However, nothing changed and the people of Sunderbans are still suffering being killed by tigers, facing natural disasters like cyclones, floods etc. The speaker literally pleads the tourist to convey the message to the minister, ‘Our stomachs are full, with the brine- water from flood’. The speaker is being sarcastic and says that their stomachs are full, with the saltwater from flood. This satirical statement describes the horrible condition that they are living in, without food and constant floods submerging their lands, loss of lives etc. This satirical statement describes their dreadful living conditions, including a lack of food and constant floods that submerge their lands, as well as the loss of lives.

Questions and Answers

1. How does the poet bring out the plight of the downtrodden in the poem?

The poet highlights that tourists come to see tigers, not the people who live in these jungles. They see crocodiles, Hental, Sundari trees, a mangrove, and pen pottery on the colourful leaves. He reflects on how their lives have remained untouched by ink and unnoticed by both the public and the government. They are struggling with the orange peels thrown by the visitors. They are killed by tigers and facing natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. “Our stomachs are full with the brine-water from the flood,” the speaker begs.

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Q. Why had Subal’s wife committed suicide?
Answer: Subal’s wife committed suicide last year because she couldn’t bear the fangs of hunger. They waited for the minister, who promised, “The Sundarbans will transform!” However, nothing has changed, and the people of the Sunderbans are still being killed by tigers and facing natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. “Our stomachs are full with the brine-water from the flood,” the speaker begs.

Answer the following questions in one or two sentences each:

1. What can a tourist find in the Sunderbans?
A tourist finds tigers, crocodiles, Hental, Sundari trees, a mangrove, and pen pottery on the colourful leaves.

2. Who are unnoticed?
A. The people who live in the jungle remain unnoticed. The tourists come to see tigers, not the people who live in the jungles.

3. ______________ attracts the tourists.
A. The Royal Tiger.

4. The phrase “The man-eater” refers to _____________
A. the animal that has or is thought to have an appetite for human flesh: such as tiger.

5. What happened to Haripada, Subal and Fateh Ali?
A. Haripada, Subal, Fateh Ali, and many other people have been devoured by the man-eater.

6. Who is the speaker waiting for and why?
A. The speaker is waiting for the minister, who has only visited Sunderbans once in the previous year, most likely during election season. During his visit, the minister, as usual, made false promises, declaring, “Sunderbans will transform!” However, nothing has changed, and the people of the Sunderbans are still being killed by tigers and facing natural disasters such as cyclones and floods.

7. What are difficulties faced by the localities?
A. They are killed by tigers and facing natural disasters such as cyclones and floods.

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