Hard to say how Babu actully feels about her – he very well may have loved her and missed her, but he does not know how to show it – then again, how could anyone in a world where girls married at 13 and men probably had no experience either? All Nella wanted was to be held, like the angles of rice dust, or as Renu held her, or as her mother may have before she died.
Interesting scene between the married couple on the bus in that it’s such a simple, ordinary domestic scene of two people talking about normal stuff – a type of comfortable relationship between a married couple that Neela has never known. Still food (and medicine) are what she pays attention to and I wonder if she’ll drink the poison when she gets back home?
Remarkable how the scene where she learns her husband isn’t dead is sad, not joyful. Once again she starts thinking of food, unlike when Renu held her in the night showing her how it should feel after sex. Neela describes how she feels as if “she would remain a fruit her husband didn’t really want to reach, that he would watch ripen and fall with only a vague and stolid interest”.
A mangal sutra (mangalsutra) means auspicious (mangal), and thread (sutra) and is tied around the bride’s neck during the wedding. She’s kept this in a bag of rice which when she puts her hand in it feels “as if hundreds of butterfly wings had brushed against them”. Rao mingles life, death, value, and food into one image. However, Neela is to be sent away because she is “useless”.
“What good were two women, two widows, alone in this world?” and so her mother in law tried to poison them both. Just as the attackers didn’t value the life of the people on the train, neither of the survivors lives seem to have much value beyond a humble dowry.
Of course she wants a swing, she’s still only 14 – and how could she know who her husband is, she’s only 14.
Rao describes Nella’s hair on the floor as “coiled like seething black serpents” then describes the sun as it “hissed and spit as it neared the horizon”. The leaves are “dusty and exhausted” just like she and her mother in law.
Kumkum (kumkuma) is a brightly colored ceremonial powder made from turmeric. Here Rao makes a connection between the cataract eyes of her mother in law with the sixth chakra (the third eye) as she rubs the kumkum on Neela’s forehead. The blind leading and helping the blind.
Her mother in law will only wear white, never be allowed in the temple, and become like a ghost in mourning.
Rao first explains Neela is not 15, then next describes her mother in law (whose name we don’t know yet) was “bent by a long and pitiless life” as if we are seeing Neela when she will be middle aged. Again food features as the central metaphor to describe someone, here it’s her cataracts as “winter squash”.
The image of the people killed in the ambush again uses food imagery: corn. Previously the image of Babu was of “a dry summer chili”; he’s imagined by Neela as a chili and a roasted corn.
Lalla, her mom in law is correct that everyone on the train was a child since everyone is someone’s child. Though Babu was an adult the story will be told it was mostly children that were killed by the Muslims.
How much time has passed between her wedding at 13 and the death of Babu?
Interesting connection between the skin of the banana reminding her of her mother’s voice (whom she never met because she died giving birth to Neela), and the “smooth wooden box [of the radio] with the mysterious voices spilling out” as she and her mother-in-law listen to the news of the train accident / Muslim attack.
Neela is poor, skinny, 13, and to be married to 24 year old Babu. Food is important to Neela since she never had much and when Babu dies food is all she thinks about – sort of a parallel between Marcell in Swann’s Way when eating the biscuit leads to the involuntary memory of his childhood. The flimsiness of the gold chain dowry is like her skinny body – how could she possibly bear 10 children?
This poem could be about Emily’s experience as a writer working in relative isolation and having to “grope a little” in the darkness until she can adjust to “Midnight”. She might also be writing about dreams / the imagination, “Those Evenings of the Brain”, and how it’s a difficult process to learn to use one’s dreams / imagination in the act of making art that’s “almost straight”.
In “I found the words to every thought” Emily describes how we live like Plato’s prisoners in the cave and that art can only approximate the real thing, but also when art inspires us the words on the page or the oils on the canvas do seem to have the effect of orientating us in the direction of truth / the exit to the cave – if we let it. Imagine, for a moment, that we are one of Plato’s prisoners and one of our companions escapes then returns with news of the world outside our prison. All our companion can do is use language to approximate their experiences and hope that their skill with language is sufficient to inspire us to see what they see. Poetry is like this. The poet goes out at “Midnight” and explores the world of darkness but because they can adjust their eyes to the “Darkness” they avoid the danger of hitting their head on a low hanging “Tree” limb and then return to us with news of their adventure. And though we have not actually seen what they have seen and experienced, a skilled poet can still inspire us, can enable us to see in the darkness what no other light can illuminate. Though it be “Midnight” and “not a Moon disclose a sign – or Star”, we can still see clearly because our companion – the poet – has scouted on ahead and reports back to us.
The first two words of the poem seems to be the central thesis (as if poems could have a thesis) in that “We grow”. The entire poem is about growth, about finding one’s way, and for Emily perhaps finding one’s way as an artist who can see into the darkness of dreams and imagination and report back to the reader with her findings in such a way as to allow us to see what we have never seen before. Paradoxically, growth in this poem happens in the “Dark”, in the absence of sunlight in which things normally grow. In the first stanza the sun has gone down “As when the Neighbor” takes her “Lamp” inside after waving “Good bye” for the evening. And so when everyone is asleep, when the world is blanketed in darkness, “We grow”.
And our growth begins with those first tentative steps we take into the “newness of the night” as we try to see into the darkness. This is an interesting image in that she is asking us – as well as herself – to look at and into what cannot be seen. She asks us to “fit our Vision for the Dark” and so we must look not with our eyes, but with our minds, our imagination, our ability to dream. She asks us to become like the dreamer in “Many a phrase has the English language” who, though they sleep quietly in the darkness, the canvas of their imagination is illuminated brilliantly in their dreams. Emily describes this “larger – Darkness” in the third stanza as being the expansive landscape of our dreams in which not even the “Moon” or a “star” can shine its brilliance through our closed and sleepy eyes.
In the fourth stanza she describes how when we give ourselves over the the “Darkness” of our imagination we are brave because we must struggle to find our way. One can imagine Emily sitting at her desk struggling to find the right words for this poem, struggling to see into her own imagination what can only be illuminated with her own inner light (for not “Moon” or “star” light can penetrate there) and translate those visions into a language we can understand in the light of the waking world. And she explains how her attempts might be awkward, at least at first, and that she will hit her head on a low-hanging “Tree” branch as she gropes about for the right words, but eventually, with practice and bravery, she – and us – will “learn to see”. “We grow” with each attempt.
And thus in the final stanza she describes this landscape of “Darkness” as an exotic land that not only “alters” us as in how “We grow” from our travels there, but also that the “Darkness” is like an alter that we go to worship at. Emily is suggesting that the act of creating art is an almost religious experience and that to allow oneself to enter that hallowed, darkened cathedral alone will lead one to the light of the imagination in which the “Moon” and “star” shines brighter in the darkness of our imaginations than they do in reality. And at the alter is the poem itself, opened like the gospels for the priest to interpret to the people below, to guide them with the light of art, with the experiences of what they have seen ahead of the congregation who have not yet traveled to that land so that they may be prepared to enter the “Darkness” on their own, to give the people courage to be brave to see the light in even the darkest of nights. For Emily art is prophecy and she the reverent who “holds the Lamp” and wishes us “Good bye”.