I’m not sure what Rao is suggesting with the connection she makes when Mohan recalls being raped as a boy as he is about to be killed by the mob for giving away their land. Is she suggesting that he is getting back at people out of a revenge he didn’t know was in him, or is she suggesting that he does not understand people at all because he sees them only as objects, the way he had been treated?
He’s fascinated with the characteristics that make a person unusual, such as Lalita’s birthmark, or his boss’ 6th jointless finger that taps against the plate when he eats. He’s always looking at ways he can draw a border around people, make them separate from the people around them the way he separates the land that belongs to everyone and parcel it out to whomever he wants.
He’s wrong about a map only have one side to a story, in fact, unlike the law which has 2, a map has an infinite number of sides to a story because a map is the representation of everyone living on it and the borders which make up the lines are the map can change a person’s story the way it changed Lalita’s father’s story or the Muslim family’s story. He doesn’t see past the map.
Once again people – particularly women – are valued only as a commodity, in this case as a means to secure more farmland. It does seem odd, however, that Lalita’s father who had been successful would have failed to recognize that Mohan’s job as a cartographer could jeopardize his love of land. To dismiss Mohan so out of hand was unwise, even though it’s Mohan who is acting badly.
Earlier Mohan asks for the two of the figurines but was told that those are girls’ toys, then even earlier his father’s friend rapes him which traumatized him when he was 5 until his parents were killed which he thinks is his fault for talking about it. So perhaps he’s searching for some sort of comfort in people but all he finds is the opposite of sex which is fear – he keeps up a boundary?
“It was immediately after Mohan’s mapping of this new border that his troubles began” could refer to all of partition after the Radcliffe line was drawn and the troubles began. His interest in cartography comes from him believing a map can tell a real truth, unlike the law which has 2 sides to every story. He wants things to make sense.
Well that was unexpected – murder and then stole his identity and took his place on his voyage to Durban. I’m not sure if I really buy it, she’s such a romantic that murder seems out of her character and nothing in the story hinted at the possibility she could do something like that. Not that nobody is incapable of such a thing, but it seems … sudden.
Just as she stood with her husband as they looked out at the Shivaliks Hills not long before that part of her life ended, it seems that as she looks at the map of the whole world this part of her life will end too – that somehow the more expansive of a view she can see the more the world will put blinders on her and reign her back in to be ridden like a horse with no freedom in that world.
“You look like the boy I always wanted to be” is a strange thing to say to a woman, especially as he, so wealthy and surrounded by opulence is also so bored with life. Perhaps he should have gone a different direction than then west as she had.
She’e like a river now that is cutting between two people rather than 2 hills and maybe that’s her purpose, to be a sort of erosive force?
Renu does not just have the appearance of a man but she also becomes the lover of the merchant’s wife, Savitri. Interesting that she gets the job by coming out of the river and then understands that if she’s caught she will perhaps be drowned in the Sabarmati.
She continually takes a romantic inspiration from nature, be it either the hills which inspired in her dreams of a future (which never came to be), or the horse which helps her realize she needs a purpose. She does not look to men or a husband, she looks inside herself for what she feels is missing. She wants to make her own way the way a man is allowed to in her world.
Rao continually brings up the value of people, be it how the Muslim mob does not value the Hindu life, or how a woman’s hair is her sign of a worthy woman, or how 20 rupees and a pair of chappals are all a person can hope for after their lives have been destroyed. In other words, very little value is placed on people and so everyone is looking for their own value.
Beautiful description of Renu’s memory of the Shivalik Hills and her brief time with her husband, Gopichand, and how everything she had hoped for had been taken when he was killed by the mob. There’s a sense of futility in comparing our mortality against the backdrop of the hills which have stood for so long. She’s a romantic, but has been disappointed by reality – so why not change reality?
I wonder how Renu got out of the “Camp for Refugees and Unrestored Women”? Perhaps Reo is playing with identity in that Renu has been ‘restored’ into a man the way she thinks the middle-aged father on the train “looked sadly at [his] little girls, as if from sheer longing he could turn them into boys”. Perhaps the spell jumped to Renu instead.
This is a disturbing poem and it’s hard not to imagine Emily is talking about herself. She uses horrific imagery – “Goblin” and ghost imagery – along with prisoner imagery – “Felon” and “Dungeoned” – to describe “The soul” – her “soul”. There is a sense she is dealing with issues of self esteem, depression, mania – a loss of control of “a Theme – so -fair”.
The first image of the poem is one of wounds, and it’s possible she was thinking of images of wounded soldiers in the US Civil War, but also of her own “Soul” and how there is something lurking deep inside her that terrifies her, as if she is at war with herself and her own mental states the way the United States was also at war with itself. The image that comes to mind with a word like “Bandaged” recalls images of young men being operated on inside the battlefield hospital tents, such as Jonathan Letterman’s introduction of the concept of triage to treat wounded soldiers. Emily introduces a theme of a fragmented whole that heals as it also bleeds.
The second stanza uses outright military terminology as “Fright” gives her a “salute”, yet she seems as if she’s already dead as “Fright” caresses “her freezing hair”. Perhaps Emily saw a picture of a dead soldier in the paper and the imaged frightened her, but she could also be relating the sensation of a “Fright” inside herself which is like an ugly “Goblin” living inside her that is the source of her own negative thoughts. Though she tries to be whole, something insider her whispers “a thought so mean” and this could be her way of explaining how when someone sufferers from depression will think the blackest thoughts, as if a “Goblin” were speaking to us. Thus a combination of the imagery of the battlefield dead along with her dark thoughts might be her way of expressing the darkest of all thoughts: suicide.
The third stanza “swings” in the opposite direction where rather than the lethargy of her “appalled’ “Soul”, there is a mania inside her “like a Bomb” whose length of fuse is entirely unpredictable as it rolls about the battlefield spitting angrily while the terrified soldiers try to run away from it. Again she uses the battle imagery of the “bomb” and “bursting” and the insanity and manic terror of war to also describe her own emotions as she “swings” from one extreme to the other. Her fractured “Soul” knows no peace and perhaps she feels as if she is at a continual war with herself and that like the soldier who tries to run from the “Bomb” she too is running from the bomb inside her which could go off at any moment and wound her.
She introduces the language of a prisoner with the word “escape” in the third stanza which she carries through to the end of the poem with the words “borne”, “Dungeoned”, “Liberty”, “Felon”, and “shackles”. This switch from military imagery to that of a prisoner could be a parallel with soldiers who ran from battle but were captured and probably executed for desertion. In fact, the etymology of the word “Staple” describes how a ‘stapol’ was a block for executions (OED).
Thus she feels trapped by the “Goblin” inside her that whispers “a thought so mean” and she longs to run away from it, but she knows she will be recaptured and “The Horror welcomes her, again” and that this “Horror” is “not brayed of Tongue” and that it will continue to whisper its “thought so mean”. She cannot run away from this “Goblin” whose dark whispers are like a bomb that she longs to run away from but can’t because she will be recaptured, she is a prisoner to her own inner demons the way a deserter is a prisoner for running away from the “Bomb” on the battlefield. She is stuck and fractured, just as the United States was at this time.