English Language and Literature Blog

Keki. N. Daruwalla’s Poem The Ghaghra In Spate – Summary & Analysis

The poem The Ghaghra In Spate by Keki. N Daruwalla is a wonderful depiction of rural landscape. We can analyse The Ghaghra In Spate by each line and stanza wise. Daruwalla is remarkable for such horrible and frightening illustrations in his poetry, this act of focusing the rustic India as the theme of his poems makes him differ from other Indian poets.

Masterly touches of Daruwalla in The Ghaghra In Spate

The every stanza of the poem Ghaghra In Spate is an evidence for artistic power built-in the great Indian Poet Daruwalla (born 1937), he is also a short story writer. He was awarded Padma Shri, in 2014.

In The Ghaghra In Spate Poet gives life to the sprawling land in his pages through his poetical power spicing up with his masterly touches. He explains the undercurrent of the poem in wild and mild aspects. The poem unfolds the villagers at night fight with the disaster made by river.

Stanza -1

The very first stanza begins with a reference to a river which flows changing its path.  “And every year the Ghaghra changes course”

The above lines depicts the habit of river, it changes course in every year. course means the flowing direction or the of a river. And its colors changes at different times of the day. Poet graphically illustrates the river in the the opening stanza of the Ghaghra In Spate.

The next line “turning over and over in her sleep” gives an artistic touch to the course change of the river. In Daruwalla’s eyes, the river is simply turning over in her sleep, as we people do.

Stanza -2

Poet sees the entire seen on a grey canvas. The whole seen is gray as it is evening, the sun is almost gone. Poet uses the term ‘grey smudge’ – to show the blur vague atmosphere made by river overflow, water and land, and the cloudy sky with the Dusk.

When dusk reaches her
through an overhang of cloud
she is overstewed coffee

Here, ‘Dusk’ means the darker side of twilight  (the soft glowing light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon). The above lines clear the horrible atmosphere surrounded the river. It’s almost dark, only a few reflections can be seen in the river water. The sunbeams from the horizon reach the river through the overhanging clouds. Poet feels the the river as an “overstewed coffee”.

The term ‘Overstewed Coffee’ is used to symbolize and express the horror feel of the river. ‘Stewed’ comes from the middle English word “stewe” which means heated room. Also Stew means, a food cooked slowly in a closed pan.

Here the picture of the river is like a ‘Coffee that’s cooked/ heated slowly in a closed pot’. We can see clouds overhangs above the river like smokes from a hot coffee, and the water keeps spilling like the coffee does when it’s boiled.

At night she is a red weal
across the spine of the land

These lines ends up the 2nd stanza. Weal means a red, swollen mark on flesh, this gives a bad omen(the river is abnormal). The red light reflected river is felt as a red weal which lies across the land. Thus poet tells that the river is the spine of the land.

also read : Significance of the title “The Ghaghra In Spate”

Stanza – 3

The third tells about the moment at the very end of astronomical twilight, just before total darkness. It’s hard to understand to know that there’s a flood ‘on’, because darkness has already spread, thus the river water and landscape is very hard to distinguish. Poet uses the term equipoised-rice-shoot. Equipoised means balanced, the river and the landscape is balanced to feel as a plain area. “A stretch of water and light” means a plain surface felt by the joining of water and light. And there are spiked shadows, inverted trees, kingfishers and gulls. the inverted trees are the reflection of trees on the water surface. As the sunlight reflects from horizon the shadows are seen to be with tapering ends (spike). And when the twilight fades the river is seemed as like sky where starts are scattered amidst the night sky.

Stanza – 4

And suddenly at night 
the north comes to the village 
riding on river-back

In the 4th stanza, Daruwalla suddenly jumps to a fury vision of the river. At night the north comes to the village on river-back, The flood begins from north and it comes to the river.

Twenty minutes of a nightmare spin 
and fear turns phantasmal

The above lines tells the horror atmosphere made by the river for the next twenty minutes of the flood. Those minutes are of nightmare spin. Water in the river started to spin like a violet ocean and turns to phantasmal. The term “Phantasmal” is referred to the ghost like frightening appearance of the river. The phantasmal river took the half of the street into it’s belly.

Here poet uses the term ‘churning’ in the river-belly. Churning is the process of shaking milk in a machine in order to produce butter. But here the churning is used to show how horribly the river took the land into water.

If only voices could light lamps! 
If only limbs could turn to rafted bamboo!

The above lines bring out the river’s relentless fury and man’s unequal fight with the tragic situation for their survival. Rafted bamboo is a ferry like setting made using bamboo for travelling on the water.

Stanza – 5

As the River Ghaghra overflow through the village, thatch and dung-cakes turned into river-scum (), scum means a mass of small bubbles seen in the river bank. Dung-cakes are made from the by-products of animal husbandry, are traditionally used as fuel in India for making food in a domestic hearth called a Chulha. Daruwalla turns our attention to the pathetic situation of a buffalo, it floats over to the rooftop where the men are took shelter. Buffalo has three days of hunger, her udders has turned red and swollen with milk-extortion.

Stanza – 6

Children have spirit enough in them 
to cheer the rescue boats; 
the men are still-life subjects 
oozing wet looks…..
……… salt and grain.

Talking about children, they are innocent, tries to find joy when the ride on rescue boats, but the men are standing in an oozing wet looks, still life-subjects. ‘Oozing wet look’ means water is slowly flowing on their body as they are wet.

Still the victims are not ready to curse or talk incoherently about the river for they know the river’s nature. Nobody is praying to God, they believe the prayers are parabolic they will come down with a flop. Parabolic means an arch shaped path, for example if we throw a stone to the sky it goes up to the sky and comes down in an arch shaped path.

This shows the stoic character of the villagers, Stoic means a person who can endure pain without showing their feelings or complaining.

There’s is a sudden snow fall out there of their booth. Instead of praying, the villagers are scattering more and more salt on the partially melted snow out of their small temporary tent (booth). Salt can melt the snow faster.

Stanza – 7

In the 7th stanza poet turns his attention towards some other people who are in happy mood. They are ten miles away to her flank. ‘Her Flank’ means the riverside.

It’s time for celebration for those guys. They never care about what the tragedy happens on their fellow human beings! This baffles the poet.

peasants go fishing in rice fields 
and women in chauffeur-driven cars 
go looking for driftwood. 

the above lines clear us the picture of people in merry. Peasants go to paddy fields for catching fishes which are come to fields due to the flood. And there are some women coming in chauffeur-driven cars, who are collecting driftwood came by river, to decorate their house and rooms. Chauffeur-driven car means the car which has a personal driver.

The incidents like women coming in Chauffeur-driven cars, collecting driftwood and the merry of peasants as they catch the fishes from fields are intensifying the man’s indifference on our fellow beings even when they are in a trouble.

Nature’s orgy of destruction is not yet over . Ghaghra river turn bitchy. a circular Eddies (movement of water causing a small whirlpool) dives deep exploring the underneath of the river like a frogmen. Frogmen means a person who is trained to swim under water especially for rescue.

and sawing away the waterfront 
in a paranoid frenzy.

These above lines shows the power of bitchy river again, cross-eddies formed in river bank sawing away (cutting) the part of land borders the river (waterfront). Poet feels like river is fleeing from her own destruction thrashing with pain. Behind the thrash the land sinks and houses lowered (sag) to the ground, so as to show farewell obeisance (respect) by kneeing on their leg.

The paddy fields care the fishes until the sun enters an unholy alliance between the mud. Finally fishes also strangles to death.

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