Stew Much by Sukumar Ray

A duck once met a porcupine ; they formed a corporation
Which called itself a Porcuduck ( a beastly conjugation ! ).
A stork to a turtle said, ‘Let’s put my head upon your torso ;
We who are so pretty now, as Stortle would be more so !’
The lizard with the parrot’s head thought : taking to the chilli
After years of eating worms is absolutely silly.
A prancing goat – one wonders why – was driven by a need
To bequeath its upper portion ta a crawling centipede.
The giraffe with grasshopper’s limbs reflected : Why should I
Go for walks in grassy fields, now that I can fly ?
The nice contented cow will doubtless get a frightful shock
On finding that its lower lombs belong to a fighting cock.
It’s obvious the Whalephant is not a happy notion :
The head goes for the jungle, while the tail turns to the ocean,
The lion’s lack of horns distressed him greatly, so
He teamed up with a dear – now watch his antlers grow !

Summary and Analysis

Sukumar Ray uses a lot of animals in his poems. In this poem, he has created nonsense portmanteau words by joining the names of two animals and forming one word out of them. If we look at the form of the poem, we see that it is written in rhyming couplets. The first and the second line rhyme together, the third with the fourth and so on. Thus, two lines form a couplet, and the poem consists of a series of rhyming couplets. Such a verse has an immediate appeal to children.

This poem can be read by children at the surface level like a nonsense, amusing verse, showing the tenth rasa, the kheyal rawsh (the whimsy). It is whimsical, it is fantastical and the incongruous images and the portmanteau words would set any child’s imagination racing. However, at a deeper level Ray’s concern with hybridity can be seen in this poem as well.

Now above we can see the figures of the (a) porcuduck, (b) goat and centipede, (c) giraffe and grasshopper, and (d) cow and cock. One important thing to observe is that the drawings are very integral to the poem, they are not just a secondary accompaniment for the benefit of young readers. They are important because they tell us in exactly what way the two creatures are combined to form a hybrid. This is something that the poem itself does not tell us. They are not combined equally. For example, if a giraffe was given a grasshopper’s wings, he would not be able to fly even though he expresses a wish to do so. However, the creature in figure-c seems very well able to fly. This is because the grasshopper’s wings’ size has been increased, and the giraffe’s head size has been decreased to fit the new creature properly. Similarly, if we look at figure d, we realise that a big cow has not been joined with a small cock. The size of the cock has been increased, and the size of the cow has been proportionately decreased, in order to create a new creature who is capable of talking, walking, running / flying etc. Similarly in figure b) we see with the goat and the centipede that the centipede’s size has been greatly increased and the size of the goat has been proportionately decreased to fit the new creature. And finally we come to figure a) where the small prickly spikes of the porcupine have definitely been increased in size so as to fit the duck. So the pictures tell us something which the poem does not – the fact that all the animals are not combined equally. Similarly, the British and Indians are not combined EQUALLY even in hybrid human beings. This is a very important thing which we get to know from the pictures and we can see how they serve to enhance the meaning of the poem.

The fact that the mixed creature may have more of one animal than the other is meant to show that some of the hybrid people in society may be more Indian and less British, others may be more British and less Indian. As we saw, the previous poem “The Sons of Ramgaroo’ was written for those Indians who are increasingly becoming more and more like the British. Similarly, some of the British also became Indianized. It was not just a one-way culture transfer. Even today we see so many words from Indian languages like Hindi which have now become a part of English. We see a British writer like Ruskin Bond who became so Indianized that he never wanted to leave India. Ray is laughing at the British because the British never expected this to happen. The British definitely wanted to colonise India, but they never expected that they would also become Indianized in the process. And telling the British that they also became hybrid creatures, is something which hurt and wounded the British pride a lot. Thus the poem is a satire, which is meant to laugh at, and mock, both the hybrid British as well as the Indians.

We need to look at the last two couplets a little more in detail. The Whalephant has its head towards the forest and its tail towards the ocean. The tropical forest represents India, and the ocean represents the British island. So these are what the hybrid creatures are like – a part of them longing for India and a part for Britain. However, even here the two are not combined in equal ways. For example, the Whalephant has the head of an elephant so the elephant-head can say what it desires—the forest. The whale-tail cannot speak and thus the elephant is dominating here. In the last couplet, we find a lion teaming up with a deer’s antlers. Now, this should strike us as very funny because a lion and a deer are predator and prey, they would never team up with each other! This also shows how the British and the Indians, predator and prey, are teaming up together.

The rest of the couplets are relatively simple and perhaps do not need much explanation. But we can see that the two animals combined are not equal in every case, the size is either reduced or increased in order to make it proportionate to the new creature. Also, the one who has the head always has the power of expression, so the power is not divided equally between them. And this refers to the hybrid Indians and the Englishmen who were both influenced by each other, as explained above.

Sukumar Ray has used these same creatures- stortle, whalephant, giraffe and grasshopper, cock and cow etc in many poems. Another famous poem using these same mixed up creatures is “Khichuri”, translated as “Hotch Potch”. It is easy to understand why this poem in the syllabus is entitled “Stew Much”. A stew is a dish to be eaten which is made up of multiple ingredients. Similarly the poem is a complete mixture of things. Same is the case with Khichuri (Hotch Potch). As we have seen, many of Sukumar Ray’s poems can be read as nonsense verse, but actually they have deeper meanings behind them, making a comment on the colonial condition. However, many of his poems are also simple nonsense poems, simply to be enjoyed, without any hidden interpretations behind them.

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