To the sons of Ramgaroo
Laughter is taboo
A funny tale will make them wail:
“We’re not amused, boo – hoo!”
They live in constant fear
Of chuckles far and near
And start and bound at every sound
That brings a breath of cheer.
Their peace of mind forfeiting
They sit and keep repeating:
‘We believe in only grieving;
Happiness is fleeting.’
They shun the summer breeze
That whispers through the trees
For fear the stir of leaf and bur
Their funny bones should tease.
They keep a wary eye
On the autumn sky
For signs of mirth above the earth
In foaming cumuli.
The darkness of the night
Brings them no respite
As fireflies extemporise
Their dances of delight.
Those of you who are jolly
And feel to woe is folly
Must not refuse the Ramgaroos
Their right to melancholy.
The Ramgaroosian lair
Bereft of sun and air
Is doomed to be a monastery
Of permanent despair.
Summary and Analysis
Stanza 1 shows that laughter is taboo and moreover a forbidden thing for the Ramgaroos. Even listening to a funny story makes them wail and cry “boo-Hoo”. This itself is ironical that even a funny story makes them cry. Even though they are surrounded by funny and amusing things, they still refuse to be happy. What is commonplace for others is not normal for these people. Ray is also using exaggeration to caricature them. We see that line 1, 2 and 4 rhyme with each other. “Ramgaroo” “Taboo” and “boo-hoo”. Line 3 does not rhyme with these lines. However we notice an internal rhyme in line 3. An internal rhyme is two rhyming words within the same line: “Tale” and “wail”. We will see this same pattern repeated throughout the poem.
Stanza 2 shows that they are even afraid of chuckles and are really startled and alarmed by any kind of cheerfulness. Instead of being happy, they are in fact afraid of being cheerful, and are determined to be sad. Here again, line 1, 2 and 4: “fear”, “near” and “cheer” rhyme with each other, and the internal rhyme in line 3 is “bound” and “sound”.
Stanza 3 shows that these men do not even have any peace of mind. They just keep sitting and repeating the words that happiness is temporary, it is fleeting, it comes and goes. Only grieving is permanent. In fact, they are desperately trying to make grieving permanent by refusing to be cheerful and happy, no matter what. Here we see that all 4 lines rhyme as the “- ing” sound is repeated in forfeiting, repeating, grieving and fleeting. Here there is no internal rhyme in line 3.
Stanza 4 shows that they do not even go out in the summer because of the wind in the trees. They are afraid that the wind in the trees might make them smile or laugh. Despite the nice and pleasant weather, they are determined to sit and be sad and gloomy. Ray is constantly putting before his readers various things that would make a normal person happy. Juxtaposing this with the Ramgaroo’s sulky mood only serves to highlight the absurdity of their behaviour. Lines 1,2 and 4- “breeze”, “trees” and “tease rhyme with each other and the internal rhyme in line 3 is “stir” and “bur”. A bur is a rough, prickly case with thorns around the seeds or dry fruits of certain plants, like chestnut.
Stanza 5 shows that even in the autumn season, they keep a strict watch on the sky in case the pattern of the clouds may make them smile or laugh. Again, even in pleasant and happy weather, they are determined to be sad. ‘Cumuli’ are a certain type of clouds that look like white or grey foam and can take different shapes depending on the air currents. In each stanza Ray is giving us the possibilities that would make any normal person happy. But for the Ramgaroos these possibilities are avoided or subverted to serve their purpose of being melancholy. Lines 1,2 and 4 rhyme with “eye”, “sky” and “cumuli”, and the internal rhyme in line 3 is “mirth” and “earth”.
Stanza 6 shows that in the night too, they are determined not to smile, even when they see the fireflies dancing. Dancing fireflies delight us all, and yet these Ramgaroos still run away from happiness. The reference to fireflies serves another purpose of locating the poem in a physical landscape where they exist. “Night”, “respite” and “delight” rhyme with each other in lines 1,2 and 4, and the internal rhyme in line 3 here is “fireflies” and extemporise”.
Stanza 7 says that those people who like to be jolly, laugh and smile, and who think it is stupid to be sad, must not refuse the Ramgaroos their right to being sad. Whether others like to be sad or not, they must let the Ramgaroos be sad as they want to be sad. In an oblique manner Ray has brought in the question of rights. The right to melancholy may be a ridiculous demand but it is pointing to the fact that in colonial times Indians were denied their rights by the colonizers. Try and point out the rhymes and internal rhymes in this stanza.
Stanza 8 Here Sukumar Ray refers to the “lair” or the abode of the Ramgaroos as a monastery where there is no sun or air, but only permanent despair. Monasteries are religious places where monks (rishis, sadhus etc) stay. Sukumar Ray sees these places as having no joy or pleasure as religious men are always serious, engaged in worship, meditation and so on. You may have heard that monks in monasteries do not even stay with their families. They never marry all their lives, and have no children. But unlike the monks in a monastery who live a life of abstinence and meditation in order to connect spiritually with the supreme being, the Ramgaroo’s only purpose in life is to aim for ‘permanent despair.’ The idea of a spiritual intent is thus undermined. In this stanza, lines 1, 2, and 4 rhyme with each other. However, there is no internal rhyme in line 3.
In the illustration that accompanies this poem the Ramgaroo seems to be a hybrid between a man and some kind of animal. He has long ears and a tail, but facial expressions are human and he definitely has a very cross, grumpy and morose look on his face. However the clouds in the sky seem quite pleasant, and the trees surrounding him actually have smiley faces drawn on them. There is no impact of his happy and pleasant surroundings on Ramgaroo. The trees and clouds are made by lighter ink strokes, the Ramgaroo with darker marks.. In the middle of the picture, there is a sign in Bengali near Ramgaroo’s cave. It says “Laughter Not Allowed”. This shows us that Ramgaroo is a literate creature who knows how to read and write. The sign is in Bengali which also places Ramgaroo as a creature of the Bengali countryside, someone you may actually find in Bengal, not just an imaginary, fantastical creature. Thus, although Sukumar Ray takes the nonsense verse form from the British themselves like Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll (the poem itself becomes an act of mimicry and imitation), he situates it and locates its roots within the actual Bengali surroundings, not in some imaginary place. This is something which only the picture tells us. The poem itself, does not have the sign in Bengali, and cannot actually show how the Ramgaroo is seen as a fantastical and yet an ordinary being inhabiting the Bengali countryside. The visual depiction of clouds and trees also shows us how these are actually happy and cheerful and only the Ramgaroo is gloomy.