Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi was a journalist, poet, nationalist and a social reformer. He has written thousands of verses on extremely diverse themes-- ranging from Indian Nationalism, the Mahabharat, the glory of the Tamil language, odes to prominent Indian freedom fighters, to love songs, children's songs and songs of nature.
His poems display a patriotic fervour and his love poetry Kannan padalgal with the theme of Krishna are well loved and popularised by films and by carnatic musicians. But Bharathy also wrote equally moving erotic love poetry. When I translated the following piece I was reminded of John Donne's Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate, which you wear
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there:
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now it is bed time.
-- From “Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”:
In this dramatic monologue Bharathy displays a similar, rakish eagerness to tear away the veil from his mistress' face. He starts off by condemning the practice of veiling the face and we are made aware of his auditor's presence when Bharathy directly addresses her in the middle of the poem.
Dilli thurukargal seitha vazhakkam -- Pengal
Thiraiyittu mugamalar maraithu vaithal;
Valliyidaiyinaiyum Ongimunnirkkum -- indha
Maarbaiyum mooduvathu sathirankandaai
Valliyidaiyinaiyum maarbirandaiyum -- thuni
Maraitha naalazhagu maraidhadillai;
Solli therivadillai, manmadhakalai --mughach
Jothi maraithumoru kaadhalingundo?
Aariya munnerigal menmaiyengindrai? -- pandai
Aariya pengalukku thiraigal undo?
Oriru muraikandu pazhagiyapin --verum
Opukku kaatuvathin naanamennadi?
Yaarirunth thennaiyingu thadhuthiduvaar?-- valu
Vaaga mugathiraiyai agatrivittal?
Kariya millaiyadi veenpasapile -- kani
Kandavan tholurikka kathirupeno?
The Delhi Turks popularised the practice- of veiling
Women, hiding their efflorescent face;
How pointless the custom, that covers,
A slender waist and the raised upward thrust
Of these breasts
No cloth could successfully hide the beauty
Of your narrow waist and the two breasts
The art of wooing can never be taught – can
Love blossom with the lustrous face hidden thus?
You’re all praise for old Aryan norms; Did ancient
Aryan women cover themselves so?
Have we not met a couple of times now- why
Then this sudden show of coyness for customs' sake?
Who do you think is here to prevent me - from
Flinging open that veil?
Off with this needless banter lass --having sighted
The fruit, would I pause ere I peel off the skin?