Tuesday, 28 January 2014

[Blog] Kunti Devi: A study in sacrifice

The Mahabaratha, the greatest Indian epic, inhabited by powerful characters some inspiring and some others archetypal, has been invoked and revisited innumerable times. Karna, the most human of all the characters, is someone men can relate to even today and empathise with completely. But, this post is not about Karna, but is instead about his mother Kunti Devi, a rather endearing character.

Kunti Devi's life is a study in suffering. At a young age she is separated from her natural parents and is adopted by the king Kuntibhoja from whom she gets her name. She gets an unbelievable boon after serving the sage Durvasa well, which enables her to call upon any god and demand a child through him. She is a mere child when she gets this boon and with a childlike curiosity, she invokes the Sun god and begets a son. The social norms that put a premium on virginity and chastity, force her to abandon this child. She marries the King of Hastinapur, Pandu, but  does not have a fulfilling relationship with him as he soon marries a younger princess Madri. Kunti does not enjoy a very cordial relationship with Madri either. Pandu is rendered impotent by a curse and gives up his kingship and retires to the forest with his queens. Here, Kunti shares the secret of her special boons with him and Madri. She uses three of these to beget her sons and sacrifices two others to Madri. But Pandu meets an early death and Madri decides to die with him, (citing her culpability in his death) and Kunti, is left alone to bring up her five sons. She returns to live in her husband's kingdom amongst hostile relatives. In fact she and her sons are under constant threat from the Kaurava princes all their life. The guilt of abandonment of her first born too plagues her throughout, and after a long life of suffering and austerity, a forest fire brings to an end her tumultuous life.What I like most about her character is her stoicism and the equanimity she exhibits in the face of constant adversity.

I see the Kunti myth as a tangled web of several issues-an empowerment (by way of the boons) that is seemingly not; a child's curiosity; the guilt of banishment of her son which she endures alone although it is not entirely her fault; the polyandrous relationships with the gods brought on by her husband's curse; the guilt of polyandry that she unwittingly bestows upon her daughter-in-law Draupadi.

 But Kunti Devi, despite being a well delineated character,  displays certain stereotypical traits :-
a) The Sacrificing heroine : Kunti is even more of a martyr than the Ramayana's Sita. Kunti epitomizes the sacrificing mother. She is projected only as the mother of 6 sons and her role is the constant care and worry about these children and nothing else.
This sacrifice of Kunti is cited as a supreme virtue by traditionalists and she displays the traits often seen in women - that of emotional dependency upon others around them, and in the incapability to uphold their own interests and well being over and above the interests and well being of their children and partners.

b) The devaluation of female curiosity- Women have always been stereotyped as having a higher degree of inquisitiveness with rather negative consequences. The Kunti myth shares certain elements with Greek, Roman and Judeo- Christian myth. Kunti is similar to Pandora from Greek myth, where Pandora, despite warnings to the contrary, opens a certain box, out of curiosity and unleashes untold evils upon this world. Eve's curiosity is the sole cause of the loss of Paradise, in the Judeo-Christian myth and her act is the cause of suffering of all mankind. 

c) Child abandonment at birth: too is a recurrent theme in myth. Karna is not the only child so abandoned, Sita, the heroine of Ramayana is an abandoned child too and so is Shakuntala, the mother of Bharatha, the eponymous king of India. Moses of the Judeo-Christian myth is an abandoned child too.

The Mahabaratha lanscape might look like a highly repressive society with the onus on virginity and chastity and the repeated restorations of virginity - in Satyavathi after her encounter with Parashara, with Kunti when she bore Karna and with Draupadi at the end of each year with each of her husbands.  But the startling take away from this ancient epic for me, is the freedom of sexual choice and the freedom of motherhood exercised by the women here, that is now denied to the women of today with our repressive notions of morality. For me therefore, the Mahabharata society comes across as a highly progressive one.

 Each rereading of this epic throws up amazing and relevant insights into human nature and I find it remarkable that an epic written almost 1600 years ago, can still be of great interest and provide enough scope for a heated discussion even today. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

[Poem] The Sea Shore

A tiny form dances on the waves
as they tear and plunge
in a never ending dance
an eternal romance
with the yielding shore.

Brought inland
by the white frothy foamy fuzz
glazed eyes-
still Life.

Curiosity draws me to the glistening body in the sand
a tiny fish
wrought in the sea,
fathered by the flood,
that swam and danced in a shoal.

My life too
an insignificant speck
in that vast void
and yet, I dance,
I dream,
I scream,
My eyes rimmed
by the never ending waves
of thoughts, desires, aspirations
shoring up against an unyielding fate!

Srinivasan Balasubramanian's translation in Tamizh:

ஆடிப்பாடி ஆர்ப்பரித்து
தேடித்தேடி திரும்ப வந்து
ஓடி ஓடி நிலமகளை முத்தமிடும்
அலைகளின் ஆனந்த நடனம்
ஆ....... அது என்ன?..... ஒரு சின்னஞ்சிறு சடலம்?

நுரைக்கும் அலைகளால் கரை ஒதுங்கிய
விரைத்த உடல்... நிலைத்த பார்வை...
அருகில் சென்று பார்த்தேன்...
அழகியின் கண் போல சின்னஞ்சிறு மீன்

கடலிலே உதித்து, அலைகளில் குதித்து
இன்று சடலமாய் நிலை குத்தி.........

இந்த மீனைப்போலே நானும்...
அண்டப்பெருவெளியில் நான் ஒரு தூசி
ஆனாலும் நான் ஆடுவேன், பாடுவேன்
ஆனந்தக் கூத்தாடுவேன்
எண்ண அலைகளின் ஏக்கங்கள், ஆசைகளில்
என் ஆசைகளும் அலையாய் எழுந்து கரையில் மோதி
வெறும் நுரையாய்க் கரைந்திடும் என்றுணராமலே...

Monday, 13 January 2014

[Poem] Now


Everything is now
this moment...
right now
this very moment...
Tomorrow is another day
and another chance may never come your way.

How often
have I let go
a golden moment
and lived to lament
an entire lifetime?

So sing that song
speak your love,
say your thanks
and your prayers;
give that smile,
open your heart
Let flow that kindness.

A friend of mine Srinivasan Balasubramanian was kind enough to translation this poem in Tamizh : 

அத்தனையும் இப்பொழுதே
இக்கணமே இன்னொடியே !
நாளை என்பது வேறொரு நாள்
நாளை வரை விட்டு விட்டால் எல்லாம் பாழ்
அரிய தருணங்கள் ஆயிரம் விட்டிருக்கிறேன்
அது நினைந்து அய்யோ என்று அழுதிருக்கிறேன்
அன்பு நெஞ்சங்களே
பாடல்கள் ஒலிக்கட்டும் இன்றே
காதலும் வெளிவரட்டும் நன்றே
இறைவன் தாளிணை பணியுங்கள்
இன்றே நன்றி நவிலுங்கள்
இதயக்கதவு இன்றே திறக்கட்டும்
உங்கள் கனிவு புன்னகை மலரட்டும்
கருணை எங்கும் பரவட்டும்

Sunday, 5 January 2014

[Poem] The child and the butterfly

A late Summer afternoon,
In an Enid Blyton garden,
Of tall trees, flagrant canna, poppy, lilies,
Secret flowery arbor,
And a fragrant petal laden breeze.

A colourful dreamy haze
Soft flutter, incandescent radiance
Flower or flitting form?
Delightful dalliance,
Eternal dance at Nature’s temple...
Your tiny form,
Flits much like the butterfly
Vain wanderings, squeals and appeals
To catch one as carefree…

I deign not to yield to that urge
Though I crave to dust my fingertips
With that gorgeous luminosity
Oh! The stardust close at hand…

A monstrous humanity
Lurks outside these precincts
Lashing tongue and gnashing teeth
Harsh words and harsher deeds…
Hey little one, ask not to go back
Let us stay, dwell and revel
In this deliberate distraction,
Let us hide here so we may heal!