Poisonous Separation

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(Image link: http://andylal.blogspot.in/2011/07/i-wait-with-silent-passion-for-one.html )

Poem 43 (Kurunthogai)

by avvaiyAr

Thinking he wouldnt leave me
I kept quite

Thinking I wouldnt agree
to his leaving
he kept quite

In this clash of two egos

now 
as if bitten by a cobra
my heart
is in agony

Sangam poetry deals a lot with separation as much as it deals with union. We saw an Avvai poem earlier where the woman is sad that she is unable to stop her man from going away in search of fame and fortune. The separation is highlighted in the ‘Paalai Thinai’ which refers to the desert lands.

Here we see a seemingly simple poem wherein the woman thinks that her man would know what she feels and stay back whereas the man kept quiet, maybe sure that if he asked for permission to leave it may not be granted.  Hence the separation and now the woman is unable to bear the agony. This is quite evident from the poem. As I said, on the surface it seems a simple enough poem but the selection process to included into a Sangam collection was not an easy one going by the consistent quality of the poems we get read.

What does this poem talk about? To me, it talks about communication. Communicating clearly with another human being perfectly is not possible. One reason is that even if we have the words to communicate clearly, we may not be sure of our own feelings. In some other cases, words fail us when we try to communicate feelings. Ferdinand Pessoa, a famous Portuguese poet said, “Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text. From what’s in the note we can extract the gist of what must have been in the text, but there’s always a doubt, and the possible meanings are many.”  This perfectly captures the inadequacy of communication between human beings in emotional matters.

In earlier times (and even today in certain cases) the biggest challenge for woman would have been to learn how to communicate immediately after their marriage, for they would be entering a totally new world, where things would seem strange and the idiosyncrasies of family members are not yet fully known. More important is the challenge of communicating with the husband in such a milieu. The same applies, though to a lesser extent, to the new husband. How can he communicate with his wife in this milieu?

The target of lovers and recently married couples is to achieve communication through silence. They believe that one should know what the other is thinking and no verbal communication is needed. While the tendency of recently married couple and those in love is to talk non-stop, at crucial moments, they do not want to speak. They expect their partner to know exact what they are thinking and accordingly take a decision. If it doesn’t happen, then they feeling they have still not achieved their goal. It takes a while to realize that such an ‘understanding’ is impossible.

There are times when even if things are understood, explicit communicated is sought for reassurance. It is also sought because dynamics in any relationship keep changing and there is a need to reiterate certain facts. You can see this very often in the way the American speak with a “I love you” being very constant. In essence all relationships demand a mix of said and the unsaid.

In this poem, the woman wants her man to ‘understand’ the fact that she doesn’t want him to go. She doesn’t want to explicitly state this because then it would seem the man stayed back due to her asking. Instead she wants him to show his love and understanding by staying back without her asking him to. The man understands her feelings well and knows that he may not be able to leave if he explicitly asks for permission. Hence he keeps quite so that he can go ahead in his quest for fame and fortune.

Communication is also about personal history. How a person communicates has a lot to do with how they grew up, how communication helped in their success or how it failed them and hurt them sometimes. So when a new person comes into someone’s life, it is very important to realize that the way they communicate has a lot to do with their history.  If you look at this poem in this context you realize that maybe there is some history between them. Maybe the man wanted to go earlier and the woman was not willing to let him go. Maybe they fought about it? Is the woman tired of expressing her displeasure every time and wants he man to understand her feelings? Is the man unable to bear this emotional battle that he chose to keep quite? Suddenly the poem opens up newer meanings to us. It paints in front of us not just the current scene but also the probable scenes that may have transpired earlier.  The clash of the egos many a times leads to silence,  not necessarily the silence which leads to breakdown of relationship, but to a silence which demands understanding from the opposite party.

Imagery in Sangam poetry does not happen because the poet thought of a nice image or a metaphor. It happens with a reason. Why is the heart now in agony as if ‘bitten by a cobra’? Why is the heart not burning? Why is not like being on a blacksmiths anvil? Why is it ‘bitten by a cobra’? Because cobra’s bit is poisonous. In other words due to this act of man leaving her and going away, her heart is poisoned a bit. She knows that at a certain level her man left her even though he knew what she wanted. This understanding poisons the heart a bit and hence the agony. The agony is due to the fact that her man has gone away. It is also due to the fact that her heart has been poisoned by her own mind. The future may slowly erase the poison out of her heart or there could be more cobra bites which could lead to the relationship going downhill. This realization is why her heart writhes in agony and who can capture this better than a woman? And if that woman happens to be a poet of Avvai’s caliber what more can you ask?

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