The anguish of single women


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Kurunthogai – 158

by Avvaiyar

In the high mountains

accompanied by loud sounds
of thunder
and the swirling water bearing winds
you arrive
O rain
you who can shake the Himalayas
Can’t you take pity
on us lonely girls?
According to books, this is a poem sung by a lonely lady who is waiting for her beloved to come and meet her. As she is waiting, with thunder and lighting, the rain arrives. She is now very worried whether her beloved will turn up or not and addresses the rain, asking the rain to take pity on the lonely girls.

Waiting is something everyone would have experienced in their lives. The kid waits for his / her parents, the lover waits for the beloved, the wife for the husband and the mother for the child. I still remember my Grandmother, Mother and Aunt, all waiting at the compound wall to await the arrival of my uncle, who would be very irritated to see the woman standing in line near the gate. “Be late by 5 minutes and the whole family is at the gate. I am not a kid”, he would say but the waiting happened every day.

If waiting for a person to return from office happens in many houses, you can imagine the sort of tension a girl would feel when she is waiting for her beloved to appear. (Or the man waiting for his girl to appear.)  Every passing second would be tension filled and the mind would fill itself with multiple scenarios, most of them not very optimistic. The person would understand why they call it ‘standing on fire’ or ‘standing on a bed of thorns’.

Imagination gets a free reign during this waiting period and as I said scenario after scenario is run through the mind to try and guess why the delay is happening. In many cases, there would no delay and yet the heart is anxious. The poem, when read with this in mind, makes us suspect that the rain may not be as intense as the poet says here. Maybe the rain is normal for that season and it is not heavy. Yet the imagination of the waiting girl turns the thunder into sound that could kill snakes, makes the rain heavy enough to destroy the Himalayas and the clouds darker that what they are. Any small obstacle which can prevent the man from coming now turns into a huge obstacle that cannot be overcome. Such is the tension in the lover’s heart.

Ofcourse, the recent times have made things easier for everyone. You can no longer see women leaning on the compound walls waiting for their husbands to come. This is because everyone carries a mobile and you can get the exact status of where the person is. This cuts down on the worry and enables women to watch serials peacefully. The same happens with the lovers. You can keep talking and talking till you arrive at your destination. That way the waiting girl knows not only where you but also whom you are talking to.

To me that is just one reading of this poem and the meaning revealed, while good is probably very evident. Now, think of all the information about the rain to be metaphors for passion and suddenly a new world opens up for us. The dark clouds, the intense winds, the heavy rains, the thundering sound that could kill snakes, everything points to passion. It is the passion inside the heart of a woman. It is this passion which can knock down the Himalayas. So if we read the poem as a young girl addressing the passion inside her, then the last line makes perfect sense. Have pity on the lonely girl. There is a passion raging inside the heart and I am lonely. Take pity on me. She is more afraid of the internal weather than the external weather.  How hard it must be for a girl to remain lonely when inside her a huge passion rages?

‘Parva’, the novel by Byrappa, which retells the Mahabaratha does not start with the ‘sarpa yagna’. Instead it starts in a tiny kingdom far away from Hastinapuram, where the princess has ‘come to age’ almost a year ago and the King’s father (who has now given up the throne to his son) is worried that time is passing and the princess has not yet had her union. In their kingdom, girls meeting boys and having children out of wedlock is common and an acceptable practice. They understand what girls go through in that age. The current King is against this practice since Hastinapuram is now putting into place a new moral code which does not allow this practice of girls having children before wedlock. The old king protests as to why practices need to change locally because Hastinapuram Is changing its morals but the king is adamant. He wants to see himself as a ‘civilized’ king and insists that his daughter, the princess, will have children only after she is married.

This gives an idea of how societies deal with the matter of pre-marital sex. To me it seems that the tribal societies (supposedly undeveloped) and the most developed societies seem to be on the same page as far as this issue is concerned, whereas many developing nations see this as a major crime. The argument in favour of more sexual freedom by developing countries and by many psychologists is that when such issues are discussed freely, the consequences can be explained to the young people and make them aware of where their actions could lead them. In the absence of such information and counseling, youngsters may end up suffering due to the consequence of their actions, consequence which could have been prevented if only information was available to the youngsters. (Coincidentally, as I am writing this article, I am also reading M.T.Vasudeva Nair’s ‘Varanasi’, which is about the same subject: the passion of the youth and the consequence of quenching the passion.)  It must also be noted that this debate is not just between the developed and the developing countries. Even within the developed countries, this debate happens. I have read one newspaper report which said that thousands of youngsters in USA took a vow that ‘true love can wait’ and that they would not have sex until they married. So this is a question which bothers the parents, the society and not to mentioned the youngsters.

It is amazing how the greatest literature talks about unchanging emotions. That is the reason why Sangam poetry still connects to us, for it speaks of issues which are relevant even today.  In Avvai the poems find the perfect voice to state the sentiments which echo across the generations.

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