Kalithokai is a collection of poems from the Tamil Sangam era. This poem, number 37 was composed by Kapilar, who had contributed about ten percent of all the Sangam literature. This particular poem is remarkably romantic, about the protagonist (thalaivi) discussing with her girl friend (thozhi) about her ploy to draw the attention of her lover. Reading this, one can realize the world hasn’t changed much in romance, and the Tamil dames were exploratory and adventures.
The story is about a budding romance between two adults from two different territories (thinais). The man in this story was a hunter from the neighboring highland, which Sangam literature refers to as Kurunji. Whereas the woman is from flat farming land called Marutham. As a hunter he roams around the farmland looking for his games. One day he was out hunting and waded into the fields belonging to the woman, saying he was following the footprints of a deer but in fact it was a ploy to have a glance at her. Now she too has realized it was a ploy to see her not about hunting. This went on for a few days without exchange of words between them.
Realizing that the man would not have the courage to come out with the truth and make the first move, she decided to take matters into her own hands.She first wanted to seek the opinion of her trusted thozhi by sharing her feelings of the man in her heart. She starts off by praising her friend, as the one with blue eyes like a lily in a pond, and goes on to describe her state of wandering mind. “A man with a big bow on his shoulder came down to my fields saying he was following the footsteps of a big elephant” she said to her friend. I am sure that his intention was to have a glance at me but he didn’t have the courage to say so, instead said nothing and left. This went on for many more days, and his behavior had raised my anxiety and my desire towards him higher and higher with no end”. Though this was going for many days I am not sure if his eyes have ever reciprocated my love for him; I am at a loss; I cry a lot, lost sleep longing to be with him; please help me my friend”
“He was so meek and wouldn’t even look into my eyes and speak to me. This is going on for far too long and being a woman, how could I make the first step in letting him know of my mind? Wouldn’t it bring dishonor to me I thought. In the end I too had employed a similar trick to get the problem solved”
And this is beautifully plotted in the poetry by Kapilar like this.
The protagonist sets up a plan where she would be sitting in her swing by the millet farm, where she would normally sit to chase away the birds that flock to the fields to graze the maturing grains readying for harvest. She would sit there and sound the drums to scare away the birds. On this day, she was sitting there expecting the man would come along as usual to have a glimpse at her. Sure enough the man came and she asked him for a favor to rock the swing while she was sitting on it. The man obliged, and as he was pushing the swing, she pretended that she missed the grip and intentionally fell on the man landing with her bosoms brushing his hands. Instinctually the man held her from falling to the ground, holding her in his hands. She kept her eyes closed pretending to have fainted.
At this point she couldn’t stop praising the quality of the man she adored. Holding her in her hands he said, had she opened her eyes he would have dropped her down, and would have advised her to go home without delay and rest. Such was the value of the man, she had exclaimed.
The story is beautifully narrated in Kalithokai poem # 37 by poet Kapilar. Out of 2381 Sangam poems recovered, 235 belonged to Kapilar. Kapilar was among 470 Sangam poets thought to have existed centuries ago. Almost all poems were written on the lives of people living in Kurinchi thinai (landscape). One will not be at a loss in studying Sangam poetry which is rich in classic Tamil poetry.
கலித்தொகை – 37
கய மலர் உண்கண்ணாய்! காணாய்: ஒருவன்
வய மான் அடித் தேர்வான் போல, தொடை மாண்ட
கண்ணியன் வில்லன், வரும்; என்னை நோக்குபு,
முன்னத்தின் காட்டுதல் அல்லது, தான் உற்ற
நோய் உரைக்கல்லான் பெயரும்மன், பல் நாளும்;
பாயல் பெறேஎன், படர் கூர்ந்து, அவன்வயின்
சேயேன்மன் யானும் துயர் உழப்பேன்; ஆயிடைக்
கண் நின்று கூறுதல் ஆற்றான், அவனாயின்;
பெண் அன்று, உரைத்தல், நமக்காயின்; ‘இன்னதூஉம்
காணான் கழிதலும் உண்டு’ என்று, ஒரு நாள், என்
தோள் நெகிழ்பு உற்ற துயரால் துணிதந்து, ஓர்
நாண் இன்மை செய்தேன்: நறுநுதால்! ஏனல்
இனக் கிளி யாம் கடிந்து ஓம்பும் புனத்து அயல்,
ஊசல் ஊர்ந்து ஆட, ஒரு ஞான்று வந்தானை,
‘ஐய! சிறிது என்னை ஊக்கி’ எனக் கூற,
‘தையால்! நன்று! என்று அவன் ஊக்க, கை நெகிழ்பு
பொய்யாக வீழ்ந்தேன், அவன் மார்பின்; வாயாச் செத்து,
ஒய்யென ஆங்கே எடுத்தனன் கொண்டான்; மேல்
மெய் அறியாதேன் போல் கிடந்தேன்மன்; ஆயிடை
மெய் அறிந்து ஏற்று எழுவேனாயின், மற்று ஒய்யென,
‘ஒண்குழாய்! செல்க’ எனக் கூறி விடும் பண்பின்
அங்கண் உடையன் அவன்
Oh, you, with eyes like blue lilies in a pond, hear me: A man,
With great bow on his shoulder, came by
Claiming to follow the footprints of a mighty elephant:
Glanced at me with a straight face, but disappeared,
Having said nothing
Days passed no words nor smiles
I lost my sleep, teared and was sad,
With sorrow on his behalf; he’s meek,
Wouldn’t look into my eyes and converse:
Am a girl, how could I speak out? Afraid
This will go any further than gazing,
As my shoulders vaned away, I gathered my courage,
And did a shameful thing one day: my friend!
Waited on the swing by the millet field, on a day,
Where I sit to sound the parrots away from grazing our harvest
Asked the passer by Man, “Sir, will you push my swing a little”
The man didn’t refuse, the swing rocked,
Pretending to lose my grip I fell on his arms;
Thinking it was real, he grabbed and held me tight;
I lay on his arms feigned to be fainted;
If only had I opened my eyes to rise,
He would have moved away from me in a trice,
Saying “come on lass, go home now”,
For such a gentleman is he.!
(This article first was first published in the July 2020 print issue of Monsoon Journal)