The Burning Breast: Kannagi To Kovalan

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I had a lovely Sunday morning. For one thing, I woke up early — I’m a heavy sleeper and am always inordinately proud of myself when I catch the sunrise. Also, it was the last day of Madras Week — phew! And although I was late, I managed to make it to Eric Miller/The World Storytelling Institute’s Living Statues event at 7.30am. Spoken word in the form of soliloquys in persona in front of six statues that punctuate the main road along Marina Beach. And then the beach itself, with two friends, and breakfast at Rathna Cafe in Triplicane… I fucking love Madras, from the bottom of my silly little heart. :)

Eric asked me to read his soliloquy for Auvvaiyar, as well what I had written the night before for Kannagi. Or as Kannagi, rather. I’ll write more about the Living Statues event when I recap Madras Week on the whole.

And how could I forget the lovely little synchronicity that met us as we got into an auto to leave the beach? The driver’s address, painted where Narain’s knees met the back of the driver’s seat, was Nedunchezhiyan Colony.

If you are not familiar with the story of Kannagi and Kovalan, please see this.

The Burning Breast: Kannagi to Kovalan

What is it to me if there are good women
or good men or gods in this city, now
that you are gone.

When you kissed me I remembered
all the lives that poured out of us,
and I remembered how to honour water.

When you kissed me I remembered
what death felt like, and
I remembered how to honour air.

When you kissed me I remembered
the clay of the body, and
I remembered how to honour earth.

When you kissed me I remembered
that my sins would turn to cinders, and
I remembered how to honour fire.

Listen, husband. Only the sky will
take no side. Let them call me
bitch, witch, menace, terrorist.
Let them call me mad, bad, vindictive,
frigid. Let them name me, claim me,
blame me and defame me. Guard their
coast with stone dolls in my likeness.
Beat their women so their bruises
sting and rhyme with my acclaim.
Let them. Let them think they have me tamed.

But with this burning breast, these bloodshot eyes, I raise
my voice, and I say to you now, all I want, all I am is this:

wife.

– – –

I had shared this poem with friends as soon as it was written, and I thought it might be good to share this exchange, in case you have the same question in mind:

Q: excellent, but
All I am is this; wife
All?
surely not all, but – I am this; wife

SM: Thanks! I’m curious — are you familiar with the Silapathikaram? In context, the idea of Kannagi as simply human, a woman mad with grief, is something very much overlooked. Here in Tamil Nadu, she has been co-opted into various other roles — worshipped as a goddess, held up as a bastion of conservative chastity, as a bastion of radical feminism, a role model for citizen rights, criticized for weakness, glorified for strength… any number of grand meanings have been read into this character. But the commonplace anguish of a widow, extraordinary as the events told are, is what interested me when I set out to write this.

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8 responses »

  1. Dear, you know how we’ve said we’ve missed you here in KL? We still do, you lil cili padi, but at the rate you’re writing these powerful pieces, maybe the change of environment truly released you. And I for one am glad of it.

    As usual, more, please. :)

  2. awesome, nicely written…the emotions are strong yet pure at heart….and yes I have seen some movies on Kannagi before but the older ones…no new movies…you know what the more you talk about MADRAS, I just wanna pack my bags and come there…and I know I can get really nice pictures when I am there, the people and the colors will be sinply amazing…anyway take care dear….

  3. Kenny — Thanks dear. :) The change of environment was a wonderful thing.

    Orange Jammies — :) Tq!

    Ramsu — Thanks and welcome to the blog.

    Prakash — Thanks. Come to Chennai and join a Photowalk!

    Narain — Patcha poi :P

  4. Hi, I’m actually looking to write a poem about Kannagi and i was just looking around, reading to get clear about the facts and well i think this poem is quite fantastic.
    I’m planning on moving to Madras the next year for college and from what you say, i think i’m going to fall in love with city :)

  5. Draupady , ganga ,kannagi , bhooma devi , saraswaties . sitas , and other devies and other good peoples were always and again and again insulted and were victim of cruielties and crimes .and girls like taraka(tataka) and her mother and her souls were accused and culprits and of cruilities ,why could not become good humans and peoples like others . why peoples became so bad and wrong even girl and ladies insulted ladies ,

    Was kunti and kunti’s humans and other souls were real cuilprits , in the 2012 ,13 ,2014 were beaten and killed very badlly by the gods like bharama , guru bhiraspati ,dakshina moorti , two goddess might be ganga and draupadi and other gods like may be ram ,krishna , and others .of many mahabharata story of one kunty was mother of human of taraka or taraka sister .according to one story draupadi was boon/cursed by shiva of five husdands . kunti and kunti’s humans and other souls would had been culprits or guilty of revenges .

    my views , which i found some what truth )my views may or may not be acceptable truth.}

    Many ramayanas are there , like valmiki ,vashist ,kamb, ramanujan ,ramayanaa are few of many other versons of ramayana ,
    what is the meaning of ramayana found ,– ramayana = ram +ayan ( ayan meaning came ) ,

    according
    to some stories ahyilyia was cursed by gotham rishi , Ahalya was
    converted to stone ,As for Ahalya, Gautama granted her the boon that she
    would be brought back to human form by the touch of the feet of Lord
    Rama .
    so rama avatar would had been made (incarnated) ,thus how many ramas would had been created ,

    would gotham rishi would be knowing about rama avatar ?

    like
    ramayana so many ahilya versons are there ,( like in a verson , ganga
    tells to gautam , it is mid night not the bath time go to home and see
    some thing would have been wrong ) .

    how many Ahilyas storeies
    would had been made and how many gautams would had been made and how
    many ahilyas lifes would had been spoiled ,how many indras would had
    been made and how many girls/boys souls would had been made to sit in
    hen or cock and make sound (cock crow) .thus how many would had been
    made culprits ,sinners ,bad brains ,bad habituals of bad acts and bad
    karma .
    and those cuilprits , sinners are/would had been made to quarrel and killed in the wars of ramanyana .?

    mahabharta
    , would had took placed for the revenges and the cruelties happened on
    ladies ( like savarupnakha ,sita ) . to show the cruelities ,gamblings
    were played and sarees were made to removed

    like ramayana vishvamitra story would have many versons and vishvamitras

    mahabharata
    would had been happened for revenges of ramayana and ramayana would had
    been happened for ahiylia and what would be reason behind ahiliyia
    insult was conspirancies or any ones evil idea .

    really how many
    would had been real culptits and how many would had been created and how
    many would had been victims of vengences and eneyminities and how many
    peoples souls would had been killed

    killed peoples would had been
    given births to different parents , differnt mothers ,different fathers
    , and thus differnt marrages would had taken places in past birth some
    ones mothers would had been wife of some another person .and some wrong
    and illigal methods and would had been used like rapes for the birth and
    for enemities and revenges .
    thus quarrels would had been on increasing ,and peoples and souls became culprits and victims .
    according
    to one of the satguru video in the past arround 18 millions years 1.8
    crores years ago and one of the papa ji ( h.l. punja ) video , arround
    80 millilons years ,8 crores years ago some incarnations had took placed
    and some wrong things and wrong marrages and wrong interchanged
    childrens were given births by the other not by their husbands .
    like this millions and millions peoples are accused .

    ( peoples which had to make lifes good and better , used the criminals
    ,and wrong ideas and methods for spoiling and destroying the lifes )

    More than 99 % of peoples, gods ,souls had been inocents ,had not been
    victims . if polatictics , conspirancies , crimanilites ,some wrong
    traditions and some wrong rules of few from the ancient times would had
    not been made.

    why the wrong and mishappenings happened and
    happenings from the very ancient times , why peoples went wrong for
    wrong marrages wrong acts
    Why the gods , devatas , peoples and
    humans became wrong of bad wisdoms and wrong acts and bad karmas ,crores
    and crores of peoples ,were all the peoples were bad .why became bad
    instead of becoming good humans and peoples

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