Bharati’s Kuyil Paattu doesn’t offer lessons. It’s simply a remarkable illustration of the poet’s private voice.
Once a saint was cursed to be a pig. He felt humiliated. So he asked his son to kill him soon after the transformation. The moment his father became a pig, his obedient son approached him to put an end to his ‘cursed state’. But his father had second thoughts. He told his son ‘Let me experience being a pig. You may come after a few months to kill me.’
When the son came after six months to carry out his father’s order, the saint-turned-pig told him that he really enjoyed being a pig and that he was revelling in the company of other boisterous pigs. ‘If you feel ashamed, you may kill yourself,” he added.
This is a story from one of the Upanishads, which Mahakavi Subramania Bharati narrates in a poem addressed to the goddess of poetry. He likens himself to the saint in the story. He says, “When I was a young poet, I was committed to the Muse totally. But circumstances have led me to renounce my absolute dedication to pure poetry.”
What does Bharati mean by ‘pure poetry’? Apparently, Bharati had two voices in him and one was his private voice, rhapsodic, lyrical and spontaneous and the other, his public voice that led him to identify himself with the political and social causes of his slumbering nation.
In a poem addressed to Parasakthi (Primeval Power) he says: “When I pray to you with the burning fire of intense love and appeal to you to bless me with words of power that will usher a new era of social progress, you tell me with a mysterious smile on your face that a poem well written is by itself the message and it should have no other thematic burden.”
What is Parasakthi? Bharati describes it variously as ‘the sparkling soul of the Dark Night’, ‘wisdom in stone’, ‘when time has a stop, the Eternity of the Moment’ and ‘pure ecstasy well-expressed’. When he is in this mood, his voice is free-flowing, not given to any homiletic pressure. This is his private voice, which has been, unfortunately, least studied by most of the Bharati scholars.
Kuyil Paattu (Cuckoo’s Song) remarkably illustrates his private voice. It deals with neither a political nor a social issue. The poem reads as though it wrote itself. It is in direct conversation with the reader, emanating as it does from the inner voice of the poet. Bharati calls it ‘a dream’ and mischievously adds, which reads like a challenge, “if the learned Tamil scholars are able to find a philosophical meaning for this poem let them tell me.”
And ‘the learned Tamil scholars’ did not disappoint him! One tried to find ‘the Paramatma and Jivatma relationship’ syndrome in the poem and another called it ‘the poet’s spiritual journey from the known to the unknown’. More such stuff and nonsense followed, while interpreting this poem.
What, then, does the poem tell us? It reads like a fairy tale not committed to logic or reason. It is a fantasy, a dream à la Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. The dream constructs a story and there is a story within that story. The whole thing is an illusion and there are illusions within that illusion. It is like a wheel within a wheel and one is at a loss to know which is an illusion and which reality. The reality comes at the end, as the poet wakes up to find himself ‘living in his old house, surrounded by his ancient mat, writing pen and scattered manuscripts and magazines.’
The recurring theme of love is expressed in exquisite poetry in a universal language, unburdened by thematic or critical conventions. It is a pure poem of sheer aesthetic charm that does not assume the moral responsibility of offering any message to the reader.
The medium is the message.
An excerpt from an English translation
The cuckoo sings its love for the monkey:
‘Oh! My divine Monkey-Lover!
Can any woman resist your love?
Man thinks he is the Lord of the Earth!
Maybe, he is for such mundane matters
As institutionalising things!
But look! Your incomparable hairy chest
And gentle speech,
And your bewitching hunch that adds a gait
To your walk and stature
Of no less charm
Can man be equal to you?
True, he competes with you
Covers his body with umpteen clothes
To match your silken charm from head to foot,
Apes his face and chin with hairy growth
In poor imitation calling it beard and moustache!
Leaps and jumps as you do
But, he does in a drunken state,
But, yet, tell me
Where will he go for a god-given tail?