Am I a dream (நானும் ஓர் கனவோ?)?

போனதெல்லாம் கனவினைப்போல் புதைந்து அழிந்தே போனதனால்
நானும் ஓர் கனவோ? இந்த ஞாலமும் பொய் தானோ?

pOnathellAm kanavinaippOl puthanithu azhinthe pOnathanAl
nAnum Or kanavO? intha gnAlamum poi thAno?

Translation: Whatever has happened gets lost in the sands of time. Will I also fade away as a dream? Is this earth (or universe) even real?

The emotions in these lyrics are raw, bold, and powerful.

Of the many poets that adorn the pantheon of Thamizh literature, one that entered left the scene with a bang is probably BharathiyAr. There was nothing that was ordinary about him. Born during a tumultuous phase in Indian history – around 1920s when there was a fervent pitch of freedom struggle – he made his mark in his own unique way.

He donned many roles – a poet, a freedom fighter, a philosopher, a social activist, a journalist, an editor, oh my!

Great poets can bend and flex their poems such that they evoke various emotions in the minds of the reader. Typically the emotions are personal – happiness, sadness, joy, and so on. With BhArathi, the emotions are raw. It’s like a burst of spices and aromas that hit you unexpectedly and in a good way when tasting authentic food!

BhArathi has written many poems – patriotic, feminist, romantic, spiritual. It is hard to pick one as a starting point. Interestingly, I came across an article in Quora where the topic was to suggest his best poem. Looking through them, the one presented here resonated the most for reasons we shall discuss.

A few years back, the Matrix film took the world by surprise. It was a novel idea – a combination of Descartes-like “I think therefor I am” philosophy combined with a mAyavAda (aka advaita) philosophy – questioning whether what we see and experience are actually what they seem.

In deep contemplation, BhArathi seems to have gone through a similar thought process:

நிற்பதுவே, நடப்பதுவே, பறப்பதுவே
நீங்கள் எல்லாம் சொற்பனம் தானோ? பல தோற்ற மயக்கங்களோ?

கற்பதுவே, கேட்பதுவே, கருதுவதே
நீங்கள் எல்லாம் அற்ப மாயைகளோ? உம்முள் ஆழ்ந்த பொருள் இல்லையோ?

வானகமே, இளவெயிலே, மரச்செறிவே
நீங்கள் எல்லாம் கானலின் நீரோ? வெறும் காட்சிப் பிழை தானோ?

போனதெல்லாம் கனவினைப்போல் புதைந்து அழிந்தே போனதனால்
நானும் ஓர் கனவோ? இந்த ஞாலமும் பொய் தானோ?

காலமென்றே ஒரு நினைவும், காட்சி என்றே பல நினைவும்
கோலமும் பொய்களோ? அங்கு குணங்களும் பொய்களோ?

சோலையில் மரங்கள் எல்லாம் தோன்றியதோர் விதையில் என்றால்
சோலை பொய்யாமோ? இதை சொல்லொடு சேர்ப்பாரோ?

காண்பதெல்லாம் மறையும் என்றால், மறைந்ததெல்லாம் காண்பம் அன்றோ?
வீண்படும் பொய்யிலே – நித்தம் விதி தொடர்ந்திடுமோ?

காண்பதுவே உறுதி கண்டாய், காண்பதல்லா உறுதி இல்லை
காண்பது சக்தியாம், இந்த காட்சி நித்யமாம்

nirpathuvE, nadappathuvE, parappathuvE,
neengal ellAm sorpanam thAno? pala thotra mayakkangaLo?
karpathuvE, kEtpathuvE, karuthuvathE, neengaL ellAm aRpa mAyaigaLo? ummuL Azhntha poruL illayo?
vAnagame, iLaveyile, maracheRivE, neengaL ellAm kAnalin neerO? verum kaatchi pizhai thAno?
pOnathellAm kanavinaippOl puthainthu azhinthE pOnathanAl, nAnum Or kanavO? intha gnAlamum poi thAnO?

kAlamendre oru ninaivum, kAtchi endrE pala ninaivum kOlamum poigalO? angu guNangaLum poigaLo?
solayil marangaL ellAm thOndriyathOr vidhayil endrAl sOlai poyyAmO? ithiai sollodu serppArO?
kANbathellAm maraiyum endrAl, marainthathellAm kANbamandro? veeNpadum poyyile – nittham vidhi thodarnthidumO?
kANbathuvE uRudhi kaNdAi, kANbadhallA uRudhi illai. kANbadhu sakthiyAm, intha kAtchi nithiyamAm.

Translation:
Things that stand, walk, or fly – are you all a dream? Or are you imaginary?
What we learn, hear, or understand – are you all just an illusion? Do they have any deeper purpose?
The sky, the morning sun rays, the lush trees – are they all a mirage? Or simply an optical illusion?
Whatever has happened gets lost in the sands of time. Will I also fade away as a dream? Is this earth (or universe) even real?
The many memories that we gather over time, the faces of people we see, their character and actions, are they all just a figment of imagination?
If all trees in a garden came from seeds, is the garden unreal?
If what we see fades away, will we be able to see what has faded away? Is this all left to fate?
What we see is confirmed and is real.

As we read these lines, we can sense the poet searching for his purpose in life – a genius with thoughts ahead of his time, living in poverty, seeing his country being shackled, the words seem raw, emotional, and unapologetic.

In this day and age where politicians in Tamilnadu young and old alike are ready to forego every ounce of self-respect for the sake of holding on to their power, it is indeed very hard to imagine that only a few decades back this land gave birth to this virtuous soul that spat in the face of social injustices and inequalities and encouraged men and women alike to have நிமிர்ந்த நன்னடை and நேர்கொண்ட பார்வை (upright posture and unfaltering gaze)! One can only remember another BharathiyAr verse:

நெஞ்சு பொறுக்குதில்லையே இந்த நிலைகெட்ட மனிதரை நினைத்துவிட்டால்
அஞ்சி அஞ்சி சாவார், இவர் அஞ்சாத பொருள் இல்லை அவனியிலே

I cannot stand thinking about these spineless people – who die of fear looking at everything in this world…

Addendum: It looks like BharathiyAr not only thought about the plot of Matrix years back but even the other blockbuster – Inception. Bala reminded me of this other gem (part of his autobiographical poem – சுயசரிதை):

உலகெலாம் ஓர் பெரும் கனவு அஃதுள்ளே
உண்டு உறங்கி இடர் செய்து செத்திடும்
கலக மானிட பூச்சிகள் வாழ்க்கை
ஓர் கனவிலும் கனவாகும்

ulagelAm Or perum kanavu akthullE
uNdu uRangi idar seithu sethidum
kalaga mAnida poochigal vAzhkkai
Or kanavilum kanavAgum

Translation:
In this world that is but a dream,
The human insects that eat, sleep, fight, and die,
And somehow feel they are significant,
Are nothing but a dream within a dream.

 

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