Kuruntokai - "Red Earth and Pouring Rain"
What He Said
What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain.
Some of you may be familiar with the novel "Red Earth and Pouring Rain" by Vikram Chandra. The title of the novel is derived from the poem above.
This poem dates to around 2000 years ago, to the Sangam age of Tamil poetry as compiled in the "Kuruntokai". This translation is A K Ramanujan's. The history of Tamil poetry is marked by many anonymous contributions, and traditionally the poet is identified based on a distinct phrase from his or her work. "Cempulappeyanirar" literally means "red earth and pouring rain".
This is one of those poems that I think of as being like lightning. Though brief, it offers a split second of such powerful illumination. It is especially meaningful contextually, when you think of Tamil culture (its emphasis on marrying within kin and community) and even the geography that must have surrounded the poet. When I read this poem, I am taken immediately to summer rain -- scarce, relished -- in Chennai, how the streets run red with mud, the smell of it.
More universal are the concepts of chance/destiny -- of everyone possible alive on this earth, how is it that we met one another?
The timelessness of poetry like this never ceases to awe and humble me. I've chosen to showcase this poem because the red earth/pouring rain reference may be familiar to some of you. More Sangam translations by Ramanujan can be found online at http://www.personal.umich.edu/~pehook/226.sangam.html.