A villager, a simple man, is walking along a heavily forested path early one morning. It is before dawn, the time purists from his bygone generation liked to call Brahmamuhurtham. The time is anywhere between 4 and 5, best suited for intellectual pursuits. Our villager though is of an untested intellectual proposition. He is an illiterate from an era alien to us. He is unlikely to dress like a King and the early morning forest was giving its chills to the man on his way in search of work. On his way through the forest, he sees something that catches his attention. As he takes it in his hands, it glows and makes him feel warm on the outside and the inside despite the early morning chill. He looks at it rapturously the way a mother would look at her newborn for the first time. However, he hears some voices in the distance approaching him. The inner chills return. He doesn’t want the world at large to see his discovery. Eyes can injure. He is suddenly possessive like a mother. He then decides to places his wondrous discovery inside a burrow in a tree to take it back home when he returns from work in the evening.
This is a folk story handed through the generations which had a poet of repute interested in the early 20th century. He was so rapturous about the story that he translated it literally. His name was Subrahmanya Bharathi and the poem is:
அக்கினிக் குஞ்சொன்று கண்டேன் -அதை
ஆங்கொரு காட்டிலோர் பொந்திடை வைத்தேன்;
வெந்து தணிந்தது காடு; – தழல்
வீரத்தில் குஞ்சென்றும் மூப்பென்றும் உண்டோ?
தத்தரிகிட தத்தரிகிட தித்தோம்
The poem completes the story which I left hanging midway. When the villager comes to take his discovery back in the evening, there is nothing left of the forest. Everything is burnt to cinders. Bharathi did not lack the intellectual caliber that the villager and yours truly lack to just translate a story and leave it hanging midway. He proceeds to ask a question to end his intriguing translation, albeit several generations late, as to whether fire knows the difference between the infinitesimal and the infinite. தழல் is fire and குஞ்சு is just a spark while மூப்பு refers to something mature, in this context, a burgeoning flame. Indeed, can there be a difference between a spark and a flame? Size possibly. But does size matter with fire? Both know only one thing, which is to burn. The spark here burnt a huge forest exposing the villager’s lack of intellect. Also, methinks that he is trying to link the poem with the political order of his time. This is purely my interpretation. I might be as wrong as Ravi Shastri was in predicting the Indian score on Saturday. There can be nothing as saddening as trying to fit Bharathi into the role of a political reformist alone. Of course, he was active in politics. But his poetry was a lot more than just being political in nature. A spark can set about a flame that can ravage a forest if need be. There could end the political overtones. Maybe, we always are interested in big things in life and forget the small beauties. But why then does Bharathi end his poem with the line, தத்தரிகட தத்தரிகட தித்தோம்?
I remember a guest lecture in my undergrad days, possibly 5 years back, when a scholar in Tamil was speaking on this line. He talked about his untiring efforts to get at the reason as to why Bharathi ended his poem thus. He was upset that another scholar who was doing his PhD in Bharathi’s poems did not put as much as an effort into thinking the possible reason even after being asked by this gentleman. This gentleman was so thinking for a few days when one night he was on his cot trying to sleep. His kid brother was trying to solve a problem in math for a few hours without luck. Then suddenly, around midnight, the brother begins a dance on the chair, the reason being the cracking of the math problem. It was then that an அக்கினி குஞ்சு struck this gentleman. A little boy solves a tough problem and dances in joy at his little victory. The poet has tied a knot around the short story and has asked a searching question (searching if considered searching). It is a little victory that he has linked the story with a subtle message in this poem and he celebrates this little joy or அக்கினி குஞ்சு by dancing an ஆனந்த தாண்டவம், practicing what he preached in the optimism that this அக்கினி குஞ்சு or little joy will set about a flame burning everything in its wake. If a small boy allows himself the luxury of a joy dance, why cannot a great poet be given the same joy?
This is just one possible interpretation of the poem. Of course, each person has the liberty to interpret Bharathi the way his intellect directs him to, for a lot of his poems are open ended. Cho Ramaswamy gave a possible explanation on why we worship one God in various forms. I am just a guy abusing my blog space in this little rant. To my parents, I am their child. To my friends, I am their friend and so on. I, an ordinary human, am seen by various people in various forms, as a son, a friend, possibly a fool and so on. God is not supposed to be ordinary. He can be seen in as many forms as each of us wish to see him personally. Similarly, Bharathi and his works can be seen by each of us the way we like to see them. To put simply, Bharathi is God.