The Venus Flytrap: Touching Souls


When I was little and lived in homes with real gardens, one of my favourite things to do was to step on the thottanchinungi plant. Its little ferns would shrink to the touch, and then slowly open, repeating these gestures until the agitator bored of them. There’s a rhyme I remember the beginning of from those days, in Tamil. It went something like, thottanchinungi, thodupudingi: the fern that shrivelled up and snivelled like someone who had their earrings pulled.

I would eventually become something of an animist. I looked to coasts and trees and red earth. But I only remembered the shy, sensitive thottanchinungi at the beginning of the year. I’d been in the countryside for some weeks by then, anticipating catharsis yet entirely unprepared for it. It was a morning that came amidst many things, mostly devastating ones, but I remember a sense of exhilaration as my friend Rane and I sped off to even more rural interiors on an old, green motorbike. I think we were heading to a lake, but mostly, it was for the ride. Somewhere on the way back, I caught sight of the back of a statue, a typical Kali, a cacophony of arms and legs, and we stopped. I had to see it.

It turned out that what we had discovered was a Tantric shrine. “The serious shit,” Rane said, pointing to the shed full of tools for invocation. No one was around. I prayed that day with the promise to come back before I left this surreal dimension I’d found myself in for what was supposedly the real world. I had no idea then what was coming – I would not return before I went back, and there was nothing to go back to. The unraveling had only just begun. “It’s okay,” my friend said, weeks later. “The account has been opened. You’ll make the deposit some day.”

But I didn’t know all this then.

Climbing off the bike, my eyes following the flight of an astonishing black, white and red butterfly, was when I saw it, my old childhood friend the thottanchinungi. Of all the kinds of weed involved in my catharsis, this was the most symbolic. The mimosa pudica was the ultimate metaphor for the state of my heart that morning, and not just mine. We wait to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be touched. And then we retreat. We fold into ourselves and wait to be left alone. We burn that bridge and bloom again. We burn that bridge but we forget the way back, and over and over and over we build and burn, trapped in our private purgatories.

How easy to curl within ourselves. How hard to stay open, even to the things we think we have been waiting for all our lives. There is resilience. And then there is, simply, running away.

But although the plant I saw that day looked like the thottanchinungi, it didn’t respond to my foot. It refused to shrivel, but I no longer had the time or curiosity to play with it as I once did. Maybe it was something else, some other herb. Something that looked like one thing but was another one entirely. Unequivocal disappointment can be easy to accept. Just ask the thottanchinungi.

But maybe it was the thottanchinungi, only a stronger variant. What I know is this: it held its own. It didn’t shrivel at my skin, but rested calmly against it. Its soul to my sole. By refusing to recoil it stayed receptive to something else, something that held it open, thriving, fully unfurled.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

8 responses »

  1. Hi, I heard you on the radio today :) and I couldn’t wait to find out more about you. I like what you’ve written here. I honestly haven’t read the New Indian Express that often to stumble upon your writings, but I think I may just start. I would like you to comment on my writings on my blog too and with your permission, I would like to add you to my blog roll as well.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

  2. i liked your writings in Indian express..but for some reasons i didnt like indian express itself..thus i discontinued reading TNIE ,hence i cudnt catch up with yur previous articles..i am glad i finally noticed the blog link in the same a movie story i was cleaning my cupboard and found the older issues….and lo!…this i shud hav found long back….

  3. Another parallel trajectory. :) Introduced my school kiddos to the mimosa pudica while on a nature trail this past Thursday. I agree, it is the most delightful of plants, one my children quickly called “magic”.

  4. i really liked this post,liked it so much that i didn’t even want to say it…

  5. What a beautiful metaphor. At the risk of quoting country music, there’s a Garth Brook’s song called Standing Outside The Fire which says something similar.

  6. Hello…Ms Sharanya!
    “Art is a quiet indicator of status, which – in human as in animal societies – is a key to acquiring food, land, and sex partners” – Jared Diamond…With due respect to the polymathic Jared Diamond for his explorations into the origins and collapse of civilizations and ecosystems and evolution of our species…still I reckon he missed the import of Art…but another polymath…fuzzy mathematician Bart Kosko captured the essence: “An artist maps experience to symbols” …the symbols can be colors or musical tones or words or dance…. Where does Sharanya’s art of prose/poetry in its liquescence fit in?

    …within a rustic milieu…you saw Kali’s back with a cacophony of hands and legs…a metaphorical missonance I thought…for Kali – symbolically – is the Goddess of Involution of Time (even scholars have a problem with etymology if they lack yogic experience)…multilimbed as a visaphor of metaphysical semiotics…with a skirt of amputated hands…kara = karma…a symbolic archetype that drew you in…but your mind…though decided to come back…was drawn from a symbolic archetype to a poetic metaphor in the form of touch-Me-not…memes of iyari resonating…you have been riding the chaotic wings…in reiterating patterns…but pathways never identical…also drawn into the sanctity of the female body…with heartsongs in precursor loops to the Aurignacian erotic beauty – Venus – a “figural synecdoche” to quote symbolic anthropologist Marija Gimbustas…a reification of Life Genetrix in stone… “where a part stands for the whole”… a reminder of South Seas Islands’ meme: stones rot, but song remains…that’s iyari…the invisible connectionist glop of non-linear resonances in sukshmic patterns…perhaps a “gatherheid” in your mind as poetry…still you vrooomed off in a flicker noise…Kali’s silhouette BE-hind…you sans aithesis…a fragment of a memory recollected by you…a discrete part in prose…but hardly wondering what’s rhanubandhanam in an agori’s way…so…in conclusion…you fit in as an artist of ideas…in quest of archetypes…now in and now out…iterating and reiterating to strange attractors…bold ventures with a singsong too: touch-Me-not…touch-Me-not…touch-Me-not…

    PS: Mathematician Przemyslaw Prusinkieswicz – whose ‘Application of L-Systems to Algorithmic Generation of South Indian Folk Art Patterns…” – exploring kolams at the edge of chaos was astonished that Indians for centuries have been using fractal as a form of art – what historian William T.Jackson dubbed as “reflection of life-sensibilities” – but often Indian women are too sensitive to “touch”…(while men are too “insensitive” to touch)…they close on themselves unsuspectful of the phase-space realities of interpenetration of consciousness…bye for now!

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