Tag Archives: karna

The Venus Flytrap: Son of a Sun

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Dear Sun God (aka Papa),

I hope you don’t mind if I hang around a bit more after my daily prayers today. After all, it’s not like you have very much to do. There’s a couple of things I’d like to talk to you about. I’ll pause for a minute and see if there’s an apocalypse – if there is, I’ll take that as a no.

Oh good. You’re still shining, the birds are still singing, and my poor mortal feet are still earthbound. Also, kind of scorched (temperature check, please?).

You know, I realise that most people would consider themselves lucky to not have a daddy who gives them a complex and messes with their complexion. But I’m aware that being the son of the sun has its perks. Like bragging rights (not that anyone believes me or anything, but I noticed the droughts in Hastinapura, so thanks Pops). And the perpetually radiant glow of my skin, and positively smouldering good looks. Also, not to forget glory, splendour and hypersensitive poetesses composing verses in my name thousands of years from now and all that.

Still, don’t get me wrong – but waiting around for posthumous vindication is a bit of a drag. I’m not asking you to, you know, revolve around me or anything. But I figured that since you’re the source of all life, and we in Bharat are really into procreation, and somewhere down the line you might “inspire” another divine birth or two, it might be good to offer a few suggestions for future consideration.

Firstly, do you need to dispel darkness quite so often? Barely a night goes by before you pop out again. This constant presence stuff is a bit hard to take. Don’t glare like that. Lighten up, man. Look on the bright side: it’s not like I’m immortal or something. No sweat.

I mean, to tell you the truth, in these times of religion and rampant slaughter, it might have been nice to have been a girl instead. Less bloody. Like that Draupadi chick – though I guess she kind of overcompensates for the lack of gore. Talk about a monopoly on the menfolk! (By the way, she thinks you’re hot. Particularly this year). Plus, you would have given me a metal bra, I suppose. All I’d have to do to get rid of my enemies would be to sit behind them on a nervous horse.

And – ah, father, this is the worse of it – this armour is awfully spiffy and all that. Good for blinding people using your reflection, finger-drumming and paper frottage with crayons (love the detail work!). But I don’t know how else to say it – it’s kind of hard to… hug other people. I’m also a little bit worried about whether or not I have any nipples, not having ever seen them.

Also, I would really like to change my earrings from time to time. They itch.

If you have any ideas how I can rescue my existence from such epic boredom and irritation, please do illuminate me.

I send you my warmest. Well, the warmest I can muster. If you feel a cold patch somewhere on your vast corpus, consider it a dart of love from your long lost, most devoted and extremely eclipsed son.

Yours,

Karna

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.

Karna Poems on Kritya

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The only video of my readings that I’ve seen so far and liked was shot by Sze Ying Goh at No Black Tie, Kuala Lumpur on April 1 2007. You can find this video in the ‘Narc Is I’ section of this blog.

In it, I am reading “Karna Considers Yuanfen”. This was the first of the poems that reimagine the Mahabharata’s Karna as a woman and alter-ego, juxtaposing the epic character with personal history. When I first wrote it, I was not sure — it is a prose poem, clunky with text, drenched in heavy imagery. I did not think it could translate to the stage. But I found, repeatedly, that it was among my most popular works, the kind in which the audience stays silent for a moment after it ends before they begin to clap.

Although there are other poems outside of this trilogy, “Karna Considers Yuanfen” leads into “Karna Considers Light” and “Karna and Kunti”, neither of which have been published before. The former is a rumination on the nature of Karna’s relationship to her omniscient, unattainable father, the god of the sun, the latter a more traditional retelling of her encounter with her unknown mother on the battlefield. In the first poem, the closing lines are engraved on a plaque in the crypt of the astronomer John Brashear; the second contains a phrase from Ainkurunuru 13 (trans. Ramanujan). I realise my poems and blog have niche audiences who are probably already familiar, but Yuanfen is the Chinese concept of the apportionment of love one is destined to have in one’s lifetime.

All three are published in the April issue of Kritya. Click on the “more poems by SM” link there to take you to the second and third.

Why is Karna a woman, and why have I chosen this character to explore biomythography? Because the story of Karna is the story of why art has any meaning to me. It was the first story I ever heard that devastated me, that taught me immediately of both the power and pathos of storytelling and shaped my moral universe as a very young child. Karna is my mythological archetype, and the deeper I delved into creating my own art, the more I wanted to appropriate this story in a way that was truly mine.