Tag Archives: rage

The Venus Flytrap: Twisted By Rage

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Sometimes I watch or find myself engaged in an altercation and see or sense a frustration that comes from another place altogether. This is most evidently observed online, i.e. “Internet outrage”. The thing at hand – this post, this comment, this incident even – isn’t the true source of that emotion, just the scapegoat on which it is temporarily fixated. A decade or so ago, we heard the term “road rage” just as frequently. I suspect the two phenomena – vocalising an emotion by directing it strangers on the street, or at 2D versions of people on the web – have the same origins.

But what is that emotion?

I’m choosing to write this not as an observer, but as someone with a deep wellspring of rage. Mine doesn’t manifest online too much, but I do have a temper that’s as easy to spark and as difficult to put out as a forest fire. I carry trauma in my body, and my hair falls constantly, my teeth clench often, the centres of my palms radiate pain, I go months without menses, I cannot sleep well, I don’t cry enough. It is the backlog of years. It is my burden, and my work to do. I carry trauma. This is my reason. But it is not my excuse.

I sit with my rage and feel my way through it. I know and name it, try to keep it out of others’ ways. I fail and look deeper. Something in me is always howling. It would be easy to howl out loud. It would also be wrong.

Recently, a dear one’s mother told me how stubborn she finds my friend. I had witnessed the disputes she was talking about. On the one hand, I understood her dismay. On the other, I knew very well where my friend’s surliness came from. And so this is what I told her: that they both worried about the same things. That loneliness manifests as irascibleness. That there are things we barely know how to express to ourselves, and these are the things that take on their own twisted expressions.

Shatter the mirror and see the kaleidoscope. Everyone is hurting. And almost every one of us is already doing the best we can, but that doesn’t absolve us from the need to do even better.

Every day, one tries. Every day, one can fail. Rage thoughtlessly externalised swallows whole; rage never expressed poisons slowly. Even if the work of healing comes to an end, the work of trying to be a better person never does. There is no benchmark beyond which one’s goodness is sacrosanct.

There’s a viral web poster that goes: “I meditate. I burn candles. I drink green tea, and I still want to smack some people.” Yes to all of the above. Rage is not hunger, to be so quickly quelled. The people we want to smack aren’t usually those who harmed us. The difference between a jerk and a self-aware person is in the answers to these questions: what do you do with that want? Who or what do you turn it towards? Who does it make you turn into?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on September 22nd. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Burning Breast: Kannagi To Kovalan

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I had a lovely Sunday morning. For one thing, I woke up early — I’m a heavy sleeper and am always inordinately proud of myself when I catch the sunrise. Also, it was the last day of Madras Week — phew! And although I was late, I managed to make it to Eric Miller/The World Storytelling Institute’s Living Statues event at 7.30am. Spoken word in the form of soliloquys in persona in front of six statues that punctuate the main road along Marina Beach. And then the beach itself, with two friends, and breakfast at Rathna Cafe in Triplicane… I fucking love Madras, from the bottom of my silly little heart. :)

Eric asked me to read his soliloquy for Auvvaiyar, as well what I had written the night before for Kannagi. Or as Kannagi, rather. I’ll write more about the Living Statues event when I recap Madras Week on the whole.

And how could I forget the lovely little synchronicity that met us as we got into an auto to leave the beach? The driver’s address, painted where Narain’s knees met the back of the driver’s seat, was Nedunchezhiyan Colony.

If you are not familiar with the story of Kannagi and Kovalan, please see this.

The Burning Breast: Kannagi to Kovalan

What is it to me if there are good women
or good men or gods in this city, now
that you are gone.

When you kissed me I remembered
all the lives that poured out of us,
and I remembered how to honour water.

When you kissed me I remembered
what death felt like, and
I remembered how to honour air.

When you kissed me I remembered
the clay of the body, and
I remembered how to honour earth.

When you kissed me I remembered
that my sins would turn to cinders, and
I remembered how to honour fire.

Listen, husband. Only the sky will
take no side. Let them call me
bitch, witch, menace, terrorist.
Let them call me mad, bad, vindictive,
frigid. Let them name me, claim me,
blame me and defame me. Guard their
coast with stone dolls in my likeness.
Beat their women so their bruises
sting and rhyme with my acclaim.
Let them. Let them think they have me tamed.

But with this burning breast, these bloodshot eyes, I raise
my voice, and I say to you now, all I want, all I am is this:

wife.

– – –

I had shared this poem with friends as soon as it was written, and I thought it might be good to share this exchange, in case you have the same question in mind:

Q: excellent, but
All I am is this; wife
All?
surely not all, but – I am this; wife

SM: Thanks! I’m curious — are you familiar with the Silapathikaram? In context, the idea of Kannagi as simply human, a woman mad with grief, is something very much overlooked. Here in Tamil Nadu, she has been co-opted into various other roles — worshipped as a goddess, held up as a bastion of conservative chastity, as a bastion of radical feminism, a role model for citizen rights, criticized for weakness, glorified for strength… any number of grand meanings have been read into this character. But the commonplace anguish of a widow, extraordinary as the events told are, is what interested me when I set out to write this.