Editor's Note

I love the way you lie

Print edition : February 26, 2021

‘Thiruvilayadal Puranam’ is a collection of 64 Saivaite devotional stories written by the Tamil sage Paranjothi Munivar in the sixteenth century extolling the exploits of Siva in various disguises on earth. In one of the episodes, made famous by the Sivaji Ganesan starrer Thiruvilayadal, the god, Siva, appears as a poet in Madurai, the headquarters of the Pandya kingdom where the king Shenbaga Pandian has announced a prize of 1,000 gold coins to anyone who clears his doubt—whether women’s tresses have a natural aroma.

Dharumi, an impoverished and not-so-gifted poet, goes to the Meenakshi Amman Temple and soliloquises, blaming himself for his inability to write a verse that would clear the king’s doubt and win the prize. He appeals for help to Chokkanatha (Siva), goddess Meenakshi’s consort. Siva appears before Dharumi in the guise of a poet and hands over to him a scroll containing a poem that says that, indeed, women’s tresses have a natural aroma. Dharumi rushes to the king’s court and reads out the poem. A highly pleased king decides to hand over the bag of coins to Dharumi. Then, Nakkeeran, a much revered leader of the poets of the Tamil Sangam, tells the king that the poem is faulty and objects to the prize being handed over to Dharumi. A humiliated Dharumi goes to the temple and delivers another soliloquy ruing his misfortune. ‘Poet’ Siva again presents himself before Dharumi and, on hearing that another poet had found fault with his poem, rushes to the court to confront Nakkeeran. A heated argument ensues, with Nakkeeran asserting that the premise of the poem—that women’s tresses have a natural aroma—is wrong. The truth, he says, is that the aroma comes from the perfumes and flowers that women wear. Siva reveals his divine self and, in his rage, opens the third eye on his forehead. But an unruffled Nakkeeran stands his ground, saying,“even if you are the three-eyed god and even if you open your third eye to punish me, what you wrote is wrong”. Soon laser-like rays emanate from Siva’s third eye to singe Nakkeeran, who runs out and plunges himself into a pond. Then, as he emerges from the water, Nakeeran sees a pacified Siva, who tells him that it was but only a divine game (‘Thiruvilayadal’), “meant to play with his Tamil”.

Speaking truth to power seems to have been a virtue in this land many centuries ago. Now, ironically, under a government run by a party that blurs the line between myth and history, Nakkeerans are singed with sedition cases even as Dharumis continue to thrive by parroting gods’ messages. And the ‘gods’ are not as generous or gracious as Siva was. They think that a tweet can violate a country’s sovereignty, expression of an opinion is an act of sedition, uncritical acceptance of whatever they peddle as development is patriotism, a social media post is capable of bringing down the dignity of the judiciary, a litany of imagined wrongs of the past is history, any protest action is an attempt to derail democracy, eating beef is an insult to religious sensibilities, a peaceful farmers’ protest is separatist in character and covering the protest truthfully is unpatriotic, and so on.

In this republic of intolerance and inanity, the fourth pillar of democracy is being shaken by a fifth column—turning a blind eye to the excesses of maximum governance.

To put things in perspective, quoting from a song rendered by Rihanna on domestic violence (no pun intended), at the risk of offending sovereign sensibilities and patriotic passion, will be in order.

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn

Well that's alright, because I like the way it hurts

Just gonna stand there and hear me cry

Well that's alright, because I love the way you lie

I love the way you lie

In this age of unreason, truth-telling, identifying what is right and wrong, and taking a stand, Nakkeran-style, are the only principles that could help bring the country back in line with the letter and spirit of its Constitution.


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