Rm Shanmugam Chettiar’s offering ‘Legendary Love’ tales of love is noteworthy and engaging. It is universal in appeal and sweep. It is near to the heart of everyone. He seems to work at many levels so that love tales of different countries appear comparable, rational, tempting and true at the experiential and experimental level. Love has varied connotations within a single mind but when one takes up feelings and thoughts of many men and women in love, he has to function at different backdrops with some obvious imperfections. None can make unambiguous statement on love not even those celebrities who appear as ideal men but here, they are frail human beings with genuinely anticipated flaws.
Human mind is the same everywhere but its focus on a specific subject also differs and drives to contrasting interpretative raggedness, perhaps to delicacy in shade, phrase and nuances of love. Love takes birth with a human being with age-oriented feats and effects sans any bearing to relation, ethics or culture, which is a later orientation in a civilized society. Love occupies, in fact, the entire space in the region of mind and extends itself to the physical structure of a human being.
The poet appears conscious of the mind’s wayward sprawling, which infuses strength to write on love exclusively for the pleasure and knowledge of those, who are usually reticent, hesitant and introvert in expression and those of course, who love to enjoy multiple descents of love even without being aware of it. The feelings of love visit even socially prohibited areas. Love is a union between two souls, and it is a physical union too. It is divine ecstasy as well and eternal even if it is transitory at the other level. One cannot rule out or ignore its spiritual dimensions (a matter of perception) that exist between man and wife or a beloved. Physical union is not the only reason of fury and war, even at times, love at the ethereal level causes disturbance.
Relations between man and woman if mature in union it is creation, a very sacred function, many religions say. When it is wrongly understood, it leads to sin, guilt and penitence driving many to jealousy, hatred, treachery, murder, disloyalty, discord in the family, society and at times, lethal war.
Once Diti, a spouse of sage Kasyapa, the lord of the Created Beings appeared before the sage and expressed the desire to have progeny. The moment she chose for union was inauspicious sage told her. After immense persuasion, sage Kasyapa agreed …and as he prophesied earlier, Diti gave birth to two mighty sons Hiranyakasipu and Hiranyaksa (who were sentinels in earlier life of lord Vishnu, a Hindu god), the mighty Daityas. They wanted to govern the three worlds and the rest is cause of continuous conflicts –an eternal struggle between the good and the bad- the gods and the Daityas.
Things have not changed even now. When I took up this book, an Authorspress Publication 2021, all these thoughts flashed and materialized as I moved from one tale to another…? Rm Shanmugam Chettiar is still active at 79 as a writer, philosopher, poet, editor, translator and social reformer and writes on love, life, ethics, religion and social justice. He has published forty-one books on various subjects and further published four books more namely - The role of the Soul and Body, Love poems (She alone can Judge from Orange Books Pub.), Other Woman –love poems and The Mistress including more than ten thousand verses posted online.
Chettiar goes beyond the borders and takes up stories of love from different countries – fifteen tales of love are from Mythologies, thirteen stories from early History of Humankind and then, eight stories belong to the group of Love. He included seven stories from Recent History and then, the collection has fourteen stories from Contemporary Times and to this, the author added six Erotic poems. To enjoy the lyrically composed tales on love is good if one goes into the background of love the lover had for his beloved or vice-verse.
It would be interesting for the readers to enjoy a few lines from some selected love poems.
The first poetic offering is from Greek Mythology. Oedipus, legendary king of Thebes 31, whose life was tragic as he unknowingly killed his father and married his mother Jocasta and the sin brought immense tragedy to the family and the country because of incestuous relationship. He comes to know of a great sin and suffers –
The tension mounted and the truth revealed.
He was son of King Lains, whom he killed.
He married the king’s wife Jocasta,
With knowing that she was his mother.
Oedipus must not know about his origin,
Which would reveal her relation to him
She met her death, a proper end off incest
He takes up the legend of Radha and Krishna 106 - a Hindu Hero from the dynasty of Yadus - an incarnation of lord Vishnu, and Radha is the imaginary beloved - a theoretical creation –a sheer conjecture. However, when Narada’s a celestial sage, visits the palaces of Krishna he finds his sixteen thousand odd queens in their separate palaces (chambers) with Krishna with each of them at the same time, makes it all the more mystifying (Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana –here, the poet refers to Gita Govinda) –
Radha is Krishna’’s love in the people mind
Radha and Krishna in a romantic love
Is portrayed by dance, folklore and paintings
For the people to enjoy sexually
Similar scenario one finds in the Divine Play –Raas Leela of the great lord. At another place he says -
Radha-Krishna relationship is holy,
Radha is seen as an individual soul
Longing for the Supreme for a merger.
Radha is found to be the quest of love.
Here, Radha is a beloved, a soul who seeks deliverance and so finally, it is merger with the Supreme –a devotee concentrates on the lord for his union with the Supreme Spirit, the lord. It is underlining thought in many of Indian legends.
Next, Chettiar talks of ‘’Cleopatra’s Glory 123,’ an Egyptian princess who became a co-ruler with younger brother after the death of her father. Later, this woman of terrific beauty fell in love with Caesar.
Cleopatra after the death of her father became the co-ruler with her brother, as was the tradition in Egypt. She was a great beauty of her age. Later, Caesar and Cleopatra were lovers. It was his great flaw and he later, stood eliminated. In fact, Caesar’s love for the queen became his weakness and later, she ran away from Egypt and Antony became the king. His courage and gallantry attracted Cleopatra and she became his queen. They loved each other with intensity. She was the world for him. Therefore, this love invited enemies to attack Egyptian sea, and after a violent war, Antony was defeated. The poet observes –
The majestic queen became the captive.
False news spread that she was killed. Shocked,
Antony killed himself with the sword he wore.
She sought to bury him with state honour.
He quotes lines of W. Shakespeare from the play –
Age cannot wither her, not custom stale
Her infinite variety; other women cloy …
Earlier the poet says –
A woman can love as much in succession.
Widowhood is not an impediment
And the land after the harvest is not waste.
Cleopatra is a perfect example
Thus, he celebrates love unequivocally with a few question marks.
Andal, the Mystic 135 is a female saint from South India (Tamil) and they believe she is an incarnation of goddess Bhudevi who carries a tale that other saints found Andal as a small child in the garden of Tulsi –Andal is spouse of lord Vishnu. These saints praised Supreme lord Vishnu and his embodiment Krishna, a Yadu from Dwaraka who showers love and compassion on his devotees. The poet tells her legend in a long poetic rendering. Look at the words Andal says as if in prayer (Like the gopis of Vraja who implore before Krishna not to leave them alone for they cannot bear separation from him) –
Who in this world is there to console me
Unstrung and broken by that black bull
Of the cattle yard, who lorded it over all?
Bring the nectar, which never sates from his mouth;
Don’t let it go dry, O feed me with it,
And make me get well. Bind my innocent breasts
To His shoulders so that the guilt of His
Betrayal by that bondage is atoned.
The poet in Rm Shanmugam Chettiar is a perceptive man, who selects love stories meticulously, and that makes the difference. Next, he talks of a Babylonian love tale of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe,’ the boy and the girl are neighbours whose parents are sworn enemies and rivals so this love never matures. After great efforts, Thisbe plans to meet him near a tomb under a mulberry tree. The young man is late and when she arrives, a hungry lioness terrifies and so to save life she runs away but leaves behind her blood soaked clock. After sometime, the boy Pyramus arrives, who looks at the bloody clock of his beloved and thinks the lioness must have killed her and therefore, out of utter shock, he falls on his sword and ends his life, and thus, destiny had its prey. He poetically says –
His killing himself had caused a splash of blood
That stained the white mulberry fruits dark purple.
After a while Thisbe came back to the site,
Where she saw his body in the pool of blood
Racked with agony beyond her control,
She took her lover’s sword and threw her body
Onto it and ended her life with him.
The deaths off the both are the play of fate.
At times, fiction is stranger that truth. ‘Anarkali 174’ a beautiful girl - a courtesan from Lahore falls in love with Prince Jahangir. Emperor Akbar does not approve of their love and despite pleas he surrounds her alive with walls around and so she suffocates to death. No historical evidence is available but this love story had been the subject of films and books. The crown prince rebelled against the powerful father king and went against his wishes. In a gruesome battle with the mighty forces, he was defeated and later, sentenced to death. Anarkali did not want that the prince should face death and so, she declared that she no more loved him. However, the mighty Akbar decided to suffocate her to death and…
... Anarkali renounced
Her love to save her lover from the death
Yet she was entombed alive for her love.
The love episode was in their teenage.
The heartbroken Salim lived to be the king
In the year sixteen naught five and later married
Nur Jahan after seeing her widowhood
Salim built a rich tomb for Anarkali.
He also speaks about a famous dancer Mata Hari (Born 1876), who had an unfortunate end. She loved and loved intensely many men of fame, who were strong and …Her strong sexual desire pushed her to men whom she enslaved and seduced, and made use of them for different purposes. Strong arms she loved and the poet tells us that earlier she had lost her virginity to her Headmaster and later, turned out a ‘notorious spy’. Mata Hari (Margaretha Geertruida Macleod) was a striking Dutch dancer, who was a spy but some believe she was simple and not guilty. She knew many languages and cultivated intimate relationship with physically strong men of substance mostly from the military including some famous men. Her charming and quixotic nature drove her to undercover work and intrigues during the World War I and so none could protect her despite many links with the powerful men.
The poet in his lyric traces her career beautifully and thus, the life of Mata Hari stuns everyone for the reason that she rose to such a towering role of spy that none could stand before her mysterious and outstanding beauty. In due course of time, she turned into a dangerous seductress when there were signs of imminent First World War.
She had a liaison with an opera composer
And became the mistress of the wealthy
Alfred Kiepert and lived with him for three years.
While in Berlin, she was also the mistress
Of one of the chief of police. She vanquished
Her dance competitors by year nineteen naught six.
For several more years Mata Hari
Roamed dancing being lauded by the press
However, the journey continued amidst fun while her secret activities continued. Lot of money exchanged hands and she often offered herself…to dupe and elicit information relating to national import, security etc.
She accused of spying for Germany,
Was tried and shot dead in nineteen seventeen.
Men who caused her death must be impotent
Observed the poet while talking of her death for the crimes she committed of which many were unaware.
He wrote some good verses on the love affairs of contemporary celebrities. His love verse on Bangali Beauty Sonali Dasgupta touches heart. A tragic tale of love ultimately ends on a heartrending note. She fell in love with Rossellini aged 57 when she was twenty-seven. It was in early fifties of last century. Her husband a filmmaker had asked her to assist Rossellini from Italy when he was planning to make a documentary on India.
Discomfited and yet flattened
By the attention Rossellini lavished
She…succumbed to his charm
And slipped into his arm and then bed.
She had to desert her family
And elope with no other way left,
As he had conceived illicitly
She gave birth to female child.
During this period, she found exceptional charm in him and later, ran away with him. She had a child from him, settled in Rome and never returned. She lived as an Indian woman dressed in saris etc and spent life with poise. Her husband a poor man during the last years of life and second son died during this period while her daughter espoused Islam and ran away. At last, she died alone but none knew how.
He says –
Her first husband dies in penury.
She died alone, alone; who knows how?
In all, he talks about fourteen love affairs of celebrities from Edwina Mountbatten to Kamasutra, all interesting revealing love and passion of famous men and women irrespective of the status they held in life.
Next, he takes up Kama sutra, an ancient Indian classic treatise written in Sanskrit, which is an instructional discourse on the art of sex. It speaks eloquently about the physical, emotional and sexual relations between man and woman. However, Sex in human life overrides all other pleasures human beings obtain in life and many a time, they care little for ethical aspects.
Poet says –
Sex is ridden with passion
When lovers come together
Or return after a long gap.
Sex is uninhibited
When the spouses make love
When mutual trust prevailing.
Thereafter he takes up love life from various aspects and tries to reveal the mental and physical attitude of male and female in different environment. He speaks on the art of impressing and winning over a woman who turns away. Whatever he writes, he writes with authority, confidence and passion with stylish restraint and keeps grace in idiom, nuances and language.
In addition to the love tales, he with some possible self-control, maybe exercising linguistic discipline at that moment, offers some erotic lyrics at the end of book. Undoubtedly, he keeps the book exciting readers of all ages would like to read and enjoy with a little amount of withdrawn and blushing humility. That way a seasoned poet adds new dimensions to Kama Sutra. A literary offering on love it is keeping aside moral views, from the pen of a seasoned love poet.