I just woke up from a dream where people were looking at a newly published book in English, and on one of the introductory dedication pages of the book was the translation of a Tamil poem. Both the book and the poem were as imaginary as the dream itself, but the first verse caught my attention and filled my senses:
I feel the loneliness of a flame lily,
with its tendrils twisting, reaching out into the void
to hold on, but feeling nothing.
I can still remember that day in Puthumaathalaan,
I can see the sky full of fiery hail, I can feel
the heat of the summer sun in May. I know that
I can stand at the water’s edge and still
not be able to smell the ocean.
I don’t know how poetic the above lines are, but it’s certainly more than what I can muster up when awake. In the dream, these lines start at the 2nd line and go to the end of the first stanza. Don’t remember the first line except that it was also “I feel the ______” about something else. There were 4 equal size stanzas total. I think the title was “Ode to a Flame Lily” or something like that.
In the dream, what got me to start reading this poem starting at the 2nd line onwards was the comment made in front of me by one friend to another that, “It was so clever of the translator to use the word ‘loneliness’ here.” The word in the Tamil original actually meant “fire” or “anger”, but the cleverness was two-fold: “loneliness” was an acceptable substitute of a word in the fact that it also accurately conveyed how the Tamil people feel, and that the rest of the world would be more likely to remain sympathetic if you are lonely in the face of tragedy rather than angry. The implied understanding is that Tamil people feeling angry in the face of their tragedy would be seen as threatening, no matter how justified.* I didn’t remember the original Tamil word in question, if it was even revealed to begin with.
Of course, in reality, I can’t think of a word in Tamil that can obviously pass for both “anger” and “loneliness”. கோபம் / சினம் would be anger, தனிமை is alone / loneliness. The closest thing might be எரிச்சல், which means frustration / annoyance, and the phrase வயிற்று எரிச்சல் (with the adjectival form of வயிறு, which means stomach) means frustration from a sense of helplessness. The root of எரிச்சல் is எரி, which is a verb that means to burn, and எரிச்சல் is constructed as one of the noun forms of the verb.
* As I write this, there are city curfews across the US in response to the large scale rioting across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd and others.