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red earth & pouring rain

I remember reading this poem in my library at school on a poster. I then saw it on the London underground. I read Vikram Chandra’s book ‘red earth and pouring rain’, curious about how he’d related with this piece of writing attributed to an anthology composed close to 2000 years ago! Chandra isn’t the only one who drew inspiration from these words - it has even made its way into the lyrics of a british folk rock band’s title track for an album. Imagine!

This poem was so popular that the poet who wrote it gained the moniker “Sempulapeyaneerar” - immortalising him as "poet of the red earth and pouring rain" or "he of water that has rained on red fields”.

What is it that makes a piece of writing timeless? Why is it that Shakespeare’s plays are performed over and over again, adapted and rewritten in a thousand different tongues, reenacted in contexts that are timezones apart from the “original”? why does my heart still stop, and why do my eyes still moisten when I read about this impossible love? this “mingling"? I like to imagine Sempulapeyaneerar sitting at the edge of the field, smelling the rain drenched earth. waiting. waiting to meet his beloved - a meeting that the time forbade. It is not difficult to imagine the barriers - caste, class, kinship group, tribe, religion.

Just yesterday, this country wanted to #boycottmuslims. It would have been ridiculously funny, if it were not true. There was another trending thread #prophetofcompassion that resisted the Hindutva call for boycott. The “anti-national” Umar Khalid contributed to this thread and was trolled by both right-wing bigots, and by “left-liberal” intellectuals (for betraying communism). whatever that means.

It is important to acknowledge the vision, leadership and fearlesness of Umar, and see that his message of compassion, invoking the Prophet Muhammad is not very different from the Sangam poets.

I hope to live in a world one day where lovers can meet, and we can mingle with each other, every one of us, like red earth and putting rain...

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