I remember Khal Drogo from A game of thrones referring to the Khaleesi as ‘my moon’, she using ‘my sun and stars’ in return. If you grew up reading English novels, it will sound natural. After all, sun and stars shine on their own, moon does not. I couldn’t ever digest it completely for two reasons. One, the inherent sexism slipped in stealthily. Two, sun and moon are male for me – and stars female.
‘చందమామ’ (moon-uncle) is how we refer to moon in Telugu. Our relationship with moon is a playful one. Moon-uncle is famously a patient listener. Full-moon also takes the place of the prince charming that young maidens are supposed to wait for, and tales of their longing involve talking to moon-maama. But wait, maama is not equivalent to uncle – a girl can marry her maama and girls used to lovingly call their mates maama in old times. In order to fully understand the word maama, you need to understand how Telugu kinship works [see bonus material below].
‘చక్కని చుక్క (good-looking star)’ refers to a beautiful girl. And then there are the love stories of moon and night-lilies. Even if you take the religious-Sanskrit based imagery, moon and sun are planets and all planets are male; Stars are predominantly female – Arundhati, Revati, Krttika, Aswini, Rohini, Swati are all still used as girls’ names. The only male stars I can think of are Dhruva (Polaris) and the seven sages (Ursa Major).
But my confusion doesn’t stop there – there are many other English metaphors that didn’t make any sense to me until I was 20 or so. For instance, take the weather-metaphors.
Bonus material: Telugu kinship system
Rule 1. On the Telugu-land, all your relatives can be placed into two buckets – one is a brotherly/paternally related (A) and the second is spousely/maternally related (B). You can marry only someone from B, despite being closely related or of different generations. So you are typically flirty-teasing with opposite gendered people in B and playful with same gendered ones in B.
Rule 2: The family structure is totally patriarchal. Once a girl gets married, she belongs to her in-law’s family.
Rule 3: Generation/age difference doesn’t really matter in love. Girl is usually younger but that’s not a rule.
Rule 4: rule 2 has to be kept in mind when categorizing your mother’s relatives into A or B.
Rule 5: If two sisters get married, their in-laws’ families are now brotherly to each other.
We’ll now see an example. Your mother’s brother falls into B. Why? Because your father married someone from their family. Your father’s brother is in A. Your mother’s sister’s husband is A, your mother’s sister’s son/daughter is A. Your mother’s brother is B. Your sister’s son/daughter is B. (Get why?) Okay this is getting complicated – let’s try graphically. Look at the picture above.
- I am aware I should be considering a trans moon, but, we are only talking about traditional paradigms in language.
- The system is extremely patriarchal – I know. Sad thing.