Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sharing Memoirs of His Nondescript Kongu Hamlet

C.Subramaniam, Former Vice - Chancellor, Tamil University, Thanjavur 

In his poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, famed English poet Thomas Gray mourns the death of the common people as he comes across a country churchyard in an evening. Finding no difference between the great and common, Gray even assumes that there might be someone like John Milton, Oliver Cromwell and John Hampden among the dead villagers, whose talents had never been discovered, for they were simply folks of the countryside. From a similar angle as Gray viewed the rustic people, a poet from the Kongu region shares his memoirs on the people of his village people in his book Mamaraththupatti. And the poet is none other C.Subramaniam, former registrar of Bharathiyar University and retired Vice-chancellor of Tamil University, Thanjavur.

The hamlet 'Mamaraththupatti' in the present day Tirupur district is my native. In my book of poems on the same title, I have remembered a few, great people, who have left an indelible mark on me” says C.S, as C.Subramaniam is popularly called in Coimbatore.

While introducing the arid village C.S says:

Despite its name being ' Mamarathupatti' ( A village of mango trees), the village hardly has any trees. And I wonder how it was named so”

But, Sirpi Balasubramaniam, a two-time Sahitya Akademi award winning poet of Coimbatore, who has penned the foreword to the book, assumes the answers for C.S's question.

It is surprising that the village ' Mamarathupatti' has few trees. Still, it could have got the name after a rare event, in which a mango tree must have grown somewhere there! ”

Though the book is about a nondescript hamlet in the Kongu region, Sirpi commends C.S for making it distinctive by introducing its sons of the soil in the background of their anecdotes in his book of poems.

A busy educationist, heading a number of schools and colleges in the city, C.S informs that he could find a little time to write the book while he was at his daughter's home in the US recently.

Writing a book on my native village Mamarathupatti had been my long-time wish. The characters you come across in my book are real men and women of my village, alive or dead today. Their ethical life style,culture and sincerity inspired me to pen the book” says C.S.

The book Mamarathupatti, which has as many as 24 chapters, includes the author's memoirs on a traditional midwife, who helped his mother deliver the child. Interestingly, soon after the baby boy (C.Subramaniam) was born, the birth worker had to attend to another pregnant woman, who delivered a baby girl just after an hour from C.S's birth. And now, the baby-boy and baby-girl are the elderly couple C.Subramaniam and Chellam Subramaniam – the husband and wife, who met the coincidence of sharing their birthday!

Writing a chapter on Periyaa Nadar, a coconut palm climber, C.S recalls:

Periya Nadar would always be bare-chested. If you observed the bruises on his body, you could certainly say the number of trees he climbed. A diehard fan of the Tamil matinee idol and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G Ramachandran, Nadar, one day, watched the evening show of M.G.R's 1955 box office hit Gulebakavali at the touring talkies in the village Arikaran Valasu. The film, which portrays the hero's fight with a tiger, had a different effect on Nadar. As we headed to the same film for the night show, the innocent Periyaa Nadar told us that we would not watch M.G.R's fight with the tiger in the night show. Because, the hero had killed the animal in the evening show itself ! “ 

Link to a small publication of this story in The New Indian Express: 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Introducing the Unorthodox Spiritual World of Siddhas

Ignorant people, who are in the rat race of modern life, can opt out of the meaningless struggle for material, if they read and enjoy a few interesting songs by Pambatti Siddhar, one of the unorthodox saints, who practised a revolutionary form of spirituality against the established religious doctrines in Tamil Nadu. Though most Coimbatoreans have been to the 'Pambatti Siddhar Cave' on Marudhamalai, many know little on his life, contributions and attainment of Samadhi in the cave.

The term 'Siddha' has different synonyms to mean the wisest man, for 'Sidh' means wisdom” explains S. Sethupathi, who has authored the Tamil book Sindhai Kavarntha Siddhar Padalkal ( Inspiring poems of the Siddhas)

An author of over 50 Tamil books, Sethupathi is currently a professor of Tamil in Bharathidasan Government College for Women, Puducherry. His book Sinthai Kavarntha Siddhar Paadalkal is a compilation of poems by as many as 24 Siddhas. Of them, a verse by Pambatti Siddhar parodies the short- lived material pleasures of people.

Eminent poet and bilingual translator M.L Thangappa has rendered the poem into English for Parai, an anthology of Tamil literature edited by modern Tamil poet Pothiyaverpan. It reads thus:

Storeyed mansions
Decorated halls
Fortressed castles and palaces
Do not accompany one
After life is gone.
People who know this
Do not cherish those things
But look upon them with disdain.
Declare this to the world, O snake

Though the world does not know the natural name of the unorthodox saint, it is interesting to note that he got the name ' Pambatti Siddhar', as he could once be a snake charmer by profession. Some other researchers on Siddha literature view it from a different angle and opine that it could be due to the refrain in his poems ' O snake', as, at the end of every stanza, he orders the serpent to take his philosophy to people.

In addition to the poems, Sethupathi has also provided short biographical sketches of the Siddhas as he heard from people and read from legends, for no historical documentation was done on their lives.

Legend has it that Pambatti Siddhar was once a snake charmer. One day, he had gone deep into the woods looking for a king cobra, which had a ruby in it. But, there, he came across a mystic, whose name was Sattai Muni. The mystic, with a tinge of philosophy, asked the snake charmer why he had come in search for the serpent, while it is already within his body ! Then he explained to him that every human body is a forest, inside which a cobra dwells. Its name is Kundalini, the potential power which is believed to lie coiled ( like a snake) at the base of one's spine” says Sethupathi.

It is also believed that Kundalini is awakened through meditation and other yogic exercises for attaining enlightenment.

The snake charmer accepted Sattai Muni as his guru and listened to his 'upathesams'. Then having learned all austerities from him, the snake charmer did penance for years and finally became a 'Siddha'. Hence he came to be called 'Pambatti Siddhar' ” explains Sethupathi. 

Link to a short, edited write-up in The New Indian Express : 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Imbibing Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets in Tamil

 How is the translation of their languages
Arranged with the birds?
- Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

As a boy, Pa.Gunasekar would run errands for the DMK founder C.N.Annadurai, whenever the leader visited Coimbatore. Anna would call the 15 year-old boy and ask him to hire a horse cart,in which he and his party colleague E.V.K.Sampath traveled on the streets of Coimbatore to address public meetings.

An author of as many as 24 books, Gunasekar is 80 years old.
Pa.Gunasekar - Picture shot by A.Raja Chidamparam

We lived just opposite the house of the couple Krishnasamy and Gandhimathi in R.S.Puram. Gandhimathi, a teacher of Mathematics, was the daughter of Kannammal, Periyar E.V.Ramasamy's younger sister. And Krishnasamy was a cousin of E.V.K.Sampath. During those days, I have seen Anna and Sampath stay in their house and go to the Rainbow cinema in an Oldsmobile car to watch English films” recalls Gunasekar.

After enjoying an evening show at Rainbow, the Dravidian stalwarts traveled to 'Chidamparam Poonga' ( V.O.C.Park) in a horse cart and addressed the public meetings there” reminisces Gunasekar, who also penned a book Perarignar Anna Oru Pugazh Gopuram – His memoirs on C.N.Annadurai.

The leader, whom people addressed as 'Tamil Nadu's Bernard Shaw' for his memorable plays, staged many of them including Chandiramohan, Or Iravu, Vandikaran Mahan and Needhi
Devan Mayakkam at the R.S.Puram Boys High School.

In Needhi Devan Mayakkkam, I have seen Anna even donning the role of Ravana, the Lankan Tamil king, who is depicted as a villain in the Ramayana “ remembers Gunasekar.

Though Gunasekar's earlier inspiration was C.N.Annadurai, his world of letters has crossed new horizons and brought valuable pieces of world literature to Tamil.

Gunasekar, who earlier rendered a number of Latin American poems into Tamil and compiled them in his book Kannadigalai Vizhungum Kannnadi ( A mirror that swallows mirrors), has now come out with another work Kaadhal Oru Minnal Por ( Love, a lightning war) – his translation of poems from 100 Love Sonnets, a book written by the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda.

An avid reader of literature, Gunasekar says that his life is synonymous with books.

Whenever I had a compulsion of visiting a relative's home in a distant town, I don't stay there for long hours, but rather go to a nearby library and spend my time there. Even when I visit my son's home in Florida in the US, I take a bus to Orlando to reach a public library . During one such visit to the library, I translated many of the Latin American poems from the books available there” informs Gunasekar.

Evaluating Gunasekar's recent translation of Pablo Neruda, popular Tamil periodical Kumudham has commended him saying that he has honoured Neruda by rendering his verse in a lucid Tamil language.

The art of translating poetry is not a job of looking for equivalent words by browsing through bilingual dictionaries and thesauruses. But it is an art of carefully fetching a poet's emotion from one language to another “ signs off Gunasekar.

Link to the article in The New Indian Express: