Saturday, 28 December 2019

The Writers of Verse and Vendors of Tamil

In the wedding parties of Coimbatore, enjoying a concert or an instrumental programme is not something uncommon. In the digital era, there are a number of service providers, who would arrange such shows of entertainments if contacted. But, around three decades ago, when quality Tamil poetry was let loose to be recited as Pudhukavithai (Free verse) in Kaviarangams (Poetry reading sessions) and comedy shows conducted in the name of Pattimandrams (Debates), there was a man, who claimed himself as a poet and orator.  Like a service provider for a Nadaswaram – Tavil programme for a wedding party, he distributed even his visiting cards, which mentioned his name with the ‘poet ‘tag’ and a line below it informing that he would ‘arrange’ Kaviarangams and Pattimandrams. This curious act of the man in the then literary world of Coimbatore annoyed some serious writers, who commented on him asking “Is he a poet or a broker?”  But in reality, such ‘poets cum brokers’ still exist on earth.    
Before the advent of social networks like Facebook, WhatsApp and Blog, a city-based Tamil poet, who hailed from a poverty-stricken family, was writing verses just out of his passion for Tamil literature. With his exceptional talents in composing both traditional and modern Tamil poetry, he had a wish to share the dais with ‘eminent’ litterateurs and read out his beautiful verses in a Kaviarangam. Nevertheless, the poet was at the mercy of one such ‘poet cum broker’, who would recommend only his yes-men to take part in the literary events.  This middle man of the literary world created even a profession for himself by swindling much money out of the sponsorship. The ‘poet cum broker’ threw meager sums as ‘honorariums’ at his puppets.  
But the ardent poet cherished a long time dream of participating in the Coimbatore’s popular literary festival ‘Kamban Vizha’. As any Coimbatorean knows, the gala literary fest would be filled with sessions of discussions, debates and poetic tributes on the great Tamil poet Kamban.. With the audience of the festival being mostly the well off, the poor poet longed to win their hearts. By doing so, he believed that he could carve a niche for himself in the Tamil literary world.  At last, his participation in the Kamban Vizha Kaviarangam was a dream come true.  But the price he paid for the opportunity was his ‘yes-man service’ to the ‘poet cum broker’.
Though many innocent poets in the past and present failed to discover the commodity value of the concepts in Tamil literature, the ‘poets cum brokers’ did it. They sell the concepts from the eternal works as Thirukkural and Sangam literature by quoting them in their speeches delivered for lucrative remunerations.  Such sellers of Tamil are sometimes conferred upon ‘honorary doctorates’ by certain renowned universities, whose addresses can hardly be found even by Google!  
The small- scale sellers of Tamil are open about their venture and earnings.  May the classical Tamil language pardon them for their honesty! But there are some, who attempt to sell even the land of Tamils, and that too using the philosopher –poet Thiruvalluvar.
Eminent linguist Devaneya Pavanar, who traced the history of Thiruvalluvar, says that the philosopher-poet must be a wise man with astounding knowledge of Astronomy. As the expression ‘Valluvan’ drops a hint to Pavanar, the linguist says that Thiruvalluvar must have been in the profession of writing almanacs and horoscopes.
Like Thiruvalluvar, Sangam age poet Kaniyan Poongundranar too, who is famed for his line ‘Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir’ (All towns are ours. Everyone is our kin), must have been a writer of almanacs and horoscopes, as his title ‘Kaniyan’ reveals. Still, he failed to predict the fate of the two minor ‘citizens’, who were killed in police firing during the anti-CAB protests in Guwahati.
B.Meenakshi Sundaram    

The Bus stop edition of Coimbatore history

As a boy, late friend Sreepathy Padmanaba, was traveling in a city bus on Trichy Road. When the bus halted at a particular stop, to his great surprise, Sreepathy wondered how the bus conductor had known his name and asked him to get down ‘Sreepathy Erangu’. The departed poet and translator  recalled the irony in one of his books as how he mistook the conductor’s words, when the latter only asked the passengers to get down at ‘Sreepathy’ – the bus stop after the famed  yesteryear cinema. Despite the disappearance of Sreepathy and the functioning of a popular departmental store at its place, a commoner, who travels on a city bus, buys a ticket only to ‘Sreepathy’.
In explaining the reason behind place names, not all Coimbatoreans are poets, but their imagination is sometimes richer than that of poets. If not, how could a college-day friend of this writer explain the etymology of Oppanakara Street in such a beautiful fashion!
For most of us, the Coimbatoreans, it is a walk down memory lane to recall how our fathers, the sole breadwinners of the family, took us to Townhall to purchase groceries and vegetables every month after drawing their salary. We, the children, walked on the pavement beside the busy Big Bazaar Street held by the caring hands of our mothers. With our mouths wide open at the majestic buildings of Royal and Carnatic cinemas, we were led through the crowded streets and lanes of Coimbatore.
For the friend, one such street that made him curious was Oppanakara Street, and he should have mused on its meaning for years.  Later on, like a quiz master, he presented a question to his college mates.  
“You know how Oppanakara Veedhi got its name?
Arousing interest, he then disclosed the answer.
“Long ago, a man, who looked at the busy shops and the tall buildings on both sides of the street, is said to have cried in surprise “Oh! Panakara Veedhi” (Oh! it is a rich street). From then on, it came to be called so and later got corrupted from Oh Panakara Veedhi to Oppanakara Veedhi!”
But his etymology was unacceptable to another history enthusiast, who had been caught in the illusion that Coimbatore was once a royal city, ruled by great kings and queens, who were clad in elaborate clothing, wore dazzling jewels and put on heavy make-up.
He explained:
“Oppanakara Street is a corruption of ‘Oppanai Kaarar Veedhi’, since it was once a colony of Oppanaikarar, whose vocation was giving make-up to Rajas and Ranis”
Lending ears to his tale, one cannot help wishing that Coimbatore could be such a royal town!
But Kovai Kizhar, one of the pioneers of writing the history of Coimbatore, cracked this puzzle on Oppanakara Street.
“The street was named after ‘Oppanagarars’, who were a clan of the Balija community. During the Vijayanagara rule, they were the authorities to disburse money (Oppuviththu Tharuthal) in the market. As they lived on this street, it came to be called as ‘ Oppanagara Veedhi’
The streets, bus stops and localities of Coimbatore were not named by anyone, but came to be called naturally after their respective geographies. The localities Avarampalayam and Poolaimedu (Peelamedu) are still called so, though there are hardly any Avaarampoo (Flower of Cassia auriculata ) and Poolaipoo (Aerva lanata)  today. Interestingly, the bus stop ‘Puliyakulam’ is not literally a ‘pond of tigers’. May God bless the man, who misspelled the word and misinterpreted tamarind as tiger!   
Sometimes, the old names of bus stops too change due to the changes in their geographies. Yesteryear Coimbatoreans called a bus stop as Ginning Factory, which we now mention Women’s Polytechnic.
Nevertheless, names of certain bus stops get registered in our minds despite whatever the ‘sociopolitical’ changes in their geographies. Such changes never bother to fool us.  
When a stranger asks you where Huzur Road is, you are sure to direct the person on the right way.
“Just take left at Anna Silai”

B.Meenakshi Sundaram 

Saturday, 14 December 2019

கனவுகளைத் தீயிலிட எண்ணமோ....

கனவுகளைத் தீயிலிட எண்ணமோ - என்றன்
கற்பனையைக் காலவெள்ளம் தின்னுமோ? - தடைகள்
ஆயிரத்தை உடைத்தெறிந்து ஆகாயம் தொடக்குதித்துப்
பொங்குமிந்தக் கடலுக்கா விலங்கு - என்றன்
விடுதலைக்குப் பேரொன்றை வழங்கு

பசிதீர்க்கப் பாடுவதா வேலை - எனக்குப்
பசிதீரப் பாடுவதே வாழ்க்கை - காலம்
புசிக்கின்ற இரையானேன் என்றென்னை நீநினைத்து
இடுகின்ற எக்காளம் வீணே - உலகை
இரையாக்கி தினமுன்பேன் நானே

நேர்வழியில் என்வாழ்க்கைப் பயணம் - அதனால்
நெஞ்சார வருமெனக்குச் சயனம் - உன்போல்
ஆள்காட்டிப் பிழைக்கின்ற அவமானம் உணராரே
இரவெல்லாம் துயிலின்றித் துடிப்பார் - சூழும்
இருட்டுள்ளும் ஒளியாக நடிப்பார்

கவிஞனென பூமிதனில் பிறந்தேன் - வாழ்வின்
கடைசிநொடி ரகசியமும் அறிந்தேன் - என்னைக்
கவலைக்கு உணவாக்கி கண்ணீரில் மூழ்கடித்து
புன்னகைக்க நினைக்கும்நீ பேதை - எனக்கு
பூமியெங்கும் வெற்றிகளின் பாதை

பாருயரப் பாடுகின்ற பறவைநான் - என்றன்
பாட்டெல்லாம் காற்றுரைக்கக் கரைவேன்நான் - இன்றென்
நிலைகேட்டு மழையாக அழுகின்ற மேகத்தின்
கண்ணீரை என்விரல்கள் துடைக்கும் - இந்தக்
கார்காலம் மீண்டுமெனைப் படைக்கும் 

- பா. மீனாட்சி சுந்தரம்

நீலநிற அலைகோதும் நெடுங்கடலில்...

நீலநிற அலைகோதும் நெடுங்கடலில் நீந்துமென்னை
நடுவானில் நின்றுகாணும் நிலா - நான்
கடலடியில் மூழ்காமல் கரையேற வேண்டுமென்று
என்னுடனே நீந்துமிந்த நிலா

நிலவெரியும் வைகறையின் நெருப்பிற்கு முன்பாக
நான்செல்ல வேண்டுமே வீடு - அங்கே
நீர்ததும்பும் விழியோடு நின்றிருக்கும் உயிருன்னைக்
கண்டுசொல்ல வேண்டுமென்றன் பாடு

பெருங்கடலில் படகோட்டி வாழ்கின்ற வாழ்விற்குள்
எதற்குன்னை நானழைத்து வந்தேன் - ஆழம்
அறியாத கடலுக்குள் அன்றாடம் மூழ்கிமூழ்கி
முத்தெடுத்து நானுனக்குத் தந்தேன்

காலையிலே இரைதேடக் கிளம்புகின்ற பறவைநான்
மாலையுன்றன் பசிதீர்த்து மகிழ்வேன் - இன்று
சிறகுடைந்த கிளியாகி சிறுபொந்தில் வசித்தாலும்
சீக்கிரமே நெடுவானில் மிதப்பேன்

உயிர்கலந்த உணர்வோடு உன்னிதழ்கள் உதிர்க்கின்ற
சொல்லெல்லாம் சொல்லென்றா சொல்வேன் ?- அதை
விதையாக்கி நான்தூவ வானெல்லாம் நெல்முளைக்கும்
அதிசயத்தை யாரிடத்தில் சொல்வேன் ?

- பா. மீனாட்சி சுந்தரம்

Caught in the Confusion of Colours

Colours give the world a charming look. The resplendent dawn bathes the earth in red-mixed orange. Within minutes, the vast sky turns blue with soft, white clouds wandering over it. Plants and trees wear green in the spring and turn yellow in the autumn. The withered, fallen yellow leaves give a golden coat to the ground. Flocks of birds with warbles on their completion of a day’s work fly back home in the gloomy yellow dusk. Now a thick black begins to envelop the earth. The evening lights it up with the bright moon and a galaxy of stars, which the famed Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz described as a ‘spiral staircase’ by which, the night comes down to earth. 
Colours deserve great respect for serving as identities to the people of different professions and political parties. However, people often exchange their colours, and sometimes even rob them from each other to their need,
Colours are innocent and do not know their colours. But people who wear them do.
School teachers impose the meanings of colours on the budding learners as white for purity, black for mourning, green for vegetation, red for danger, brown for drought and yellow for auspice. But, these colours are not always the same in colour. In the man-made world, colours play hide and seek by often changing their colours and confuse the participants in the game of discovering black in the white, white in the black, green in the brown, saffron in the black and black in the yellow. Researchers, who attempt to unmask such fake colours and reveal the real colours to the world are even gunned down, as they are ‘dangerously red’ to the society. 
In the European left world, red stands against class differences and represents an egalitarian society. In Kerala, the same bright red has to dim itself a little in front of the black-clad male devotees of Lord Ayyappa.
The Dravidian movement displays its flag of black with a red round in its middle. The red round hints at the struggle of socialism against the black, which symbolises superstitions, caste discriminations and other social evils.   .  
But the black robe worn by lawyers and judges gives them a sense of power as upholders of rights and justice. The innocence, goodness and purity of a common man, who hopes only in the justice, ought to be represented by the tidy white in a lawyer’s shirt. The legal practitioner’s white neck-band hints at its history from the two rectangular tablets used by Moses for inscribing the Ten Commandments, which, according to Christians, is the first example of a uniform coded law.
But the black is often worried about an unnatural colour, which steals into the dark rooms of the black, turns black all of a sudden and greedily gulps down the life-giving ‘red wine’.   
The next morning, a school child memorises the popular dramatic monologue The Patriot by Robert Browning
 “It was roses and roses all the way…”   

Link to my article 

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Good Walls seldom make Good Neighbours




B. Meenakshi Sundaram 

 American poet Robert Frost cast a cold eye on the walls that divide mankind literally and figuratively in his famed poem Mending Wall. The verse, with its ambiguous, but subtle character, has been understood from different perspectives ever since it appeared in the book North of Boston in 1914. The enduring poem has reflected such walls, particularly the Berlin Wall, which divided the capitalist Western from Communist Eastern Europe. But the wall, whose collapse has killed 17 people at Nadur in Mettupalayam, is just a ‘wall’ and nothing more than that.  The most surprising information, which the stories failed to highlight, was that the wall being taller than the Berlin Wall!  

Frost introduces two neighbours in his Mending Wall. Of them, one is against the concept of walls dividing people and the other believing in it for making good neighbours. Though it was difficult to discover Robert Frost’s stance on constructing walls, Lawrence Raab, a poet-critic, finally cracked the puzzle in a line from the poem “Something that undermines walls in winter is ‘frost’” Raab assumes that  Robert Frost, by using the word ‘frost ‘in the line, hints at his stance against constructing walls.

Walls have played active roles in dividing people and causing bloodshed on earth. According to the Illiad the high and steep walls of Troy withstood a ten-year siege by the Greeks. The walls must have watched the decade-long battle between the Greeks and Trojans resulting in numerous deaths. The Great Wall of China too developed from border fortifications and castles of individual Chinese kingdoms, which were with the threat of barbarian raids and invasions.

Still, some walls were beautiful as the mud-baked walls of a house, on which, the villagers, with candles and lanterns, threw their ‘giant scorpion shadows’ when they searched for a scorpion that stung a woman by the night in the popular poem Night of the Scorpian by Nissim Ezekiel.

Another mud-baked wall in a village took the glory of a Kongu folk epic to new horizons.

Brenda Beck, the Canadian anthropologist, who came to the village Olapalayam near Kangeyam in 1965, documented the complete Kongu folk epic – the Annanmar Kadhai. Titling it as The Legend of Ponnivala, she got the oral tale digitalized and made it available even in tabs and smart phones.

“I remember that there were about 50 people sitting in a semicircle on the ground and enjoying the performance of Annanmar Kadhai that night. As Olapalayam was an un-electrified village then, the folklorist performed the show in the light of a Theepantham (flambeau). I observed the vivid movements of his giant shadow fall on the wall behind him. The scene triggered an idea in me that I should make Annanmar Kadhai into an animated form some time in future” Beck said.


It is interesting to trace another wall on the eastern borders of Kongunadu.  The Chera, Chola and Pandya kings once held a meeting at Chellandiamman Temple at Madukkarai near  Kulittalai of Tiruchirapalli and built a rampart, stretching from Madukkarai till Kollimalai to demarcate their jurisdictions. Nevertheless, the myth-loving people of Tamil Nadu still believe that the                 ‘Madukkarai Wall’ was erected in an overnight by Goddess Chellandiamman !

Coimbatore too has a ‘Madukkarai’ on its western border. Located at the very opening of the Palakkad Gap, Madhukkarai, as its Tamil expression literally suggests, is not an ‘embankment of wine’, but corruption of ‘Madhil Karai’ (wall built to mark a region’s boundary). Like the Chellandiamman Temple at the Madukkarai of Kulittalai, the shrine of the same deity is found in the Madukkarai of Coimbatore too.

The Berlin Wall, the Walls of Troy, the Great Wall of China, the Madukkarai Wall and the now-demolished Wall of Nadur can never be as beautiful as the wall in Night of the Scorpion, and the wall that depicted the giant shadows of the performing folklorist. 

Link to the article in SimpliCity :