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 :

No comments:

Post a Comment