Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Some books are not to be written

The essays of Francis Bacon, a 16th century English philosopher and statesman, usually begin with ‘Of’ as ‘Of Studies’, ‘Of Friendship’, ‘Of Vengeance’ and so on. With his compositions providing deep insights into the readers on the ideas of life, his famous quote “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” deserves much importance today. If viewed from a contemporary context, a reader may think why Bacon had failed to say

“Some books are not to be written!”

Had the philosopher opined so, Romantic
English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley would not have written the popular pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism while he was a student, and faced termination from college. D.H Lawrence would not have brought out his Lady Chatterley’s Lover either.
Though Bacon said on books as “Some few are read to be wholly, and with diligence and attention’, books of serious importance are little important in the rat race of modern man.

But, books have played active roles in shaping the readers’ personality. The readers include even dictators of the bygone era. The Prince, a political treatise by the 16th-century Italian diplomat Machiavelli, was a bedtime reading for Adolf Hitler and a topic for Benito Mussolini’s thesis for honorary doctorate. The Prince, whose central idea is acquiring power, came to be called the ‘Mafia Bible’, turned to be one among the prohibited books by the Catholic Church and was banned in Elizabethan England.

But this is an age, where journalists and writers are deprived of their rights of freedom of speech and expression. A few years ago, the world of modern Tamil literature felt the pain of a famed Kongu novelist, when he was demanded an unconditional apology on charges of depicting women of the Kongu society in poor light in his novel.

In contrast, yesteryear writers and scholars enjoyed the freedom of speech and expression. The debate between two scholars on a particular topic was pleasant those days. It is surprising to read such healthy and hot debates between the Dravidian stalwart C N Annadurai, DMK founder and former Tamil Nadu Chief minister, and Tamil scholar R P Sethupillai on the topic whether Kambaramayanam and Periyapuranam denigrated the Dravidian race or not. The debate, which was presided over by Kovai Kizhar CM Ramachandran Chettiar, the then Commissioner of Hindu Religious and Endowment Board and the first historian of Coimbatore, took place at Madras Law College on February 2, 1943. Later, the second and final round of the debate was held at the Devanga Padasalai in Salem between C N Annadurai and Tamil scholar Navalar S Somasundara Bharathiyar on March 14, 1943. This time Prof. A. Ramasamy presided over it

Just a month after the debate, the arguments of Anna were published into a book on the title ‘Thee Paravattum’ (Let the fire spread). Bearing testimony to the dignity of the Dravidian movement in respecting the views of its opponents, the book included the complete speeches of R P Sethupillai and S Somasundara Bharathiyar in defense of Kambaramayanam and Periyapuranam.
At the same time, Anna never retreated in his the crusade to protect the esteem of Tamils. An ardent follower of rationalist leader Periyar E V Ramasamy, Anna, after he came to power, lifted the ban on Ravana Kaviyam, an antithesis to Kambaramayanam, written by Pulavar Kuzhanthai of the Kongu region.

When Kuzhandhai wrote the epic ‘Ravana Kaviyam’ in 1946, the then Congress government, which ruled the Madras state, imposed a ban on it for its pro-Dravidian views. When the DMK captured power in Tamil Nadu, the ban was lifted in 1971.

Born at Olavalasu near Erode in the then Coimbatore district in 1906, Kuzhandhai learned the Tamil alphabets by writing them on a heap of sand at a Thinai Pallikoodam (Pyol School). He had a passion for composing conventional Tamil poetry even while he was a 10-year-old
boy. He mastered the elements in Tamil prosody all by himself, as there were few Tamil scholars in his village.
Praising the book and commending Kuzhandhai’s creativity and knowledge in Tamil, Anna noted that Ravana Kaviyam, which consists of 3100 songs, was equal in all literary merits in comparison with Kambaramayanam. Anna underlined that Kuzhandai’s epic differed only in the central idea.
But today, the name ‘Anna’ sounds just to be the name of someone, printed or pronounced to name a power, which jails someone for something he does against it.

Link to my article in SimpliCity :

The People Behind the Bricks and Mortar of Coimbatore

On a sultry afternoon, Lord Siva and his consort Parvathi were walking upon the earth; they got very hot and thirsty. Siva felt the drops of perspiration all over his body and changed them by his divine power into a man carrying a pick-ax and crowbar. Similarly, Parvathi changed her drops of perspiration into a woman carrying a basket. The man and woman quickly sunk a well with their equipment. Now Siva and Parvathi refreshed themselves in the cool waters of the well and, in gratitude, they promised the labourers certain gifts. 

With neither of the labourers being satisfied with the gifts, they demanded more with a grumble. Lord Siva, who grew angry at their act, cursed them and vowed that they and their descendants shall live only by the sweat of their brow.

The above story, which is traced by the British ethnographer Edgar Thurston, speaks on the birth of the first members of the Boyar community. Another similar story on the birth of the community says that the same Siva and Parvathi ordered the members of the Boyar community to sink wells to quench the thirst of the Devatas (Celestial people). Having dug the well, they demanded payment. But Siva, instead of money, gave a pinch of sacred ash for each work they did. When the labourers reached home, they found to their surprise, that all the pinches of sacred ash were turned into money. Yet, the Boyars were not satisfied and clamoured for more. Siva grew angry at their act and cursed them thus: 

“What you obtain in the forests by digging shall be lost as soon as you reach the high ground” 

But Parvathi, who took pity on them, asked Siva to give them large sums of money. Then Siva hollowed out a measuring-rod (A staff used by Oddars for making measurements), filled it with varahans (gold coins), and gave it to the maistry or the head mason. The lord also filled a large pumpkin with money and buried it in a field, where the Oddars were working. The maistry, whom Siva presented the gold coin –filled measuring rod, pawned it for buying toddy. 
Though the Oddars did not find out what was inside the raised mound caused by the burying of the pumpkin, a buffalo, which was grazing in a field close by, exposed the pumpkin to them. However, without suspecting the contents in the pumpkin, the Oddars sold it to a member of the Komati caste, which is known for its profession of banking, money lending, and other business pursuits. 

Edgar Thurston has few answers for the above two tales on their depicting the Oddar community as a dissatisfied and unwise lot.
The Oddars or Boyars are identified with their traditional occupations as sinking wells, constructing tank bunds and buildings, quarrying stones and executing other kinds of earth work. As said above, legend has it that their first ancestors were a couple who sunk a well for the deities Siva and Parvathi. But, in reality, it was a man from the Boyar community, who provided drinking water from his well to his neighbours in Coimbatore decades before the arrival of sweet Siruvani water. 
A poem in Nerisayil Oorisai, a book of venbas on Kongu history, speaks on a street that runs north to Nawab Hakkim Road in the heart of the city as ‘Naangenathu Veethi’ which is a corruption of ‘Nagan Kinatru Veethi’ 

“The street’s name is after Naga Boyan, who owned a well and provided water to his neighbours “informs Kavianban Babu, a historian of Coimbatore, who authored the book Therintha Kovai Theriyatha Kadhai (Known Coimbatore; its unknown tales)

The Oddars, most of whom are construction workers today, had once been makers of brick, for they owned a large number of brick kilns in Coimbatore. 
Edgar Thurston, while writing a chapter on the Oddars on the title ‘Odde’ in his comprehensive work Castes and Tribes of Southern India, informs:   
“The The caste title of the Oddes is Nayakkan and Boyan. The similarity of the latter word to ‘Boer’ was fatal, for at the time of my visit to the Oddes in Coimbatore, the South African war (Boer war) was just over, and they were afraid that I was going to get them transported to replace the Boers who had been exterminated in the war. Being afraid of my evil eye, they refused to fire a new kiln of bricks for the new club chambers at Coimbatore until I had taken my departure”

However, the history of Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital informs that one by name Nanja Boyan from the Oddar community at Nanjundapuram in the city supplied bricks to the construction of the hospital at a rate of six annas per hundred in the early 20th century! 

Documenting the physical appearance of the Oddars , when he visited Coimbatore in the early 20th century, Thurston says: 
“Coimbatore – “ Numerous, owing to the hard nature of the subsoil and the immense and increasing number of irrigation wells, which demand the labour of strong men accustomed to the use of the crowbar, pick-axe, and powder. They are black, strong, and of good physique, highly paid, and live on strong meat and drink."

Thurston says that the word ‘Odde’ is said to be the corruption of the Sanskrit ‘Odhra’, the name for the state called Orissa, which is Odisha today. Besides Telugu, the Oddes speak a peculiar dialect among themselves. Thurston says that if that dialect should be turned out to be Oriya, the question might be regarded as settled. 

Link to my article in SimpliCity :

A Tribute to the Messiah of Eezhavas

Just because they were said to be born in lower caste in the Hindu religion, the Eezhva girls in Kerala were forced to pay tax, but for their breasts in the name Mulakaram. Called as Avarnas, the untouchable Eezhva community could not have liberated itself from the cruelties of discrimination, had the noted social reformer Sri Narayana Guru fought for their rights in the nineteenth century.
“It is painful to recall an oral tradition, which discloses that an Eezhava girl, unable to pay her Mulakaram, cut her breasts and gave them as tax. Therefore, the native village of the girl got its name as ‘Mulaichiparambu’ near Thiruvananthapuram” says Murugan, a Tamil poet, who has penned a poetic biography of Sri Narayana Guru in Tamil as ‘ Gurudevan Kavithanjali’
The author, who is a retired Assistant Commissioner (Accounts) of Coimbatore Corporation, points out:

“The gruesome act of the Eezhava girl reflects her wrath against the touch-me-not Brahmins, who were behind the princely state of Travancore. By doing so, the poor girl left a question to them as what other tax they would collect if she had no breasts at all”
At a time, when the present-day religious outfits seek a law banning religious conversions in the country, Murugan informs in his book that Narayana Guru welcomed religious conversions. Reminding the fact that most people in India embraced Christianity and Islam only after facing severe caste discrimination in Hinduism, Murugan points out:

“Narayana Guru opined that it was nothing wrong for people to switch over from one faith to another if it helps them progress in life, as the great philosopher’s goal was only the development of mankind and not religion”

At a time, when members from the Eezhava community faced untold atrocities from the caste Hindus in Kerala, Murugan’s book records how Narayana Guru, who was also born in the Eezhava community, consecrated the idol of Lord Shiva amidst the hue and cry of caste Hindus.

“The Brahmins objected Narayana Guru’s consecrating the idol of Shiva at Aruvipuram and warned him that only the priestly class was entitled to do so. Nonetheless, the Gurudev paid them back in the same coin saying that he consecrated only the ‘Eezhava Shiva’ and not the ‘Brahmin Shiva’” says the 61-year-old.

An ardent lover of Tamil, Murugan, who hails from Nagercoil, says that Eezhavas were the people from Eezham, a part of Sri Lanka and have their roots in the ancient Tamil race.

“Several centuries ago, a total of three Tamil Sangams existed in different periods in Kumarikandam, which is identified with the sea-engulfed Lemuria continent. And the great Tamil work Thirukural
was launched in the first Tamil Sangam. Interestingly, the book launch was presided over by Tamil scholar Athangottu Aasan, who was an Eezhava” says Murugan.
Note: I penned the above feature in Express as a curtain-raiser to Murugan's book in February 2015. However, I thought of re-posting it soon after I happened to watch this short film 'Mulakaram-The Breast Tax' by Yogesh Pagare.Please find the link below: