Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 9): Transcreation
After a refreshing morning’s swim & lunch at a local resort, I left Mamallapuram & bobbl’d slowly into busy Chidambaram. Last week it was still underwater after the cyclone hit, but it has recently resurfaced & looks much the cleaner for it. After a first sweep I didn’t find much on offer in the way of accommodation, & ended up holing up in a pretty shitty room for the night – it looks & smells like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. However, there is a magazine cut-out picture of the Niagara Falls sellotaped to the walls – which I’d never actually seen, so it was kinda worth it. Another slight drawback is having to put up with the constant smell of fried batter rising upwards into my room from the street. It smells just like a chippy, which got me dreaming of a decent chips & curry, but has turn’d out in fact to be a wee crisp factory. I did actually try a fresh bag & they were pretty delicious, to be fair.
On the outskirts of town is the Annamalai University. My intention was to use their library & conduct a deeper delve into Tamil studies & also use it as a base to continue my transcreation of Thirukural. Alas, I have discover’d out that any foreign national wanting to enter even the campus of an Indian university has to have special permission, which takes about three weeks to process. I found this after an afternoon of typical, long-drawn out Indian bureaucracy, which ended up with me waiting to meet the vice-chancellor of the university. I was surrounded by professors & uni types, but that didn’t seem put any cordiality on affairs, as the queue – as all Indian queues do – ended up as a rugby scrum to get to the front. After about two hours of this I thought fuck it, throwing my innate sense of English fairplay out of the window & dived to the front like a buxom fly-half. Ten minutes later, sat in a plush seat in an even plusher room, the portraits of dark-skinned past chancellors staring down at me from the walls, I could feel their burning eyes penetrating into my skull & seeing that my ‘formal’ higher education boiled down to only six months of getting wasted at Barnsley college on a foundation course for a music degree.
After putting my case forward, for all my bravado & the fact I’d had a shave & everything, I was, with all respect, told, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off. My demands to see the chancellor – his boss – were refused, on the grounds that the chancellor represents the whole state, lives in Chennai & only popped in once a year. ‘Get him on the phone,’ I asked – ‘there’s the door.’ he replied. As I walked back through the 900 acre site of the uni, past all the pink building faculties & the vast bladerunner style massive mansion where the vice-wanker-chancellor lives, it seemed like all the students were taking the piss out of me, my academic plans in complete tatters.
Still, you don’t become a poet by not being resourceful – a lack of genuine & constant wages needs to be overcome somehow -, & my non-admittance to the dusty corridors of education proved a lucky break. I decided to seek out the local library, getting there on the back of a probably drunken Tamil guy’s bike. In its depths I discovered a recent version of Thirukural – one that the ancyent, page-molding books of libraries at Tiruvanamali & the University (I checked yesterday) would never have. It’s a very comprehensive, double-tomed 1500 page affair which I now have in my actual possession. I had to leave 500 rupees & my passport with the overhappy librarian, but it’s worth it, for I now have a wicked reference book for this final effort to finish the poem. I’ve got about 475 kural left to do, which I’ll probably finish in a week at my current pace.
Near the library was a nice hotel & I shall move in their tomorrow morning – just in time to a one-dayer between India & England, plus the weekend’s footy. It’s quite comfy actually, & only costs 100 rupees more than the one I’m staying in – a quid ! I’ve also got some interesting news – I’m writing this in an internet café & I’ve just had an email from my mate in London, Charlie, who wants to join me in India. He’s already got a visa & everything & just wants to find the nearest airport to me. So I’ve said Chennai, mate, see you when you get here.
I was walking down the road today when it suddenly dawned on me that I’d just seen my millionth moustache in Tamil Nadu. It wasn’t announced with fanfares, streamers & a quick trolley-dash around Woolworths (RIP), it was just my subliminal consciousness kicking in. I mean, man, they’re everywhere; about 99 percent of males have them. This tash-equality makes Tamil Nadu a nice place to wander about in, as opposed to other parts of India where the caste system is clearly visible. Alright, you’ve got your beggars & the street cleaning women, but everyone else seems to be much the same & getting on with life in happy harmony. The state is also very proud of its place in the world. A wee look on the map & you can see that Tamil Nadu is remarkably similar to the Irish landmass – in size, & shape & also, I find, in spirit. This strong sense of patriotic self-identity was born out of repelling the Indo-Aryan invasions 3000 years ago, plus several attempts by the various owners of Delhi to conquer & impose Hindi as the national Indian language. Which of course, they never did – the Tamil language is strong, alive, river-flowing & beautiful.
‘My Tamil is very bad,’ said Ryan Germick, ‘& the sign painter I work’d with didn’t know any English. We mostly communicated through sign language. But we discussed everything from atheism to the nature of art.’ That pretty much nails it in the head really – what a cool, cultur’d people. Anyway, here is the Tamil I have learnt so far, condens’d into a sonnet;
1 Woner = Wanacum (hello)
2 Render = Nan-dray (thanks)
3 Mooner = Yevolovum (how much)
4 Nar-lee =Rumba Soo-aye (very tasty)
5 An-jer = Time Enna (what time is it)
6 Ah-roo = Poy-too-varen (see you later)
7 Air-lee = Oon Pair Enna (what is your name)
8 Eh-ta = Nar England (I am from England)
9 Umbodoo = Nalla –kay (tomorrow)
10 Pa-too = Ama (yes)
11 Padi-nooner = Ill-ai (no)
12 Panander = Nunbar Nan-dray (grazi raggazi)
13 Padi-mooner = Nalamar (how are you)
14 Padi-nar-lee = po-dum (full/enough)
Despite the wonders of the Tamil language, being in Chidambaram means a decent conversation is hard to come by. I was happy then to move into my new hotel today & get my fix of ‘familiar’ culture from the English film channels, the blanket coverage of the Premier League & several newspapers printed in English. The latter costs between 1 & 3 rupees over here, & are pretty comprehensive; from local through national to worldwide news. There are no free dodgy dvds, however, or tabloids – but they do the job. The funniest story I’ve read to date concerns a Bangladeshi film director – Ahsanulla Moni – who has spent 30 million pounds on a lifesize replica of the Taj Mahal near Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. It has taken five years to build this second ‘monument to love’ & was opened up a week ago. Few Bengalis can afford the trip to see the real Taj in Agra, so essentially it is a noble venture – but the Indians are up in arms & are hoping to prove there is an international breach of copyright!
Chidambaram basically spreads out for a mile or so in all directions from its centrepiece – the tremendous Nataraja Temple. It was great being there early this morning, when the heat is soft & the colours pastel in the rising light. There is a beautiful green, fish-filled ghat there, where brahmin & babas wash themselves (& brush their teeth in the same water) & I spent a couple of hours there in the morning sun doing my kural. Etched into marble plates all around the ghat are examples of Tamil poetry – in that beautiful script of theirs. I’m already raiding it for future poetic forms & it seems a perfect place to work on the task at hand.
The temple is run by these white robed brahmin who tie their hair back & scrunch a little bit of it into buns. Their ancient ancestors were sent there by King Hiranyavarman, whose leprosy was healed in the natural spring-waters of the ghat. These days they are running the temple as a private enterprise. I observed one of their ‘do’s, a procession along the roads that form a 2-mile square lap around the temple. It was led by some guys picking up stones. Twenty feet behind, a semi-naked baba was playing roly-poly the whole length of the circuit. Behind him were a few male dignitaries, a guy holding a psychedelic umbrella, & behind him were about 300 chanting women holding plant-pots with strange phallic orchids in them representing lingams.
The town itself is built on a flat plain, & most of the streets have this samey-samey lower-middle class kinda vibe. Much more interesting are the poorer parts of town, where life mingles with the rubbish & livestock like a forgotten pan of boiling chi. Every fifty paces or so you’ll find this game called Kunder, where men of all ages gather & furiously exchange wads of rupee notes. First off two small marbles are thrown into a square in the ground, which has several indents for the holes to settle in. Then a big marble is thrown in an effort to hit them. I’m not sure of the rules, & essentially it’s all bit dull, but the guys get very excited indeed. Also in the poorer suburbs is a temple dedicated to Kali. The image of her killing men with a belt of ten shrunken heads already scared the wits out of me, especially in my dreams, – but I have now seen her atop a temple, clutching the intestines of some poor, naked girl. Quite disturbing, & the Indians worship this stuff!
Another email from Charlie today. He’s bought his ticket & is apparently on the run from practically half of South London. Seeing as I’m on the run from the Scottish winter, an extended trip to these sunnier climes seems the right thing for the both of us right now. Besides, he’s an old pal, so it should be an interesting addition to my – our – first ever tour of India. Charlie’s about 50 years old, much older than me. I’d met him in London, but he’s actually from Clitheroe, t’other side o’ th’ill (Pendle) from Burnley. We’re both Burnley fans & Charlie was a decent play in his youth, getting a headline of ‘Two Goals Charlie’ after a stunning debut for Clitheroe FC in the 70s.
Back in Tamil Nadu, the trapeze-balancing-girl-act is in Chidambaram. I’d caught half of her act – to the rhythm of her mum & brothers drumming – in Thiruvanamali, & today caught the rest. Not only does she balance a pot on her head, but she does it while walking along in the spokeless metal inside of a bicycle wheel. Her other feat is to crawl along the wire on her knees in a handleless frying pan. Amazing stuff, enough to warrant a piece in the Delhi Chronicle in fact. It turns out Chidambaram is where the troupe live & they are quite famous around the state.
I’ve also scored! Well, it’s a bit weird really. My hotel is building a new bar at the moment (noisy as fuck). There’s a gang of builders – men & women – & one of the builder girls takes time out from balancing bricks on her head to propose marriage to me. She’s quite sweet really, with brilliant white teeth, oaken eyes & dripping in bling, but I think, ultimately, it’s not really gonna work out. Talking of the hotel, there’s a wee lad there, about 11 I think, who’s basically used as child labour. He never goes to school, works all day & sleeps in the hotel foyer floor, with just a single sheet & a pillow – not a playstation in sight. Apparently, his parents were too poor to keep him, so the hotel ‘saved him’ with a roof, 25 rupees a day (which he sends to his parents), & gets his food in the restaurant downstairs. At first I was shocked, comparing his life to the gift-happy kids of the west. But after some reflection I remember’d some of the states of sheer poverty I have seen in India, & this kid’s got such a friendly demeanour & massive smile, that I cannot help thinking this is probably a good place for him to be right now. Anyway, I’ve been spoiling him like mad – sweets & bananas – & I’m gonna slip him a couple of hundred rupees before I go.
Today I went on a little mission 15 kilometers away to Pitchivaram. I set off early doors & hit the bus station, getting on a quietish bus. That is until an argument broke out & this women with red teeth began shrieking like a banshee, arguing with some geezer & then the rest of the bus. As we finally set off, I thought great, a nice, uncramped journey. Then the bus stopped &, like, a thousand people got on. Finally, we set off again & soon broke from the town among level paddy fields that stretch’d for miles. India’s rice! On the way I was reading thro a copy of John Donne’s poetry I’d brought with me, in whose Third Elegie I found the perfect line to encourage international travel.
To live in one land, is captivitie
A few villages later, where humans mingl’d with herds of goats & flower-tipp’d lotus-stalks, with the bus steadily emptying en route, I found myself at Pitchivaram with this Italian guy. The place nestles about 2 kilometers from the sea-mouth of a river, the tide sending small waves rippling past, where fisherman ply their trade & graveyards of shrimp dry in the sun. The Italian was a 40-year-old ganja-growing dude from Venice; a bit mad, but pretty cool, & we hit it off straight away. We agreed to take a boat together & were soon being rowed through these beautiful mangroves on a two-hour journey by this guy half my size.
Mangroves are cool; clusters of brown sticks jutting from the dull, green waters & flush with rhododendron-style leaves. On occasions our boatman took us through thicker parts, where the mangroves met arch-like above us, & we were forced to dodge the hanging branches. The ‘circuit’ was funny as fuck as the guy kept asking for money – I swear down I’ve been totally outcheek’d by the cheeky fucker – he was a real pro. Taking a break from the Kural, it seemed an appropriate place to do it, among the silence & solitude of these tranquil waters. That is, until our boatman decided to scream his head off – which nearly sent me into the waters –, all so he could disturb a flock of two hundred heronesque birds from the waters. It was an amazing sight, as up until then we’d seen just one lone sea-eagle hovering on the breeze. Where once had been just green foliage, now these cocu birds were pirouetting magnificently above us. Back at shore, me & the Italian guy bought the boatman lunch; on the finishing of which he asked for a fuckin’ omelette – unbelievable, but very loveable. The whole experience had been genuinely beautiful, from the boatman’s Tamil songs to my speaking Italian, which to my surprise was actually understood.
I have almost finish’d the Kural. It’s been amazing actually, a proper academic endeavour. I plan to transcreate the final stanzas at a place call’d Ramashwaram, from where the Monkey King Haruman on his way to battle the demon-king Ravana, threw the rocks that form’d the Adam’s Bridge stringing archipelago to Sri Lanka. A suitably poetical place to conclude my compositions, I believe.
My last full day in Chidambaram began with a wee Tamil lesson with the hotel owner. This was overheard by some residents, who joined in, correcting my bad Burnley accent. It turns out they were at the hotel, building a scenic little waterfall for the new bar that is being built, which needed a different, more powerful motor to run the pump. Their man in Chennai was meeting them half-way at Pondicherry, & I was invited along for the ride. They were nice guys, all fluent in English & up for the crack. The conversation was entertaining, resulting in two very interesting facts; the temple at Thanjavur never gives off shadow & the Tamil police are the third best in the world for catching criminals – with the Scottish police being the best, apparently. I told them one visit to Glasgow would dispel this urban myth. We also discussed nuclear geopolitics, & I was shocked to hear how savagely they thought about Pakistan. Apparently, if war breaks out, Pakistan will be obliterated, with only Delhi, Calcutta & Mumbai (plus most of north India) receiving the same medicine – leaving Chennai as the future capital of India. They cheered at this.
There was a funny incident on the way up to Pondy, starting with slamming into a traffic jam. The car ahead of us had number plates reading TN 07 AW 6646, which made the lads laugh, as their plates read TN 07 AW 6466. Ahead, there were about fifty women staging a sit-down protest, hoping to get the 2000 rupees per family the government had promised all those affected by the recent cyclones. I felt sorry for the poor police-guy in the centre of the maelstrom, nervously fumbling with his phone as both screaming women & yelling driver did his head in. I watched the spectacle from a roadside cafe until, after about half an hour so, certain promises had been extracted, & we were back on the road. We hit Pondy an hour or so later, which involved picking up their mate, stocking up on the cheap booze & buying some illegal but expensive pieces of rock for the waterfall. I also got a wee, guided drive about Pondy, policed by Indian ‘gendarmes’ & their very stupid red hats. Once more, & to my delight, I noticed Old Pondicherry very clean & whitewash’d grid of European streets, a far cry from the ramshackle chaos of most of India, & all wash’d by the Bay of Bengal & glowing brilliantly in the sun.
The drive back to Chidambaram saw me tucking into my first beers in ages, which led to me drinking most of my stash, making a total fool of myself with all & sundry, & falling into a heap on my bed about 10PM.
This morning, in the faint pre-dawn, I woke up suddenly sober like the adrenalin-injected Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. It was time to hit the road, but before I did, I went to the hotel kitchen & watched the bare-chested cooks prepare breakfast, taking copious notes as they did so. The kitchen walls had oily muck ingrain’d into them, & one in particular had a legion of rather big ants moving about. The utensils were quite clean, tho,’ from the old geezer chopping massive amounts of veg on the floor, to the giant pans of the coal ovens. I watched them make the potato-stew that I’d been having with my poori – a bready kinda thing –, which I’ve grown extremely fond of. My trip to the kitchens was then made complete by a portion of said poori & stew, fresh from the pan.
A few minutes later I was catching the bus out of town, trundling south through a gorgeous watery landscape; those flowering lotus pools, endless rivers, canals & rivulets that form the cosmically beautiful Carvery delta. The vegetation of this hill-less plain was lush; a tropical blending of palm trees, coconut boles & European style trees. First port of call, about 50k to the south, was the idyllic little town of Tranquebar. After the bus dropped me off on the main road, I made my entry through an impressive gateway full of the carved regalia of the Danish nation. Tranquebar was the only Danish colony in India, perch’d by the sea & perfectly poised to access the spices of both India & beyond. The Danes built a very fine settlement here, like a mini Pondicherry, which is famous for this German protestant preacher, Bartholomaus Zeigenbalag who translated the New Testament into Tamil & introduc’d the printing press to India. With my work on the Kural, I kinda felt a connection with him as I stood over his gold-gilded tomb on the floor of the local church.
I also got chatting to some fishermen, who gave me a proper sound of account of losing everything in the 2004 tsunami which struck the Indian Ocean, a conversation taht led to me penning the following sonnet.
Remember the host of the ghostly battalion
Imagine them drown’d in a growling sea
Beach-huts for driftwood, corpses for carrion
O sing a sad song for the TSU-NA-MI
Remember them fleeing the huge walls of water
That snapped them & tossed them & made bloody piles
The aftermath pale, she search’d for her daughter
A sad scene repeated some three thousand miles
Remember the mood in the days after Christmas
When so many strangers shall shun the new year
A new, doleful sound when the river grows restless
As so many tears crystallize a new fear
From Asia to Africa surged the wild sea
O sing a sad song for the TSU-NA-MI
Tranquebar a very cool fort. While waiting for it to open, I entertained myself with a game of cricket on the hard, flat ground outside the fort that was formerly used for military parades. It was a great game, a five-a-side affair, where I all the smaller lads went on my team. I was made captain & on losing the toss was asked to bowl. It was a five-over innings, with every player getting a bowl. Moving my fielders about like Napoleon we managed to get them all out in the 4th over – setting a score of 25 to win. As I didn’t bowl, I opted to open the batting, & come the last over we were 21 / 2. I’d scored a few good hits & slid half-way down the track on one occasion to avoid a run out (luckily there was no instant replay). Three balls into the last over I hit the winning runs, & me & my young uns were crowned the inaugural champs of the Damo-Tranquebar cup.
After the cricket, & the cursory look round the antiquities of the fort’s museum, I left town, getting a round of applause from the kids as I did so! Waiting at the bus stop I saw a quite disgusting sight. This manky bearded beggar, with eyes as big as saucers, was led horizontal, his hands down his crotch & a literally foot long, inch-thick column of green snot hanging from his left nostril. Then the bus thankfully arriv’d & took me to Kumbakonam – where I‘ve taken a room – an hour-long journey made interesting by one of the Thirukural on a plaque at the front of the bus. ‘While visiting the villages around here,’ said GU Pope, ‘that enthusiasm for the great Tamil poet was first kindled which has been an important factor in my life,’ & in the moden age nothing much has chang’d. Seeing a Kural on the bus re-affirmed my decision to poeslate the Kural in the very land of their birth. I could have technically done it at home, but I would never get on the X6 Dunbar-Edinburgh route & have Thiruvallavar staring down at me telling me to hurry up & get the fucker finished.
I’m currently waiting in a Kumbakoram internet café for a train ticket. The place is nice enough, a bit of a temple town, with its 12 Gopuras (temple gates) rising above the rooftops. These are very softly painted; half-way between the pure white of Thiruvanamali & the intricate artistry of Chidambaram gopuras. The rest of town, carv’d in half by the river Carvery, is full of hospitals & this wicked bright-pink Catholic cathedral, testament to the multi-layered religions that make up the bedrock of Indian faith.
So, to the ticket I’m waiting for – from Trichy to Ramashwaram tonight. I’ve just got a few Kural left & a plan’s a plan. I’m gonna finish them down there. So, after queuing up for an hour, I was given a ‘waiting list’ confirmation ticket which I had to ratify with the station manager – who wasn’t around yet. Apparently, every train has its ‘foreign’ quota & this needed to be checked out. Another couple of hours to-ing & froing between the station & my hotel, to the constant chime of ‘wait ten minutes,’ there was still no sign of the station manager. Then someone had the bright idea of getting me on the ’emergency quota’ list, which every train has. This (eventually) led me to being given a fax number, on which I waited at the front desk again for another half an hour before being told I had to use the fax outside the station. Or I could ‘wait ten minutes’ & the station manager might come. That was the last straw & I’ve come here basically to unload!
I am now in Trichy, & am waiting for my train to Ramashwaram. Back in Kumbakonam, the station manager eventually told me he couldn’t help me in my quest, & I had to do it at Trichy station. So, I set off on a bus to Trichirapalli, or Trichy for short. En route I spent a couple of hours in Thanjavur, dawdling along with my rucksack about the big sandstone affair that was the capital of the great Chola empire. I especially enjoying the Sawaswati Mahal library in the royal compound. It had many fine manuscripts & images of India, including a 500-year-old miniature comic-step style rendition of the Ramayana. A magnifying glass was provided to examine the fine detail & it indeed was amazingly fine. Also on display was a wicked palanquin – a kind of rickshaw without wheels that lower caste Indians carried Rajput princes & British Colonels wives in – plus some palm leaf manuscripts. Imagine a long, rush-type leaf… well this is what south Indians once used as paper, with books & legal edicts being scrawled left to right along the long length of the leaf. It was in this form that the Kural of Thiruvallavar was first ever cast.
On reaching Trichy, the biggest city I’d seen since Mumbai, complete with western-style high street, I yet again tried to get my ticket confirmed… only to be told to come back two hours later. Two hours later, however, to a big WHOOPEEE! from me that froze the ticket office in its tracks, I was confirmed to go. Lancastrian determination pays again, however mad the scheme! Leaving my stuff in the railway’s left luggage locker, I hit the city, made special by the ‘Rock Fort’ that juts above the rooves on the now familiar red volcanic stone. The view from the top was stunning, especially as I’d timed it just right for sunset. I was stood in the middle of a plain, with not another hill or height in sight. On one side lay the Carvery river; dark narrow channels ribboning through great swathes of sand; on the other lay the city of Trichy & its hypnotizing sea of pastel houses & rooves. A fine, fine sight on my last sunset before completing the Kural (I hope).
Night fell, & a few hours of pottering later I was in my sleeper carriage trundling south to Ramashwaram. I reached there before dawn (05.15), the station’s foyer thick with sleeping families. Then began an increasingly desperate two hour tour of every hotel & lodge on the island. I felt a bit like Joseph & Mary in Bethlehem on Xmas Eve as I was refused on every occasion – the whole place was full & would be for the foreseeable future. Apparently half of Gujurat (a state in northern India) were here for their religious holidays, rather like when Burnley invaded Blackpool in the Wakes Weeks of yore. The beach was packed with acolytes – even at 7.30 AM – the ‘promenade’ full of coaches & young lads whooping with delight as they splash’d in the sea. For me, alas, it was time to go, putting my plans of concluding the Kural here right out of joint.
I was forced to settle for a bus ride back north, sweeping me over a sunlit, 2k long bridge, rising high over a fisherboat-infested sea. 60k to the north lay Ramanathapuram, where my intention was to stay there & take at least a day trip to Ramashwaram. Unfortunately, the other half of Gujurat had had the same idea, who’d booked up every room here months in advance & used the fleet of buses that I’d seen by Ramashwaram beach to take them there. ‘Fer fucks sake,’ I thought, & after a quick breakfast jumped on yet another bus back to Madurai, 114 k to the north – & it was still only 8AM. On the way, I reflected awhile & realised it was actually an appropriate place to complete the Kural. I was coming full circle, for it was on a quiet lane in a bookshop there that I’d first pick’d up my original copy of the now well-thumb’d, superscrawly Thirukural.
I booked into a wicked, proper hotel – the best so far – & spent the day finishing off the Kural, with the final few being done in the temple. I’d found a wee shrine in it away from the thousands of Indians & Westerners that were channelling about the excellently carv’d, dragontopped pillars that supported this vast place. I went to work in my own quiet little nook & cranny, to the babble of human voices & jazz-like sax-strains of an Indian trumpet. By me were six 2-foot tall black statues of gods, each sporting a ‘skirt’ & a garland of yellow flowers. On one wall was a giant painting of the green-skinned Vishnu, & above me a series of portraits of famous Tamil saints. It was a lovely wee moment, filling me with a twist of spiritual ecstasy as I walked outside into the skintingling sunshine. I’m not religious, like, but the fact I was finishing the divine Tamil text in one of the holiest temples in India was not lost on me. This would be an appropriate time to fashion a ‘garland’ of quotations about the Kural which I’ve been storing up for the appropriate moment, which appears to be now.
The god Brahma, hiding his own true form, was born into the world as Valluvar, who took the three categories of the Vedas Virtue, Wealth and “Bliss and expressed them in the form of the Kural; therefore let my head worship this book, let my mouth praise it, let my mind ponder on it and let my ears listen to it.
The Holy Kural may well be the meeting ground, the common ground, of all religions.
I wanted to learn Tamil, only to enable me to study Valluvar’s Thirukkural through his mother tongue itself
The Kural is a semi-perforated mustard seed, into which the poet has poured the contents of the seven seas.
Thirukkural is as clear as an unpolluted spring. Yes! Thirukkural, the unique book, has come to remove the impurities of this world.
So, how do I feel on completing the Kural. Well, one bonus of being a fluent speaker of English was having the relative freedom of Tamil Nadu, where my native tongue is widely spoken in the wake of the imperial Raj. I was able to both converse with educated Tamils on the nature of the Kural & make travel arrangements between their widely scattered libraries. Once cloister’d within these dusty halls of academe, stuffed with books in both Tamil & English, I discovered many good translations of the Kural which would assist me in my task; including those of PS Sundaram, VR Ramachandra Dikshitar, FW Ellis, VVS Aiyer, Suddhananda Bharati & Kasthuri Srinivasan. Journeying thro’ the Kural was, on so many levels, the greatest of pleasures I have undertaken. For any future poet who might be reading my journals, during your period of training it is almost a necessity to travel foreign lands in the manner of Indiana Jones in search of obscure yet beautiful poetical texts. Such adventures shall enrich the spirit of the poet in you, & through a proper transcreation of an exotic text, the literary culture of your own, native land.
On the way back to my hotel after completing the Kural, I found the wee bookshop where I originally found the poem, excitedly babbling out my story to the surprised guys there. Then, after a wee kip at my hotel, I went to the rooftop terrace & read my own version of the Kural. The evening was lovely, warm yet crisp, up high on the 7th floor. Madurai revolved all around me & as the street sounds rose insatiably my soul lifted the highest its ever risen. With my task finally finish’d, the deep red sun was setting between two hills to the west, where Kodaikanal presumably lies, my next port of call on my circuit of Tamil Nadu. I’ve got a week until Charlie gets to Chennai, so I’ll do a bit more touring & edit the Kural as I go, maybe dish a copy out to a publisher in the state capital…