Readers Write In #268: Tamizhanda!!

Posted on September 12, 2020


(by G Waugh)

“Kadaisi Tamizhanin Raththam Ezhum Vezhaadhe!!!”

(The last drop of a Tamil’s blood will not fall, but rise!!)

“Oh how?Do the blood of Tamils have a different set of genetic instructions that make it rise against the pull of gravity?”

I know my question to my fellow ‘Tamilanda’ office team-mate was absurd and silly. It is a poem/song that is meant to rouse the passions of Tamils and it doesn’t need to follow the boring restrictions of scientific logic. But my question shall I know, hold good for even any sober argument my fellow Tamils bring up to defend the hallowed culture and race of their motherland.


“Can you list the greatest literary achievement ever made in Tamil?”

“Yes, there are eighteen in all. We call it Pathinenkeezhkanakku”

“Can you please quote me a few lines from any one of the eighteen?”

This will be the end of any conversation I have with my ‘Tamilanda’ friend.

By the time I begin asking him, “For a race whose pride is strongly built upon nothing but its language, shouldn’t you guys know at least something about your language? Or am I asking too much?” he would have vacated the seat in front of me and walking across the aisle with his shoulder facing me.


I am sure most of the Tamils today just like me would have learnt a few nuggets from Pathinenkeezhkanakku in school just like how they repeated mantras narrated by the priest during their marriages. But close to fifteen years from that age where we loathed pretty much everything about our language, we have come to a time when we have at last woken up to the faint murmurs of Mother Tamil calling out for us from somewhere for help. Right from the days of the Jallikattu protest in 2017, a sizable portion of my friends became converts to the Tamil cause. I know the reason, it is all political and that has to do with the attitude of the ruling dispensation at the Centre towards us and as a practical man with common sense, I choose to side with anything that is anti-Hindutva and anti-Fascist when it comes to politics.

But as a Tamil, right from my childhood I wasn’t strangely, taught to love my language enough. My father was the first man in his family who could read and write English really well. He was a seasoned writer of political pamphlets for his Trade Union and he worked on his English to suit the demands at his Union Office. And my father’s generation was the one that bore a strong affinity to the foreign language which sometimes curiously morphed into a mild antipathy towards their mother tongue. My dad had the habit of instantly drawing close to a few of my friends who could speak good English on account of their ‘better’ family upbringing and he wanted me just like every other father, to better him in terms of English vocabulary and grammatical correctness. And even if I had a strong attraction to Tamil short stories that came as part of my non-detail in the school syllabus, I wasn’t encouraged to develop and nurture it. As a result, I inherited his antipathy towards the language to a considerable extent and when Kamal corrects the interviewer who asks about his mother tongue with a solid retort ‘I am a Taymil-speaking Indian’ in Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu, I used to cheer.

Whenever I had the opportunity to listen to Karunanidhi’s dialogue in his MGR-Sivaji movies and get mesmerized at how well he handles his alliteration and rhyme with an extraordinary command over the language, one part of me badly wanted to learn more about Tamil literary classics but most people in my circle used to discourage me that it was a useless exercise.

Most scientific literature and technological ideas have originated only in English. So try to learn and master that. Reading Tamil is of no use!”


During train journeys to my Office at Mahindra City I always took pride in holding either a Dostevysky novel or a PG Wodehouse classic whenever I had the chance to get seated against a good-looking girl. This was one reason why my initiation into Tamil literature came pretty late. My exposure to the greatest international literary classics ranging from Tolstoy to Camus to Marquez to Dickens not only changed my ideas about perceiving languages but also stunned my understanding of human psychology, societal behaviour and transformed it into something else. There was a time when I used to recommend some of these Western classics to a lot of my friends who were bent on expanding their knowledge horizons. But strangely none of them managed to finish these books complaining of either difficult language or cultural alienation or both. When they used to ask me are there any Tamil writers whom I know, I never had any answers.

Soon I had the chance to read my first Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki which was interesting but overlong and rambling to my taste. I then started a novel about farmers by Vairamuthu which was another big disappointment. Even when I was ready to forgo my antipathy towards it, my mother tongue I felt, was not ready to welcome me into its fold.


Some five years back my friend lent me a copy of Pallikondapuram by Neela Padmanabhan. The cover had a hand-drawn illustration of a charming woman typical of many drawings we see in Kumudham, Vikatan and Kalki. It lay in my shelf for close to a year and I had no interest of opening it.

My friend one day asked me to return the book if I was not reading it. I thought about it and asked him for a month’s extension and started the book the same night.

I returned the book to him within just a week. He was surprised,

“Dei, you asked for one month time. Why are you returning it so soon? You didn’t read?”

I replied,

“We were going to Moscow and Paris and London for great literature all these days. How come did we miss someone who was at Nagercoil?”

“So you liked it?”

“Dei it simply blew me away!”


Aadhavan’s Kakidha Malargal came up next. The hero Chellappa was nothing but me who was born in a well-to-do family located somewhere in Delhi.

La Sa Ramamirtham’s Sindhanadhi was the finest memoir I had ever read in my life.

Jayakanthan’s Parisuku Po put Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy to shame. His Oru Nadigai Nadagam Parkiral and Rishimoolam easily beat the standards set by the existentialist writers of the twentieth century Europe.

S Ramakrishnan’s Ubapandavam reinterpreted Mahabharata to me in a whole new way that I had to read four more books on the epic to understanding some of its really ‘epic’ dimensions.

Jeyamohan’s Vishnupuram handled questions deftly that arose in me whenever I was neck-deep in Western philosophy written by Nietzsche or Kant or Marx.


A lot of streets and bridges and towns in Europe are named after Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dickens and whenever Japan’s Haruki Murakami returns to his homeland for launching his new book, hordes and hordes of people gather to see him in the airport. The first ten thousand copies or so of his books are usually pre-booked and some writers in Europe regardless of their capacity and achievement have financially enough to support at least their one generation from now.

In Tamil on the other hand, whenever a new book is released the total number of copies that come out in the first edition even if it is written by the number-one writer in the language, does not exceed a paltry thousand. Recently the only mainstream magazine that focused on serious Tamil literature was shutdown owing to a complete lack of demand and resources even if it was run by a decade-old popular publishing company.


When JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye released, it was received like a Steven Spielberg-blockbuster all over the world. This led the author to flee his home and take refuge in a lesser-known village where he wouldn’t be troubled much. You see similar stories of famous authors all over Europe finding it difficult to handle issues related to sudden ‘stardom’ and fame that their literary works win for them instantly.

S Ramakrishnan in his blog reserves a ton of gratitude for his wife who has been taking care of the family’s financial needs all these years that allowed him the peace and concentration needed to take care of his literary duties.

Jeyamohan in his blog says that he usually refrains from commenting on his cinema work since he feels strongly that cinema is not certainly his domain and that he likes to be judged based only on his literary accomplishments. When asked why he was writing for movies if he does not like the medium much, he told he was paid in millions for just a few months’ work there which helps him cover all his survival expenses for years together. Remember Jeyamohan has sold the highest number of books ever in Tamil in the last two decades or so but he has no qualms in admitting that his remuneration for a single star-vehicle in Tamil cinema sometimes exceeds the entire lifetime earnings that he has hitherto derived from his literary career.

What one must understand from the words of Jeyamohan and S Ramakrishnan is only one thing- the Tamil writer is simply a hapless creature. His intelligence and depth in knowledge is underappreciated only because of one reason – his language. But ironically the place of birth of his language has historically proven to be a hotbed of linguistic nationalism populated by thousands of self-appointed custodians who have owed to shed every drop of their blood towards safeguarding their language.


“You guys say that your language is older than all the seas and mountains in the world. But if you read a few lines from the verses composed during that time, you don’t understand even one word of it. So how can you call ‘that’ language ‘your’ language?”

“Our language has evolved according to time and human needs. If I don’t understand that, it is not my fault”, My Tamizhanda friend answered.

“Ok you guys cannot understand the language of Ilangovadigal and SeethalaiSaathanar, I get it. Do you know any modern classics in Tamil? Written by Jayakanthan or Asokamitran or Pudhumaipithan?”

“No. We don’t need them to feel proud about. See this Whatsapp forward. It tells how advanced Tamils were in methods of child-birth, in treating diseases, in inventing new tools”

Suddenly I was confused whether I was talking to a Tamil patriot or a Hindutva nationalist. I did not want to continue my conversation with him and waste my time. So I decided to flee the place.

“Jai Shree Ram, Oh Sorry, Tamizhanda!!!”