Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 15, November 16-30, 2019
For The Man from Madras Musings, this great Tamilian was the original Twitteratus (if that is the singular for Twitterati). Imagine being able to compose 1330 couplets and cover in them practically all aspects of life! And write them in such a way that he remains relevant for all time to come! What more do we need to know about him to celebrate him? In any other country, the work would have been the hero leaving its author to shine in its light, or looking at it in another way, remain in its shadow. But not so here.
Let’s face it – we know very little about the creator of the Kural. Of his religious disposition we know nothing. There is nothing is his writing to indicate where he lived and what his time period was. Scholars are of the view that he was a Jain and the best man among them opines that the time period of this man of letters was around the 5th Century CE.
But then, who wants scholars with their dry-as-dust analysis when we can let our imagination run riot? Yes, we do know that he lived in Mylapore, had a wife who was dedicated to him beyond all call of love or duty (and of late has a photo of hers circulating on the Internet) and that he looked like the conventional sage as depicted in Amar Chitra Katha comics. He had a neat beard, well-shaped eyebrows, an aquiline nose, an avuncular mien and his hair was of the kind that makes MMM jealous – thick and long, dark tresses neatly coiled on his head. His complexion was golden. He sat cross-legged and wrote with a stylus on palm leaves and when standing had a tendency to lean to one side and hold up three fingers of one hand while the other clutched at manuscripts. His dhoti it appears, was worn in the old style of five knots. His taste in clothes tended to the simple but elegant, his garments falling around his person in neat folds.
But now we have moved a step further. This being an era of glorious colour, we are not content to imagine him in black and white and so have gone on to speculate on his colour of clothing. One group, of the cow-worshipping variety, is of the view that he wore saffron (but naturally) and sported the sacred ash and the sacred thread (but even more naturally), while the other lot, of the bashing-of-the-cow-worshipping variety differs strongly. It claims that he sported no ash, no sacred thread and no saffron clothes (it is MMM’s view that they may not have objected if the colour was yellow). The funny thing is that neither of the groups has any authentic evidence about the man and are shouting their opinions. There is an old adage in legal circles that when the facts are against you, present the law; when the law is against you, present the facts; when both are against you, shout loudly and thump the table. MMM leaves you to identify which of the three routes are being taken by both contestants in this quixotic battle.
There is, however, much at stake for both parties. For the saffron lot, laying claim to the Thiruvalluvar legacy means staking legitimacy in a State where they have no base. For the other group, also known as Party of the Forever Rising Son, losing out on Thiruvalluvar means losing a cultural hold over the people. Both unfortunately, have no love for the author of the Kural – he is merely a convenient tool to appropriate.
Fighting over the inchoate creator of a literary masterpiece is of course not unique to Tamil culture. This kind of thing goes on all over the world. The Bard of Avon is a parallel from the English language. But then everywhere else, such arguments are put forth by real scholars and that is what makes the debate over identity so interesting. Unfortunately, neither saffron nor the other lot can lay claim to any scholarship in this, or any other, aspect of culture. And in all the chaos they overlooked one aspect – People’s Justice Forum was celebrating the birthday of Lotus Smile, their founder and matinee hero. They did it in usual Tamil style – large posters hailed him as the messiah. One of these had him in the garb of Thiruvalluvar!
The Man from Madras Musings stood at the gate of this historic precinct in our city. He had been invited by some of the higher ups in the place to conduct a heritage tour for the benefit of some school children and college students. MMM was familiar with the premises, having conducted several walks there in the past. But those were all mixed groups – young and old together and MMM had held them all spellbound, with even hard-nosed businessmen weeping at certain crucial moments. But a gaggle of children and what’s more some college kids? MMM was really nervous.
He had been asked to present himself at the gate at 6.00 am for a 6.30 am event and there he was at the appointed hour, faced with what looked like a sea of school children, their teachers having a tough time in keeping them together. MMM could only pity all of them – kids, whose parents who must have got up at an unearthly hour and also the teachers, who too must have stirred with the lark. But of the college students there was no sign. The authorities suggested that MMM had better wait till they, the college students landed up. And so, everyone waited. After half an hour, there being no signs of the students and the school marms getting restless, MMM wandered off to check on a group of youngsters who had been clicking selfies at various places on the premises. It transpired that they were the college students. The security officer of the premises having been informed, he herded them in and there was a flowery introduction to MMM.
The school children listened attentively. The college lot clicked selfies.
The tour began, the school children asking questions while the college lot took selfies. MMM waxed eloquent on personalities, places, portraits and pestilence – the children listened and laughed at the right places but as for the college students, they remained selfie bound. It was all that MMM could do to hold himself in from pouncing on them and impounding the phones. The journey eventually wound to a close but not before a stage wait outside the residence of the managing director of the historic premises, as that great personage wanted to take a (you guessed it) selfie with the group. But he did not emerge from his lair for quite a while. The school kids began to get restless though the college students, to give them due credit, did not complain, so involved were they in their selfies. After quite some time, news filtered down that MD sir was busy in a meeting (MMM overheard a whispered conversation that he was on his treadmill and if that be the truth MMM fervently hopes the he, the MD, soon trips over his (the MD’s) shoelaces and sprains his (the MD’s) back), and so could everyone move on.
The tour ended eventually (and here the college students had to be told that it had ended) and everyone assembled for a formal vote of thanks. MMM was given a memento while the audience clapped. Everyone barring the college students that is, for their hands were otherwise occupied.
As MMM was beginning to walk away, he found his way barred. The college students had come together and had a request. Could MMM please pose for a selfie with them as it was such a memorable experience? MMM obliged.