Wednesday, 15 February 2017



If you aren't a Tam, you can't even pronounce it right.

It's a Tamil month, one that loosely corresponds to the period from the middle of December to the middle of January.

But if you arent a Tam, you dont know Margazhi - It's the Madrasi's season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the season of woodsmoke at dawn when the temples play ML Vasanthakumari singing Andal's Thiruppavai, the season of kolams and carnatic music, when Tamil Nadu's scorching temperatures dip into the twenties.

It is ... beautiful.

மாதங்களில் அவள் மார்கழி, மலர்களிலே அவள் மல்லிகை

Among the months, she's Margazhi. Among flowers, she's the jasmine.

There's this song, a love song, a movie song, where this guy sings about the woman he loves. As lyrics go, the lines are simple, but so loaded with meaning that it makes your heart swell.

The song was written by a tubby womanizing drunkard - who also happened to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But if you aren't a Tam, you wouldn't know. You wouldn't be able to evaluate the distance between ஆசையே அலைபோலே நாமெல்லாம் அதன்மேலே    and ஜகமே மந்திரம் சுகமே தந்திரம் சிவசம்போ.

So this guy, this Muthiah, wrote songs for movies. He wrote novels. He was a member of the Dravida movement, an atheist. He wrote propaganda verse.

There's a story of a man. A powerful man, beloved by millions. He was a movie star, a matinee idol, and a politician who'd become the chief minister of a state that loved him. But as Chief Minister, he found that he had to take unpopular decisions, tough decisions. So he would steel himself by listening to a song from one of his movies, taking strength from the lines "வாழ்ந்தவர் கோடி மறைந்தவர் கோடி மக்களின் மனதில் நிற்பவர் யார்" (crores of people have lived, crores have died - but who remain in memory), written by this Muthiah, a guy he quarreled with all the fucking time.

If you think this is all quite trite, you're probably justified.

But I'd like to to draw your attention to a film called Raaja Paarvai, one which starred Kamalahasan - not fucking Kamal Hassan - and a song called Azhage, azhagu.
Now, Raja Paarvai is a lovely film, where Kamalahasan plays a blind guy who is in love with Madhavi - and he asks Madhavi to draw a self portrait based on how he sees her in his mind - with eyes like stars, ears like question marks, fingers like "thenkuzhal", and so on...
The result, as drawn by Madhavi, is grotesque, but its also an illustration of the impossibility of translation.

How would you translate, for example, செந்தமிழ் தேன்மொழியால், நிலாவென சிரிக்கும் மலர்கொடியால் (yes, I know that its the hard la, not the soft la there, but translations online are fucked up). That "her voice is as sweet as pure honeyed tamil, that her smile is like moonlight on a flower?" Whatever you try, its not going to be the same.

So, autobiographical note alert, my grandfather was into films. He made money financing them, and the stories of his banging starlets are legendary in our family. As a reaction, my father grew up in rebellion. Where Thatha was hedonistic, he was puritanical. Where my grandfather enjoyed movie music, my \father swore by the Carnatic greats. But I remember this, back in 1981, when appa looked up from the Hindu that he was reading and said, to no one in particular, "What a waste. He died. What a waste of a life".

Kannadasan. Kaviarasu Kannadasan wasn't a Padma Shree or a Padma Bhushan or a Padma anything,.  But he could writeabout vegetables, about beans and bitter gourd, and make it it into one of the most heartfelt love songs ever.  He could write a song glorifying Allah, where every third line ended with "Om" - not because he was taking the piss on Muslims, but because it was about God, whatever you chose to call him or her.  He could write Deva Mainthan Pokindran, a st6aple of every Christmas and Easter Oliyum Oliyum, where Kamal was Jesus, and he could write Yaarum Varuvar, Yaarum Thozhuvar, Naagoor Aandavan Sannidhiyil.

He was, to put it mildly, awesome.

I've always loved hacks. And Kannadasan was the ultimate hack.
But in his commercialism, he transcended commerce.
He transcended politics and propaganda.

So if you had one song to sum up Kannadasan's life, which would you choose?
This one?

or this
or this

or this, the only song he wrote for Mullum Malarum,

or this
or the ultimate Tam stoner anthem

You can't.

And that's my point.

1 comment:

  1. Good one da. Kamalahaasan - ha! And thank God I still remember to read Thamizh. And maybe you can explain what was so different with him from the blokes writing today?