Somehow, I feel the Tamil intellectuals; I mean the Tamil scholars, had never studied the intellectual growth of Tamil society in the past 300 years. In the way I see it. Why three hundred years? I take this period roughly correspond with the rise of European Enlightenment, starting with the Newtonian revolution in physical sciences and the growth of reason in modern discourse in all branches of life, politics, society and philosophy. The French Revolution and the thoughts and ideas that preceded the same, the thoughts of French philosophers, men like Rousseau and Voltaire and the growth of the ideas of freedoms and the rights of modern man.
What I have collected in the volume here as my latest offering is to give shape to my thoughts as experienced over a long period of living my life against so many odds.
After I finished writing my autobiography I imagined I had expressed all my thoughts or nuances of my feelings in Tamil prose. Though many of my Tamil literary acquaintances and friends praised generously my prose style and my expositions of my beliefs, philosophies and convictions, there was this feeling inside me: I haven’t told all I wanted to say! Not in a manner I wanted to express my inner self. Tamil is a classical language and the current style of writing Tamil prose, in my opinion, is not well advanced by international standards as to express all thoughts in a subtle and sophisticated style. I had listed the chapters of the Twentieth Century Poetry just to give an idea of the scope of the poetical universe the English reading public is acquainted with and what have we got in Tamil poetry today?
I was reading off and on a number of Indian poets writing in English and a few of them had become my close friends over the years. Besides Dom Moraes, I got to know rather well Kamala Das, the poetess who writes poetry in English and stories in Malayalam and R.Parthasarathy during his stint with the OUP in Chennai during the Seventies. In fact, even now I read R.P. and get moved by some memorable lines.
A.K.Ramanujan, though I don’t know him personally, I had listened to him, read him much and had talked with his many friends. He is perhaps, the highly gifted poet and translator and Tamils feel elated when they read his translations of the Tamil classical poems. He had lifted Tamil classical poetry’s universal reach for the first time. Even in India there is a realization that in the all India literary context, classical Tamil can lay claim to an original poetical tradition, not matched by the great body of Sanskrit literature. So, Ramanujan would remain a milestone in the contemporary world literary scene.
Just now I was reading through the A Verse Autobiography, by John Betjeman “Summoned by Bells”, published when I was in Oxford in 1960. At that time I didn’t notice it though there was much debate about its literary quality. Now in a new edition and reissued now and available in India, this verse autobiography brought me back much of my Oxford days! Many of the scenes and sights bring back the Oxford atmosphere evocatively!
Back in India, I chose for what seemed heroic and thus tried my hand in several projects, some landed me in trouble and drove me into obscurity, some, daring and untried also lifted me above the ordinary and mundane and had given me the “spirits of the air”, to quote Shelley. If I can quote a European poet, “I hated what was easy”. Poetry reading was always an interest in all these years. As I was writing this piece I lay my hands, quite unexpectedly, on a new collection of poems across the globe. “The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, 1996, 654 pages, covers almost the whole geographical extent of the globe, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Japan, Latin America, Carribean, Russia and Africa. Some 80 major poets! Some of whom are Nobel Prize winners as well as names known throughout the world wherever poetry is discussed seriously.