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.
The idea of freedom and the rights is the key to understand the Enlightenment. The history of India, more so, South India seemed to have been cut off from the main intellectual currents of the European Enlightenment. The Tamil society saw the coming of the European religious missionaries, they discovered the Tamil script, and they invented the printing and used the Tamil script to produce the first Tamil books. The Tamil prose is a contribution of these missionaries; they were everywhere, in the Eastern coast of Tamilnadu and the Western coast of Kerala and belonged to many missions, Portugese, Danish, French, and German and of course the England’s own religious denominations.
The point is the British Empire completely kept out the European Enlightenment currents reaching the Indian shores! Only Tipu Sultan among the Indian princes had this knowledge and awareness of the European powers, European ideas, he planted a `tree of liberty’ and wanted to befriend the French to defeat the British in India. In Bengal Rajaram Mohan Roy celebrated by a public dinner the 1830 revolution in France. Otherwise, for the Tamil upper society, the rajas and zamindars, life under the British rule was bliss enough! As for the Tamil middle class, English education and jobs under the alien occupation was the ultimate goal in life! The rich didn’t care; the middle class didn’t bother; even the saints couldn’t enlighten us! Vadalur Ramalinga Adigal attempted some fusion but his opponents overwhelmed him. Tamil society went through three centuries of more darkness!
In fact, the Indian society was run down by influential British writers. James Mill, working at the East India Company wrote a History of India, showing Indians wanting in character, using language that would now be found unacceptable! Though Max Muller came out with an anti-dote to the English prejudices against India and Indian civilization, his voice was a lone one. It was Macaulay’s boast that carried the day!
Thus, there was no chance Indians, in particular Tamil society, had any chance of exposure to the Enlightenment currents of the period. The British boast continued well into the late twentieth century, till Churchill’s days. So, Tamils were never exposed to the modern world’s vibrant currents of the Rights of Man, man as a citizen of the world etc.
So, I conclude: the Tamil society never grew out of its ancient and medieval mentality of a slavish mindset, sheer poverty etc. Repeated attacks and invasions and the consequent lack of stability in society contributed to a permanent mental sickness which the native Tamils mistook for their divine inspiration, bhakthi and spiritualism!
So, it is the idea of freedom of the mind, man’s liberation, flowering of the mind’s many facets, freedom to be oneself, think freely without fear of authority that is the running thread in my poems.