Tamil writers and scholars would be driven to silence if you ask them why no major literary prizes are coming to their literature! I have been asking these questions lately in many forums. I am surprised such thoughts haven’t come to the Tamil minds. They are all so self-absorbed, operating in many narrow factions and nursing their own petty egos. The very political environment helps the average writer or poet to settle down comfortably into this narrow groove.
The outside world is of course full of events and happenings. The Indian literary scene had become lively lately with more prizes instituted by many organizations, the Kalidas Samman, the Saraswathi Samman and the Jnanpeeth award, to mention the most widely known. The Sahitya Akademi awards, each worth now Rs.50,000 for 22 Indian languages is one of the better known and much sought after award. But somehow, the award winning novel or poetry book doesn’t get translated into other languages or eagerly sought after by non-Tamil readers. Why, the awards winning novels or poetry often don’t make favorite readings! This is, in contrast to Malayalam and Bengali literature; they are translated and read by other language readers. Nobel Prize for Tamil? That thought creates a sort of discomfort! Though Indians are not unaccustomed to this coveted award. After Tagore in 1913, the two recent awards, one to V.S.Naipaul for literature and one for Prof.Amartya Sen should make one feel Nobel award to Indian language literature is not out of reach!
Though English is the world language, it is poets in Spanish or Russian who dominate the Nobel Prize rolls, Pablo Neruda (Nobel 1973) is called the 20th century’s top world poet. Or, Octavio Paz (Nobel 1990) or Joseph Brodsky, (Nobel 1987), the more universal in their appeal.
So, I think that Tamil language with its own classical past, with an unparalleled universal outlook, can regain its old glory, if the present day Tamils really awake and become aware of what befalls their language today. Tamil in the first half of the twentieth century was equivalent to what Bharati did single-handedly. The second half of the century, the first fifty years of Freedom, didn’t produce any poet of such far reaching vision or daring. I am sure that only if we realize the befall of the language in the Dravidian twilight of all empty noise and no vision whatever; we can raise the Tamil language’s vision to reach the universal stage. For this we need to dare and reach out to new horizons and explore new paradigms and world visions. I have briefly attempted to reach such an ambitious world audience. Or, fellow brotherhood of international poetical aspirations. It is for others to judge my claims and achievements, if any.
I am totally unqualified for translating my own writings from Tamil to English or my English writing to Tamil. More so when I think of translating and conveying my Tamil poems into English. So, readers of this afterward, if they are not familiar with Tamil, regrettably have to be content with just reading this somewhat self-indulgent claim!
I haven’t written either in the traditional Tamil poetical mode or my poems can be called new poetry, a style that is much in vogue in Tamil and much is made of it also.
When I sent some of my poems in the first instance, many months ago when I started writing poetry after nearly some four decades, (my ” lost years”), my readers, more so my friends who are familiar with my literary career were quite bewildered! Why? As one poet of considerable experience wrote: “your poetry is neither in the traditional mode nor in the new poetical mode. But at the same time I couldn’t also say this is not poetry either! So, this was the sort of poetry that came to me naturally and in the course of the next few months, there were many appreciative references to my poems. So, these appreciative references and words are given, as they came along. I am grateful to the brave hearts who ventured to go out of their way and pay close attention to what I composed and for their finding my contribution worthwhile.
One more point. I have been a student of English poetry for long. I have read most of the major poets and also read most of the biographies, old and latest, on these poets T.S.Eliot, Shelley, Keats, Byron and Browning and more recently Stephen Spender, W.H.Auden and one or two others. Of course, I had read most of the biographies of W.B.Yeats, Wordworth, Mathew Arnold, among the older poets. Among the European poets, Boris Pasternak is my favourite and so I had read all his poems and books on him. Whenever I read the poets or other writers I am inspired by some lines or events in their lives and these momentary inspirations used to lead to my writing some poems in Tamil. I recently read the biography of Victor Hugo and what an effect it had one me! It instantly produced some lines that you would find as the last poem in this collection.
The last point is about my way of composing poems. I write the whole poems sometimes in one go. Most of the longer poems in the book were written like that. But some of the shorter poems took many days and even months to find their final shape. Dom Moraes says (Typed with one finger) “I write poetry slowly and make as many as 50 drafts of most poems”. In my case, I write and rewrite a few lines and yet I don’t feel satisfied.
Even some `one liners’ took so many drafts and even in the final version they appear here I won’t say I am fully satisfied with them! That is my experience.
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