தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - C Kumarabharathy > Ramblings on Tamil Culture > Culture & the Tamil Contribution to Civilisation

Selected Writings by C.Kumarabharathy

Ramblings on Tamil Culture

We tend to think (implicitly), that culture is embodied in Bharatha Natyam, Film Songs, Films, Dramas and having thus externalised "Culture", we then send our children to 'study' them. This way, parents 'make up' for their supposed lack of culture, by the alleged accomplishments of the children. It is generally, not clear to us, that behaviour, our conflicts and relationships also form the bedrock of culture. The dance and songs are external manifestation of this inwardness.

Most of the artforms like dance, are broadly speaking a mechanical imitation of creativity. This is a symptom of inward tawdriness. Of course, it is wrong to generalise, but we can use some caution in gullibly accepting these as the real McCoy. In this sense, I have not come across very many devoted teachers. Most of these exponents are quite mediocre and have little worth transmitting.

But then again, remember the proverb, "Wedlock and Guru are written on your forehead" - meaning that we get the teachers we deserve.

Having said this, it must be said to its (all this ging-bang) credit, that children come together and participate in a common goal in these ventures. They have a forum and context to come into the Society. (This is mostly limited to the girls). Boys can entertain themselves with their own devices. At least it gives the youth a breather space to fill the time of the day (non destructively) till they go for higher education, which is what the parents really care for. So all this can be said to have a relevance, in a limited sense; limited by the importance we attribute to them.

It is easy to see why behaviour,(ie getting rid of conflicts and fear) is not considered as an important function of 'culture'. It is undramatic (no outward panthas-showbiz) and has little to show for in a short time. It is most elusive and requires a strong commitment, honesty on the part of the Society to define this as an important goal of a cultural School. We do not have the patience to do this. Besides who cares? As long as one's own children enter the Uni and beat the 'socially relevant neighbour' to it and then gets a Job and then gets married, and so on. This individual aspiration is very strong aspect in 'our midst'. I am not sure whether it prevails in other migrant communities. May be it does. The reason that we do not consider these may be, becuase we have succeeded in establishing ourselves in expatriate surroundings, and that makes us sure of ourselves.

' We know all about it, So don't listen to old foggies'. But there are problems ahead. Fortunately, those of us who came to the West in our teens or adult life, have some grounding (how real is this assumption anyway?) on how to handle crisis, like bereavement, economic pressures, marital problems. Though admittedly it is not a foolproof system, the good aspects of 'Tamil culture' has mostly by good luck rather than design has stuck with us. This credit goes to savants, saints and ordinary good men, whose 'Thavam' has cleared some unconscious blockages. It is a good time to pause and think what are we doing about being really good. Even if we are unable to be this, are we earnest in making a movement towards goodness which is really creativity? This will determine how the next generation will handle life?

Have we connected the relevance of being earnest and good to the future of the generations to come. There seems to be no other insurance. Education and Jobs are susceptible to so many faults. Nearly everything depends on an infinite number of causes, it cannot be approached this way. For example a war or depression can upset carefully calculated equations. At least after all these years of packing our bags, we should know this much. If the community has survived the onslaughts and ravages, it may be attributed to the goodness described above.

The last two generations of 'perfect government servants' has created a colossal materialism in our culture. Middle class created a mediocrity in Politics and Life of the Tamils. The commercialisation of the dowry system is one of the phenomenon of this white collar 'a la Jaffna' style. This motivation still propels us to great extent. There is some practical realism ( move from clerks to Doctors/Engineers/Accountants and accumulation of wealth) in this set of conditioning, which is the reason why it succeeded. But it may not hold the key to future generations. This should be considered as a statement to be examined by people and debated rather than an axiom. Leaving this for a while...

We talk of Sangam poetry ( Please try to read the originals or read AK Ramanujan's translation: Poetry of Love and War). Anyone who has studied this will be struck by the stark originality of some of the verses. But Tamils have lost the art of appreciating nature directly. It is only through a bad recording of a second class Tamil film that they see the nature in all its splendour. Have you heard of complaints 'The movies you get now a days are all vulgar with no story'. With the same breadth they keep on borrowing videos.......ad nauseum. As a community we have some pet beliefs, one is that we are heir to some mystical ancient wisdom. That just calling ourselves Tamil, we can invoke this power. I have yet to see the signs of such wisdom (we wouldn't be in this plight if this were so).

It is like a bank account, unless we also put in credit we cannot keep borrowing on an overdraft. It does not work that way, at least it seems to me. A word of caution. It is easy to make these kind of observations but we have to be careful that we are not hurting people. Fortunately some of us may have not been a victim of personal suffering in the recent political conflicts. Or perhaps some of those affected have managed to heal. Therefore they could bring certain objectivity into discussions However, those who have been recipients of a direct blow, may not be able to be so objective.

But being directly affected by events is not a necessary condition to understanding. The people directly affected cling on to a perception that they have more to say, or should be heard more and have more rights associated with their suffering. Thus communication problems arise. The best option is to put it across and just leave it at that. In any event what can one do in these extra ordinary circumstances we find ourselves? I would think that we have to earnestly desire an understanding. One of the preliminary conditions would be a stance of true humility that : We have messed up things, that we really do not know what to do. Without some humility it is difficult to listen to saner voices.

I have been helped by some saints in my inquiry, but just giving these names ( They always point out that they are Not persons in our accepted sense and are not limited by names and forms) might have the opposite effect, to what is intended. This can be misunderstood and we could easily fall into a trap of miracles and easy salvation (albeit Success).

The international forums of various Tamil do's are just variety entertainment. There is a time for sowing and time for reaping. This is not the time for table thumping but time for refection We are just being hurried into writing papers. There should be a foundation laid, which calls for a minimum standards before people can air their views.

Most of the expatriate products do not reflect the experience of expatriate ( Bharathi Mukerji , Raja Rao, VS Naipul are some good examples of Indian expat authentic writing) living but are mere cliches. I hope this fact is put across strongly to some participants at least (organisers are happy with organisation paimpals).

It is difficult to just be. I think restraint would be the best course in confused times (particularly when confused persons are too sure of themselves). Atleast then a geniuine attempt will not be mistaken for one of these alladdal. Models of culture based on Jaffna, is not the best answer. Obviously, the last winning Lotto number will not repeat the next time.

Blame for the current crisis in Sri Lanka, in part must lie with Tamils. Yogar Swamy was known to have repeatedly told people of the destructive effects of mass clerical culture. Nevertheless, the people surrounding him have been asking for boons in promotion class 2 or 1 as the case may be, and got it from him!. Having escaped the crisis, it is very easy to pontificate of 'our great cultural heritage'. Something was obviously amiss in this culture for us to be wanting to try all avenues of escape from the scene of conflict.

For a clear definition of highest in Tamil culture refer to a line from Sangam '  The good and bad DOES NOT COME FROM OTHERS (but of themselves), So is disease and death; Therefore I neither laugh at the'small people' nor venerate the 'Great ones' '.

The poet obviously takes responsibility on himself for everything based on deep understanding. If he were to 'see' a White man, he does not see instantly with the prejudice of superiority tinged with inferiority and all the mixed up train of thoughts... but just sees a man without screen of prejudice. Thirumoolar, Sivavakiyar are some other examples. I would add respectfully: Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maha Rishi, Yogar are recent examples.

A Zen saying that is relevant here: The wise man points the fingers at the moon; The fool looks at the fingers.

We all fall into this trap, if not always, but at least some times. Do not trust everything that is written here. Use it only as a counter point to move forward. The real question is: How do we learn to unlearn the past and the art of learning how to learn?

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