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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
A Pledge Song for Eelam
from Tamil Poet Laureate Kannadasan
[Originally appeared in the Hot Spring, Jan-Feb.2000]
Courtesy Sangam, 10 June 2003
[see also Remembering Kavi Arasu Kannadasan]
For millions of Tamils who are over 40, numerous movie lyrics of Tamil poet laureate Kannadasan (1927-1981) provided special delight in times of happiness and solace in times of sorrow. When Kannadasan wrote lyrics for action-oriented movies of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran (MGR; 1917-1987), in 1950s and 1960s, there was undoubtedly an extraordinary ‘punch’ in his lines to provide courage and uplifting spirit to the masses who struggled with daily chores.
Kannadasan-MGR combination in real life had vibrant streaks of friendship and infrequent spats as well. But both, each blessed with strong individuality, recognized and respected each one’s talent. Among the dozens of songs which fill my memories, I have a fondness to the following song which appeared in MGR’s movie Nadodi. For the movie, MGR lip-synched this song with a harmonium hanging around his neck. In my opinion, this song of Kannadasan has equal merits as the pledge song for Eelam. Kannadasan’s play on the word ‘Naadu’ (both its noun form and the verb form) is indeed a beauty.
Peering into the Future
I predict that Eelam will be a reality in the first quarter of the 21st Century (before Prabhakaran reaches 70 years). Whether it will happen before the year 2010 or after, depends on multiple geo-political factors. To illustrate with a chemistry principle, a set of factors functioning as catalysts can bring out a quick completion of a reaction. In my opinion, the second and third generation of Tamils who are currently growing up in the USA, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and other European nations can (and should) function as catalysts to influence the policies of their adopted nations.
Let us learn from a page in the history of the 20th century. Israel became a reality for Jews in 1948, largely because of the influence wielded by the second and third generation American Jews (whose parents and grandparents escaped from the pogroms in European and Russian ghettos). Since the times of Harry Truman, the Jewish interests (in academic, business, bureaucratic and Hollywood circles) have made sure that American politicians support the birth and sustenance of Israel.
Thus, it is the duty of those who have settled now in affluent nations to instill the message of Tamil heritage to their offspring and grandchildren. Of course, there are many methods to provide such instruction. I wish to propose one song which can serve as a pledge song for Eelam Tamils in the diaspora.
In the mid 1960s, long before the struggle for Eelam was in the thoughts of Sri Lankan Tamils, Kannadasan, the uncrowned poet laureate of Tamils, penned a lyric to one of MGR’s movies, aptly named Nadodi (The Vagabond). The word Nadodi itself is an apt one to describe the status of the Tamils who left their ancestral land, though one need not interpret it in a derisive context. Kannadasan’s poignant song began with the lines,
Naadu – athai Naadu – athai naadaa viddaal, ethu Veedu?
நாடு – அதை நாடு – அதை நாடா விட்டால், எது வீடு?
In a play on the word Naadu, which means ‘homeland’ (as a noun) and ‘reach the goal’ (as a verb), Kannadasan superbly highlighted the folk wisdom that one’s real heaven (home) is in his or her homeland.
Even when I hum the lines of this particular lyric, I’m still astounded by Kannadasan’s mastery of thoughts, words and vision, and he wrote these lines for MGR to mouth these lines (actually sung by T.M.Soundararajan) in that movie. The Tamil poet laureate stressed it to us, that ‘even if our homeland is a desert, let us have boundaries with rock and mountains. There are rivers which flow into the fields, and lets be proud of our heroic traditions.’ [The original lines are as follows:]
Paalaivanam enra pothum Nam Naadu
Paarai Malai kooda Nam ellai Kodu
Aaru Nilam Paainthu Vizhaiyadum Thottam
Veera Samuthayame Engal Kooddam.
பாலைவனம் என்றபொதும் நம் நாடு
பாரை மலை கூட நம் எல்லை கோடு
ஆறு நிலம் பாய்ந்து விழையாடும் தோட்டம்
வீர சமுதாயமெ எங்கள் கூட்டம்...
The next four lines of this lyric also shows that Kannadasan had anticipated the emergence of Tamil Tigers, a decade ahead. One can call it as a poet’s flight of fancy for word play or premonition to things to follow. But, these lines glitter like gems, and need no further explanation from me.
Pasi enru Varuvoorku Virunthaha Maarum
Pahaivar Muham Paarthu Puliyaaha Cheerum
Nilathil Uyir Vaithu Urimai Kondaadum
Ethirthu Varuvorai Urama Podum.
பசி என்று வருவோர்கு விருந்தாக மாறும்
பகைவர் முகம் பார்த்து புலியாகச் சீரும்
நிலத்தில் உயிர் வைத்து உரிமை கொண்டாடும்
ஏதிர்த்து வருவொரை உரமாய் போடும்.
The poet has noted, ‘We will provide food for those who come with hunger; to our adversaries, we turn into tigers; We will cherish our dear land, and will turn enemies into fertilizers for our land.’
It is my view that the brothers and sisters who have stayed in Eelam have been doing their share in turning the last three lines of Kannadasan’s vision into reality. Those of us who have left Eelam and living elsewhere should contribute to make Kannadasan’s line ‘Pasi enru Varuvoorku Virunthaha Maarum’, a reality.