Kavithai IyaRRi Kalakku

    Today morning was well spent at a function releasing the Prof.Pasupathy's 'கவிதை இயற்றி கலக்கு'.
The book is a compilation of a series introducing traditional Tamil poetic grammar, that he wrote over a period of three years in mayyam.com

    I had the chance to listen to Thiruppoor Krishnan, Vetriazhagan, Thamizhazhagan and Ilandhai Ramaswamy's speeches. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The release was organized by Bharathi Kalai kazhagam in Adyar.      I have listened Thiruppoor Krishnan's precise, scholarly, well  structured speeches many times and today's was no exception. He brought out his experience of reading the book, marabukkavidhai in general and enjoyable literary anecdotes. He particularly underlined how well comprehensively researched the examples chosen by Prof. Pasupathy were , thus making the reading an enjoyable literary experience, rather than a dry grammatical treatise. While poetry itself cannot be taught, he contended that with if a marubbakavidhai did not 'click' one would atleast have the basic enjoyability of the 'form' left behind: புதுக்கவிதை நீர்த்துப்போனால் ஒன்றும் மிஞ்சாது, மரபுக்கவிதை நீர்த்துப்போனால் செய்யுளாவது மிஞ்சும்.

     While that was a rather dim take on it, he also spoke about form-level challenges that some poets had taken up and excelled, thereby elevating the literary experience considerably.

     Vetriazhagan - was the showstealer. He spoke about the general lack of awareness about grammar and attributed the preference for 'free verse' largely to 'shying away from the learning of grammar' than the usual cliche that is bandied about: 'to learn and then to break free'. He emphasized the coincidence of grammar and literature. Familiarity with thirukkuRaL, he claimed, served as sufficient ready-reckoner to go to whenever one had any grammatical queries. So even if one didn't quite study tholkAppiyam, thirukkuRaL would do one as much justice.

     He was critical of those who arrogate themselves due to their own ignorance and gave some examples which thrilled me:

Apparently in the new textbooks being written for the சமச்சீர் கல்வித்திட்டம் have decided the spelling out to be : நாட்டுப்புரம் and not நாட்டுப்புறம். On first glance, it does not strike the uninitiated as odd. One tends to think of நாட்டுபுரம் as the equivalent of the english word 'countryside'. After all புரம் is the suffix for location, that we know. But புறம் means the outer, the other, that which is not (புறம்பான). 'That which is away', i.e. non-urban is what நாட்டுப்புறம் actually means. It is a definition by negation! It is this sort of basic understanding, he claimed, that is found lacking.

Etymology just came naturally to him. The man apparently changed his name from Jayaraman to Vetriazhagan. Vetri for Jayam was easy. But what to replace Raman with? In his early days he apparently tried many combinations like Vetrichelvan etc. which did not quite stick. Kamban came to the rescue. When Bharathan asks Guhan where Rama, Sita and Lakshmana spent the night, Guhan says 'அழனும் அவளும் துஞ்ச'. Now, when I read this, I thought 'azhagan' was just a description of Rama. Nope - it is a pretty literal translation, says Vetriazhagan: ராமன்-னா அழகன். ராமி-ன்னா அழகி. அபிராமி-ன்னா பேரழகி. Then it strikes one as obvious that Rama should have had the same roots as Ramya (ரம்மியம் is a fairly common word!). That's the thrill of most of these 'word root' expositions. 'Ah..how come I didn't work it out' is how they leave you feeling.

    Vetriazhagan went on to emphasize that, contrary to popular perception, poetry gave plenty of leeway to those who wanted to write: செந்தொடை that accommodated those seized by poetic afflatus, விகாரங்கள் that permitted copping off parts of words to fit the metre - trusting the reader to infer with context, and so on. In fact it is உரைநடை, he said, that cut one no slack at all!  While he himself had written a book யாப்பதிகாரம், he gracefully appreciated Pasupathy's inclusion of plenty of information and topics, that he had himself not had the chance to include in his work.

    Thamizhazhagan spoke about the how grammar isn't some external 'rule' being applied, but quite simply a codification of what 'naturally falls into place'. After all, the இயற்று in the title itself shares roots with இயல்பு! While literature was about the nuance of communicating to reach an objective (இலக்கு + இயம்), he explained that grammar, was about the manner in which the objective was wholesomely reached (இலக்கு + அணைத்தல்). He was bursting in the seams with literary references where a basic understanding of grammar would have prevented crucial misinterpretation, misquoting which get perpetuated as literature is handed down.

    Ilanthai Ramasamy  apparently is one of the founder/moderators of a googlegroup that has a lot of active members learning the nuances of Tamil poetic grammar. He talked about the huge demand on the net for such learning and all that was needed was guidance and motivation to feed the creativity. He gave some examples of complex structures, import and adaptation of Western poetic forms that their group has adopted and toyed with.

Thoroughly enjoyable series of speeches it turned out to be. I had initially planned to buy the book and give the slip early, as my appetite for literary meetings is rather low. However this one was thoroughly enjoyable with scholars expounding information one wouldn't have had the chance to listen to elsewhere.

    Me, well I enthusiastically started reading when the series started a few years back. Faithfully doing அலகுபிரித்தல் exercises and then promptly let interest wane. I then added 'reading the series' to my New Year resolutions list, where it thrived there for about 3-4 New Years in a row.

I harbor unfavorable opinions about the 'democratization of poetry' that free-verse has achieved. Except for very few poems of very very few poets I can hardly connect with modern poetry in English or Tamil. Of course, 'the loss is mine, I am being pig-headed' and all that. So be it. I demand some sweat and agonization of my artistes and feel prosody is some kind of 'proof' of the same. Of course that is the least of the reasons, the sheer joy of rhythm being the principal motivation.
I do not fancy myself a poet and my motivation to read this is not so much equip myself with writing skills, but largely to develop a more nuanced appreciation of the vast corpus of literature that we have inherited - whatever fistful we can manage to clutch.

I do not consider myself equal to astronomical/astrological debates on whether Chithirai 1 is a New Year or not. But I could sure use a New Year soon to get started on delivering on my resolution this time.

Kavidhai iyatri kalakku Rs.150
LKM publication, T.Nagar,Chennai
Ph: 24361141


  1. Hello dagalti.!!

    Earlier i dint read this.!!

    Nw finished reading..

    //Chithirai 1 is a New Year or not//

    u too.??

    i think this wud be more useful to me.!!

  2. Very nice post.

    I was once speaking to a poet who writes in English, asking him his opinion on a few of the poems that I wrote. While he didn't negative about them, he told me that it is better that if I learn to write in rhythm and rhyme first and then try free verse. Unfortunately I couldn't do either of them :)

    I do appreciate a lot of the 'modern' poetry which is written in free verse but the best poets always give me a feeling that they could have written any sort of poem. It has something to do with their use of language, the music they can generate, so on and so forth. To be very honest, I haven't found any modern Tamil poet reaching the heights of Sangam poets or Kamban. As you rightly said, in many cases, grammar is eschewed because it is difficult to learn. I see the same thing is many 'modern music composers' as well. They 'break rules' because they don't understand them!!! Unlike the great Jazz artists who probably know every rule which is out there and then go break it.

    I think I have taken too much space. Thanks for the etymologies. Very interesting. Wish I was there to attend this function.

  3. தம்பி கூர்மதியன், குழம்ப ஏதுவான சுட்டி

    Suresh, Thiruppoor Krishnan very appropriately mentioned Gnanakoothan, whose many poems are known for rhythm.

    This is a simple delight of a poem. Stewie Griffin, the diabolic infant in the animated series Family Guy, observes: 'it's good to have land', with such hilariously matter-of-fact profundity. The 'meaning' of the poem is perhaps the same. But the poem itself is elevated because one feels the rhythm and bounce of the lines overlaps with the stride of the man himself :-)


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