Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vanchinathan and S.Ramakrishnan's Jingoism

The Raj, as British rule is referred to, had a very unique history of colonization in India compared to even the other possessions of the British crown. India was referred to as the crown jewel of the British empire. Like any colonization there was, undoubtedly, oppression and exploitation. India's industry and culture was oppressed, ridiculed and eclipsed. To stop there would do gross injustice to the many men of the empire who also laid the foundations for many an institution on which India today rests secure as a sovereign independent republic.

Lord Curzon invited the wrath of India by partitioning Bengal and lighting a fire into the nationalist movement. Curzon is also the person who breathed new life into The Archeological Survey of India. The ASI was the brain child of Indologist Sir William Jones. British rule of India had its benefits and to ignore that does gross injustice to writing history with an integrity.

Writing about India's freedom struggle poses very special challenges to any author. Most Indian writers refer to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as India's 'First War of Independence'. Local chieftains, that's what they were, Tantiya Tope, Rani of Jhansi etc rallied together  in an attempt to chase the British and crown the ailing Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah. Should we call this as a 'war of Independence'? I think not. This was a war; more appropriately, a battle by local chieftains to protect their own fiefdoms. Liberal democracy and representative governments were totally alien to them.

Tamil Nadu had its share of such chieftains and many have entered the local folklore with an aura of being martyrs in the cause of freedom. Kattabomman, Marudhu brothers, Velu Nachiyar etc are now household names. Kattaboman's aura became a larger than life myth thanks to a blockbuster movie that was filled with fury and bluster. Whether it is Kattabomman or Rani of Jhansi or Velu Nachiyar their fame as martyrs rests solely upon the fact that they died fighting an enemy who happened to be British. All of them, as chieftains, have been warring with neighboring states and other princes. Their opposition to British was just the same as how they would have opposed any other chieftain if their fiefdom were threatened. It is plain bollocks to pretend that they martyred themselves in the cause of 'freedom'.

S.Ramkarishnan, popular contemporary writer in Tamil, is writing a series titled 'My India'  in Junior Vikatan. S.Ra, as he is referred to, has fallen prey to ritualistic need to portray the Britsh rule as singularly villainous with no shades of redemption and refer to questionable acts as acts of martyrdom in the cause of freedom.

 Vanchinathan was the first to employ assassination as a tool. Vanchi killed William Ashe, collector of Tirunelveli as Ashe was traveling in a train and committed suicide immediately in a toilet on the train. A wonderful article by a researcher published in Kalachuvadu gives lot of details including a, much discussed, confessional letter of Vanchi (or one could call it declaration).

Vanchi, an orthodox Brahmin, wrote, "The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas and in this land they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows. Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty."

That statement crystallizes that this is the act of a religious fundamentalist clothing his act in pious robes of freedom struggle. He expresses clearly a desire to go back to what he thinks was a glorious past. This is not about democracy for all, this not about equality for all, this is about what he thinks India should be, this is about who he thinks should rule India. S.Ra dishes out standard school textbook jingoistic version without even a nod to the complexity of the situation.

Writing on Tipu, S.Ra borders on dishonesty by virtually turning a blind eye to Tipu's complex history. S.Ra completely ignores any mention of Tipu's sordid conduct during and after the conquest of Calicut. The slave march of 60,000 Christians from Calicut to Mysore was Tipu's version of the Bataan death march. 

The conduct of Churchill and the British empire at large during the Bengal Famine of 1943 is well recorded and it remains a mark of shame. S.Ra takes the criticism to a new level when he charges that famines were never heard of until British rule. This is false and a sheer canard. The British, to give the devil its due, introduced impartial accounting and record keeping. I'd not trust any king's record keeping or the worse of poets who sang praises for a few gold coins. The British established India's first 'Famine codes' to study and record famines. 

S.Ra touches a nadir when he talks about how syphilis and gonorrhea, two notorious venereal diseases, entered India. Those diseases did enter India thanks to the British soldiers (who in turn got it from the French according to wikipedia). But when a writer claiming to be an intellectual writes a devious characterization "including cholera, these diseases were sowed in India thanks to the British" it takes a sinister tone. The sin of the British was keeping impeccable records. We have almost no good record of state of health care in pre-colonial days. To take the absence of record as proof of blissful state of health care is not just fallacy but idiocy.

S.Ra chooses an interesting term to characterize the British, "வந்தேறிகள்", The term is diluted when translated as immigrants or invaders. Incidentally It is a politically charged word with a history. S.Ra ignores that Brahmins are often insinuated by that same word by DK/DMK. Would S.Ra dare to call Tipu Sultan by that name? 

In his jingoistic moment he pens "இந்தியா ஒரு போதும் நோய்க்கிடங்காக இருந்து இல்லை. அதை நோய்க்கிடங்காக மாற்றியவர்கள் பிரிட்டிஷ், டச்சு, போர்த்துகீசியர், டேனிஷ் போன்ற வந்தேறிகள்தான். இயற்கையாகவே இந்தியாவில் இருந்த மருத்துவ முறைகள், உணவுப் பழக்க வழக்கம், சீதோஷ்ண நிலையைத் தாங்கும் உடல்நலம் யாவும் இந்த 200 ஆண்டுகளில் முற்றிலும் மாறிப்போய் இருக்கிறது. அதுதான் காலனிய ஆதிக்கத்தின் மீள முடியாத பாதிப்பு."

Through out history diseases have indeed spread by migrant populations. To characterize that the British and Danes turned India into a warehouse of diseases is pure canard. Also there is a utopian portrayal of Indian food and traditional medicine. Sir Ronald Ross won Nobel Prize for identifying the Malaria lifecycle, a research he did while stationed in India. The universities and hospitals brought to India by the British and Danes have saved tens of millions of lives. 

I guess since he was writing for Junior Vikatan S.Ra was writing at a different level but his readers deserve better.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An Evening with Nanjil Nadan

Nanjil Nadan won the Sahitya Akademi award for "Do not adorn the flower that was adorned" ('Soodiya Poo Soodarka). He is currently touring USA at the invitation of some literary enthusiasts. I met him at a friend's home and had an entertaining evening. I've read some of his stories on his web site and had a liked him. Many times I face the question "why do you hate Tamil literature, its culture etc". I love literature. Period. How can I hate a language with one of the richest heritage in human civilization and one which I happen to speak and write too? The 2 hours I spent listening to Nanjil Nadan was sheer pleasure.

Nanjil, as I wrote in another context recently, is a Mathematician by training and studied Tamil literature as a passion. While at Mumbai the library operated by Mumbai Tamil Sangam was his refuge. He learnt Kamba Ramayanam for 3 years from another person (not a literary academician either). Nanjil's love and knowledge for the epic knows no bounds. Ask him any question out of ignorance or curiosity about Kamba Ramayanam and the answer will make it clear within a minute that you are in the presence of someone who has not just studied the epic but has imbibed it in his veins. The best part, at least in that evening, is no answer would mixed with the mindless asinine chauvinism common amongst Tamil enthusiasts. Never did I hear him say "only Kamban not even xyz", or "only in Tamil".

Nanjil explained with great admiration of how Kamban would use words. He picked a word that has 40 variants and said Kamban had used it all. Nanjil is collecting such thoughts for a lecture titled 'words' to be delivered. If he had lived in USA and if Kamban was a westerner such a lecture would be given in the auspices of the 'National Endowment of Humanities' as the prestigious 'Jefferson lecture' and a publisher would be bringing out a nice booklet. Ah the curse of being a Tamil.

There are thousands of translation of Homer's epics but when Princeton professor Robert Fagles released his translations they became a sensation and set a new bar. I asked Nanjil why we do not see such continued research and re-interpretation of Tamil classics. He said that that's not true and cited a few works which, unsurprisingly, remain obscure. I asked him what about something similar to 'definitive editions' that we see for classics here. He referred to a particular edition of Kamba Ramayanam as being excellent, only one copy is available in Annamalai University.

Nanjil expressed his displeasure at the pathetic level of interest in anything beyond movies and TV serials for the average Tamil citizen. It has been the grouse of many a literary person. Trichy is what in USA would be referred to as University town. I spent an entire afternoon roaming around Trichy for a good book store. A guest shocked the rest and Nanjil by saying "well you guys must write what interest the public". Najil, being a gentleman, just smiled. At the beginning I asked Nanjil if he was here in connection with the annual Tamil Sangam convention hosted by FeTNA. He did not ignore that question but glided over it with a smile.

I wrote an article for FeTNA 2008 in which I had lamented the lack of a good dictionary akin to 'Oxford English Dictionary' for a 3000 year old language. Nanjil referred to R.P.Sethupillai's dictionary of Tamil words, compiled at Annamalai university, in the 20's as the only remaining definitive work. I did not dare to ask him what is Tamil University doing.

Last year a speaker in FeTNA 2011 lamented the dismal state of research in Tamil. He chided fantasy theories like Tamil originating in Lemuria. How did such crass mediocrity, nay, stupidity happen. An incident narrated by Nanjil showcased it and strangely Jayakanthan had written about such an incident 40 years back.

In the 60's a Writer's Conference was conducted in Trichy and E.V.Ramasamy Naicker was the chief guest (don't even ask me what is his credential). EVR, in his true gadfly nature, made a mockery of Mahabharatham asking 'should we not tear apart an epic that celebrates a polyandrous woman (Draupadi)'. Jayakanthan in his reply objected to such an attitude. EVR's minions who had crowded the hall tried to shout down Jeyakanthan. EVR then said "well we hurt a lot of sentiments of others by our opinions he should be free to say his opinion".

 Nanjil was invited, along with other contemporary writers, to speak on "the book that most influenced" him. Nanjil spoke about Kamba Ramayanam. Annathurai, DMK's idea of literary person, had made a name for himself by lecturing what a pornographer Kamban is and DK/DMK have made Kamban their ideological football with half assed ideas of literature etc. Just like the 60's now in 2010's EVR's successor Veeramani was invited too. Now Veeramani's minions, actually women, raised a ruckus. Nanjil said he was livid at this bunch half baked idiots maligning an epic and was ready to stand up and even take blows. He said "I know I'd be beaten up and next day paper would say 'Nanjil roughed up' so what". Veeramani echoed EVR in silencing the minions. In his reply Veeramani devoted almost the entire time to rebut Nanjil. My friend asks me "why do you have to drag Mu.Ka, EVR, DK, DMK" into anything about Tamil Nadu. To their credit no discussion of anything about Tamil Nadu is impossible without mentioning those.

Talking about Tamil music Nanjil was happy to see how Sanjay Subramaniam incorporates Tamil songs in his performance. He said as much it is reprehensible when carnatic musicians relegate Tamil songs to the last in a performance and refer to it as 'tail pieces' ('thukkada') we should also recognize how Brahmins have nourished and protected our music. He also was aghast referring to an interview of T.M.Krishna who said "singing 'Krishna nee Begane' ('Krishna please come') is the same as singing 'coca cola nee begane'". Saying music is universal Nanjil recalled how tears welled up in his eyes listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

My only disappointment of the evening was Najil's reply to my question on whether he read any books about USA prior to his visit here. Just 2 days before my meeting I had read an interview by Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust. Faust is visiting India more frequently to market Harvard and she is reading Katherine Boo, Rohinton Mistry, Salman Rushdie etc. Nanjil had read Pa.Raghavan's 'Dollar Dreams". My heart just sank. I did not expect him to say 'Alexis De Tocqueville' but saying Pa.Raghavan was just a low blow. In his visit to Boston he had expressed his appreciation for the politeness for American people "Americans are different from America the country which is a hegemony. I don't know enough to talk about the Wall Street power etc". This is a cop-out I've heard this a lot of times. American's elect their government. To see America only through the prism of foreign policy does gross injustice to the greatest country on earth. This deserves a separate blog.

People like Nanjil lack financial independence to undertake a study tour of USA to understand its vibrant intellectual nature and its deep structural greatness. Whether it is Nanjil or Jeyamohan they go around USA courtesy of some enthusiasts. A visit to MIT in an after noon, a stop at a grocery store (Nanjil went to Farmer's market), a train journey from New Jersey to NYC gives not even a glimpse of this country. He will have to stay and study the country, visit Kennedy Center, learn about Jefferson lecture, study about National Endowment of humanities, understand about the responsibilities of a Super Power by learning about how Herbert Hoover fed impoverished and vanquished Germany, understand how Ms Faust a civil war scholar conducts business at Harvard. At least he has gained a glimpse and is taking back nice memories of America. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My dad is a travel agent

Allan Bloom professor at Cornell wrote his classic bestseller "The closing of the American mind" in response to a campus disturbance that shook Cornell. Bloom recounts a post card he received from a student on his first visit to Italy, the student had written "You are not a professor of political philosophy but a travel agent". Bloom exulted 'nothing could have better expressed my intention as an educator. He (the student) thought I had prepared him  to see. Then he could begin thinking for himself with something to think about'. When I read that I thought of my father. Does saying 'father' sound better than dad? Saying 'dad' carries a different collegial camaraderie too.

During my visit to Lake District in UK my brother and I took a short cruise ride. We mused about how dad, despite growing in provincial towns, has an intellectual sweep that is pretty impressive. My eclectic interests and idiosyncrasies too come from him. Passion for science, pursuit of incorruptible knowledge, uncompromising pursuit of perfection, ego, humility in the presence of true excellence, deeply compassionate and quick to temper he is quite a bundle.

When we got our first two-in-one tape recorder, a Panasonic, we kids were thrilled to record good old Indian radio programs. He came home one night and we gladly told him that we recorded Tamil movie dialogues  in the blank tapes he had bought to record music. Aghast more about our lack of choices to listen than about losing his tapes he took the tapes and recorded western classical music in 20 tapes. He had not grown up listening to Beethoven or Mozart and lacked any formal training in music though he remains a good singer. He got a local friend, whose family hailed from the ancient Abhraham Pandithar family, to record western classical music. He instructed them never to split a music between two sides even if that meant wasting space. He could not tolerate breaking a musical piece in 2 sides as he felt it would spoil the holistic experience. Hearing a lot about M.S.Subbulakshmi's rendition of Bharathi he wanted to buy it. He asked the store owner  to play a sample and hearing M.S. mangle Bharathi's word in Sanskritised pronunciation he just walked away. One day he surprised us with Latha Mangeshkar's Meera Bhajan. Those days there was no Amazon.com or anything to tell him 'here is what others bought similar to your past purchases'. My brother and I marveled at how my dad would mention about Rabindra Sangeet.

Bernard Shaw's 'Ceasar and Cleopatra' is a big influence on him. His most loved quotes were 'do I have to bite everyone just to shew that my jaws are strong', 'let it burn, a shameful memory' (referring to burning of library of Alexandria) and how Caesar tosses the enemy list refusing to kill his erstwhile enemies who he had defeated. Another favorite quote is from the Book of Esther from the Bible. When the jews face imminent destruction and Esther, unaware, is quiet her uncle warns her 'do not think that if you do not help we will be forsaken. Help will come from above. Who knows, the Lord might have put you in this position only so you can be of help to your people in their hour of need'.

His faith is simple and sustains him in moments of great trials. Unlike many Christians he is comfortable  in enjoying the many facets of Indian culture though it may be overtly Hindu. Whether it is enjoying Sivaji's 'Karnan' or Bharathi's poems or even visiting temples. For three generations our best family friend is a Brahmin. When my friend's mom applies sacred ash as we head out for exams my dad would smile and in fact ask us to keep it on. When science and faith collide he would not hesitate to take sides with science.

Teaching students is a great passion for him. He would lay a great stress on simplifying a concept and breaking it down for a student to grasp. So many students, of every caste and religion, remain steadfast friends across decades. For a doctor his handwriting is very beautiful and he would insist that his PG students should write legible case notes. If the case notes was scribbled he would tear it up, sit down and rewrite it legibly himself.

For 4 years he trained me in public speaking. He taught me how to ascend a stage, how to give a gentle smile before opening the speech, how to modulate, how to look across the audience, how to tailor a speech to an audience, how to speak both Tamil and English properly without an accent in either, how to keep the opening simple 'Good evening everybody' and much more. He would first deliver the speech and record it. Then I'd render it. We would then play it back and forth to compare and correct. My Tamil teacher could never reconcile himself that a boy who spoke English good 5 minutes ago could turn around and deliver a speech on Bharathi equally well pronounced without a trace of English accent. Father loved Tamil literature but he is not jingoistic or chauvinistic about it. Most self styled Tamil enthusiasts give him allergy, like wise it is so for me even today.

Seeing how we kids were getting sucked up in reading trashy Tamil comics or just weeklies he consciously tried to get us interested in reading better books. When it comes to books he is at his uncompromising best. He will NOT respect Kannadasan's trashy set of books on Hinduism, he would be discerning and merciless in denouncing what he does not like.

When he referred a relative to a certain doctor that person was surprised he said "hey you and him do not get along so how come you are sending me to him", my dad replied "but he is the best for this surgery". He would not hesitate to refer his patients to somebody else if he thought a certain surgery was beyond him.

Once he attended as chief guest a function at St Peter's High school where he had  studied. St Peter's instituted 350 years ago was the first school to teach English to Asians. Dad gave a complete mono-acting of 'Pygmalion'. He loved such flourishes and could carry it off too.

I am extremely picky on food. I insist on certain combinations and cannot accept anything less. Dad loves good food and is very picky. Mom, thankfully, is a great cook. One day I got an email from my dad that listed out various combination what kind of chutney goes with what main dish etc etc.

Studying in MMC in the 60's he was swept up in the DMK wave that raged across the colleges. But having grown out of it he repeats that we, especially me, not fall a prey to political activism. Caught up in journalistic fervor during the Arun Shourie vs Rajiv days I wrote an article on the anti-defamation bill that Rajiv was spear heading. My dad's very respected scholarly Pathologist gently chided me saying 'hey I'd have been proud of you if you had written about beta Thalassemia'. My dad calls such forays as 'bromides'.

More than anything he was open with us boys. He would often speak of his mistakes in hot blooded college days and say "learn from my mistakes". He did not create any illusions of his infallibility. Oh another favorite quote from dad is what his chief surgeon told V.K.Krishna Menon "you do not just call a spade a spade you call it a bloody spade'. My dad and I are guilty as charged on that.

It would be remiss to omit mentioning my mother who was the anchor for all this intellectual wandering. She was the disciplinarian who insisted on regular hours of study, had her feet on the ground, ferociously protective of her boys and more. Seeing that my Chennai based cousins speak Hindi the first thing she did was to engage good natured person to teach us Hindi. That my brother was able to go to UK at considerable financial risk was mostly due to her.

I've to stop somewhere. There is no way I can end this blog. When veteran political commentator Tim Russert died I heard a lot about how much he loved his dad. Russert had written a book about his father titled 'Big Russ and Me'. Thousand's of readers were touched by that book and wrote to Russert about their own dads. I got that book for my dad. Since then he calls himself Big Russ.

To Big Russ, 'Happy Father's day'.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Should Tamil authors be proficient in English?

An aspiring writer wishing to write short stories in Tamil wrote to contemporary Tamil author Jeyamohan asking if he can write good Tamil literature without ever reading anything in English. The aspirant confesses that he had studied in Tamil medium and lacks any level of proficiency in English and is completely unable to read anything in English. (This is exactly why I am not a big votary of Tamil medium education. Those students, unless they make great effort by themselves, remain frogs in a well). Jeyamohan consoles the youngster that he need not worry and that he can write good stories by studying just works published in Tamil and reading Tamil translations of English books. The aspirant had noted that some of the wonderful books that Jeyamohan cites are not available in translated form. Jeyamohan's advice is wrong. To create good literature in output in Tamil one needs very good proficiency in English and here's why.

Short story, the novel, essay, are all literary forms alien to Tamil and they arrived on the Tamil literary scene solely from western literature through English. Even modern poetry is not exempt of outside influences. One cannot appreciate Bharathi fully without reading Shelley. After all Bharathi once called himself 'Shelley Dasan" (slave of Shelley). I've a collection of Bharathi poems the blurb on the back flap says 'Bharathi is situated between Walt Whitman and the author of Gita'. Bharathi's 'Poem of me' is an echo of Walt Whitman. How can somebody understand the nuances of Bharathi without even browsing through Walt Whitman's 'Leave of Grass'. Bharathi created a genre called 'prose poems' (vasana kavithai) which he owed entirely to Whitman. Vairamuthu acknowledges that he borrows freely from Pablo Neruda. No Tamil author has been free of being influenced by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. How can one do justice to the short story without knowing O'Henry or Tolstoy or Maupassant or Balzac? How can one do justice to writing a novel without reading Naipaul and the numerous geniuses of the novel form?

English is a 'tool' to give anyone a window, an access, to the best that is in the world. English brings me Plato, Voltaire, Strindberg, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass and any one who may not actually be writing in English. This is not about speaking English in lilting British cadences or whatever status symbol it can be.

What is wrong with reading a translation? USSR and their 'New Century Book House' used to publish decent translations of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev etc. But, that's it. Most good books are not available in Tamil. There is no market for them. The lack of market means lack of profits which, in turn, means only sub standard translators come to do the work. A notable Tamil writer , an English literature graduate too, published a Hans Christian Andersen story in Tamil on his web site. Since the story was nice I googled to read it in English. I got the English version but the story diverged after mid section. I was stunned to see such a huge discrepancy and since I knew the writer was an English literature graduate I wrote to him asking how this happened. He replied that he was using an old Tamil translation. He later repeated the wrong version of the story at his book release function and another writer ripped him for it. Benjamin Jowett's translation of Plato is considered the best and it is possible only because of a different environment in the English publishing industry. Homer has been translated hundreds of time yet when Princeton professor Robert Fagles published a new translation it was hailed as path breaking. This is not possible with Tamil translations.

Is there anything more to English proficiency than just being able to read all those literary classics? I was lucky to hear Nanjil Nadan speak about the literary richness of Kamba Ramayanam. The only disappointment was he could only speak very narrowly about the Tamil literary value. My English professor K.G.Seshadri would have taken it to a different level by drawing in references from Aeneid, Lear etc. Imagine a literary discourse on Kamba Ramayanam with many perspectives drawn from analyzing 'Free will', 'concept of duty', 'destiny', etc from across the world of philosophy and literature. How thrilling would it be to hear a chat on the idea of 'temptation' in Ramayana and cite Milton's 'Paradise Lost'. Reading Nietzsche brings an enriching of a creators ideas that is irreplaceable. Jeyamohan made an attempt to write science fiction? How can one do that without reading Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Carl Sagan? How can one do that without some idea of modern physics or science in general at a level higher than what we learn at school?

It is due to these shortfalls that, as I blogged last, no writer of note in Tamil has been produced from students of Tamil literature courses in colleges. Most Tamil authors of note have more than average proficiency in English and read widely. This counsel by Jeyamohan is wrong, misleading and a sheer disservice to the aspirant.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Teaching literature Tamil Nadu style.

I met Sahitya Akademi (thats's how they spell Academy) winner Naanjil Naadan recently. One of the guests asked Naanjil as to why he loves Kamba-Ramayanam. Naanjil gave an answer for 10 minutes highlighting the richness of Kamba-Ramayanam. Naanjil theorized that Kamban probably used 90,000 unique words (not  repeated) whereas Valluvar had used 4500. He put this in the context of R.P.Sethupillai's Tamil dictionary which lists 1.2 lakh words for Tamil. The 20-30 minutes that Naanjil expounded on a few questions related to Kamba-Ramayanam was sheer exposition that comes only from passionate study of an epic. The really surprising fact is Naanjil Naadan is NOT a Tamil literature student. He is a statistician by training. While working in Mumbai he studied Tamil literature on his own and enjoyed the tutorship of another person on Kamba-Ramayanam for 3 years.

On my way back home I was mulling over that and a thought struck me. Almost none of the contemporary Tamil writers have come from within academia and what is even more striking is none had even studied Tamil literature as a course. Jeyakanthan (Jnanpeeth awardee), Sujatha, Jeyamohan, Nanjil, Akilan (Jnanpeeth awardee), Manushyaputhiran etc have either revolutionized Tamil fiction or left their imprints and none owe it to any formal education. This is in contrast with what one sees with English literature in the west.

Whether it is the Romantic poets or contemporary modern prose they, mostly, majored in literature studies and many in fact functioned within the academia. Is this distinction trivial? I think not and here is why.

Contemporary university education is completely incapable of turning out a Jeyakanthan or Naanjil. What is worse none of them are invited by universities to be a part of academia or give a series of lectures. Nobel laureate Mario Vargo Llosa regularly lectures in American universities imagine what a gift that is for a student. Saul Bellow was a teacher too. William Faulkner was invited by University of Virginia in Richmond to be the 'writer in residence' for more than a year. Faulkner had Q&A sessions with students which was taped and transcribed. I got a book detailing those sessions by luck in a used book store. U.Va has now uploaded those lectures. The students asked questions pretty forthright without inhibition of addressing a Nobel laureate. I wondered if Naanjil or Jeyakanthan could be enticed to deliver 10 lectures at any college to Tamil literature students.

I googled the curriculum of B.A and M.A Tamil literature courses. Bharathiar University has listed for detailed Kannadhasan's "Yesu Kaaviyam" (about Christ) along side Devaaram and Kunangudi Masthan Sahib poems on Allah. The section titled "Literature of the middle ages" has no respect for either chronology or quality. If an American University listed songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar" in religious literature they would be laughed at. Kannadasan is a poetaster not a poet. Yes he wrote wonderful lyrics for movies but that does not make him a literary person. Including him along side authors of Devaram is like listing the Beatles songs along side Keats. I can understand why they did this. They needed to represent 'literature' from each religion and this is what they for Tamil Christian literature. This is worse than including Thembavani, another mediocre work. Only in Tamil Nadu would Kannadasan and Vairamuthu be respected as 'literary' persona. Many have angered me by referring to Kannadasan's booklets on Hinduism as if they are distilled philosophy. What can we expect from a state that had as Chief Minister who would say "do not recommend Brahmin writers for Sahitya Akademi award". Surely S.Radhakrishnan's masterful 2 volume 'Indian Philosophy' would be brushed aside as 'Brahminical'. Also the general populace, thanks to an onslaught of mediocrity or sheer sloth masquerading as 'excellence' for 5 decades, has no ability to differentiate between sumptuous food and excreta decorated with sugar.

Bharathiar University syllabus listing for English literature is a crime against students for the sheer number of spelling mistakes. Bacon's essay 'Of Truth' becomes "Bacon of Truth". Sure. Can I please have it roasted with a side of sausage patty?If one overlooks the spelling mistakes (to be fair there is another link without mistakes) the content is pathetic and the reference books cited are never by any world authority. The syllabi reads like the summer reading list for a high school student in USA. Heck many of the poems listed were read by me in my matric school syllabus (thanks to Samacheer thats gone too). Core Paper II has for selections, "Old man and the sea", "Vicar of Wakefield",'Pride and Prejudice". What can one say of that pathetic list. For studying Social History of England we have a nondescript author from Udumalpet. The poetry selection has 'On his blindness' (Milton), 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' (Keats), 'Ulysess' (Tennyson). I had read both Keats and Milton's poems in my 10th grade textbook. God knows what they mean by 'non-detailed'. That section has "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "Stopping by the woods" (Robert Frost). If this is what passes for 'course load' is it any wonder that our English teachers are so pathetic.

The section on drama makes me cry. We got 'Pygmalion' from Shaw. No not "Caesar and Cleopatra" or "Man and Superman". Pygmalion, my foot. Shakespeare's selection is even worse. We get "As You Like It" and "Othello" for 'detailed' and for 'non-detailed we get 'Tempest' and 'Mid Summer Night's Dream'. No mention of 'Hamlet','King Lear','Julius Caeasar'.For the section on Indian writing in Engilsh we have Aurobindo. Really. I mean really?

Politicization of curriculum, lowering of standards, chauvinistic biases, absolute corruption in appointing Vice Chancellors all tougher form a deadly cocktail that has paralyzed Tamil Nadu's academia.

Mostly it is students with poor scores who get relegated to arts colleges and even there it is the worst scorers who get pushed (yes, pushed) into literature. For them this is what we serve as curriculum. A vibrant intellectual curriculum that produces Nobel laureates in literature and recruits awardees as teachers is a great asset to fostering a vibrant social fabric. A recent government of India testing showed that only 17% of Tamil Nadu's engineering graduates are capable of being employed. If they had tested Tamil Nadu literature students the result would have been scary. Like I say whether it is literature or engineering those who achieve do so 'despite' the colleges and teachers.