Tuesday, 17 April 2012

katradu kaimmannalavu

I was fortunate to lay my hands on a collection of short stories and essays by a number of great Tamil writers. One of the pieces was written by Namakkal V Ramalingam Pillai, a great Tamil scholar, poet and freedom fighter. It was written in 1949.He describes in it how he practically realised the fact “Katradu Kaimmannalavu”. (The saying “Katradu Kaimmannalavu; kalladadu ulagalavu” means what one has learnt is comparable to only a handful of sand whereas what he has yet to learn is the whole of earth. That when such a great scholar like Mr. Pillai should say this, what are we the illiterates in comparison should do is altogether a different matter).
He used to make discourses on the great Kamba Ramayanam(Don't move away my dear non believer friends. The book has immense literary value and our discussion here is not about Ram either).
Pillai recalls a particular verse in which Kaikeyi replies to Mandara(Kooni), when the latter tells her friend to insist for her son Bharath's Pattabhishekam. Kaikeyi gets furious at Mandara. This is Surya kulam—descendant's of Sun god and Manu. The kings born in this kulam will never do anything that is not proper. They follow the rules strictly like the peacock(Mayil murai kulathurimai). Why do you want to bring down their fame by asking them to crown Bharat instead of the eldest son Ram. You are too bad.
Pillai is not able to get the correct meaning of the line regarding rules of the peacock. He refers so many books and discusses with many learned persons. But he doesn't get a convincing reply. After about a dacade he happened to read an issue of the magazine Scientific American. It is an authentic science magazine publishing research papers on various subjects. It contained an article on birds. It was an outcome of an elaborate research done scientifically. Pillai read the part regarding peacocks. It was written that all the peacock siblings move from place to place in one group along with the mother peahen. When the time for displaying the plumage comes it is invariably the eldest peacock who starts the dance and then only the rest follow suit. This was found out by tieying different colour rings to the siblings and observing them for a long time,it was written. Pillai is elated.He shares his joy with his Kamba Ramayanam guru.
Thereafter during Kamba Ramayanam discourses and discussions with other scholars, he would explain this with great pride as if it was he who did the research and found the truth. Even many renowned scholars were not aware of the fact until he told them.
After quite some time Pillai happened to hear that some old man was making a very interesting discourse on Kamba Ramayanam in a nearby temple. When Pillai went to the temple, he was describing Vibishana's surrender quite interestingly. But Pillai felt sure that he won't know the meaning of Mayil murai kulathurimai and wanted to show off before him. While having a private talk with him he asks about it. Pat comes the reply. He describes in detail the facts as stated in the magazine. Pillai was awe struck. Pillai decides that someone who has read the Scientific American must have informed him. But the old man says that it is written in an old Tamil puranam and quotes the line which describes the Peacock Rule. Pillai feels humbled by the depth of his knowledge and notes down the line and the name of the Puranam in a piece of paper and memorises the line. He started quoting the line while making Kamba Ramayanam discourse thereafter. He would add that Tamilians have found out long back the facts regarding the peacock rule much before tha Ameriacn scientists.(Kambar lived in 12th century)
But he loses the paper in which he wrote down the name of the book and the author and is unable to recall that. After some time he was asked to inagurate a college library for which books were donated by a great Tamil scholar. He tells the audience about the peacock episode and his inabilty to find the name of the book. A few days after that he receives a letter from one of the college students who listened to his speech that the said line appears in Thanikai Puanam (written much before Kambar's period)as 244th verse. Pillai feels humbled again. He could not get the clear facts from great scholars for the past 35 years and here a student comes out with the details. Alas. Katradu kaimmann alavu; kalladadu ulagalavu indeed, he muses.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

An attempt at translation

 I have made an attempt to translate the great Thirukkural, a collection of two line verses by Thiruvalluvar on more than hundred different topics. 133 to be specific.It is divided into three parts broadly. ARATHUPPAAL—regarding the duties of human beings. PORUTPAAL---related to economics and money aspects. KAAMATHUPPAAL----regarding a person's relationship with the opposite sex.
Here is a random selection of the verses. No specific order has been followed. Nor do I claim it to be any where near an authentic translation. Simply for the purpose of Yaam petra inbam peruga ivvaiyagam.
Here is the first set.

Idanai idanal ivanmudippan enraindu
adanai avankann vidal
--Find out with a good reasoning who can do a particular job well and
entrust the work to that person.
--Perhaps the best possible management dictum.

Thumminen vazhuthinalaga thiruthi azhuthal
Yarulli thummineer enru
--(There is a prevalent custom that when someone sneezes one who is nearby would utter a blessing word. There is also a prevalent custom that someone sneezes when another person who is far away thinks of this person). Here a man sneezes and his friend utters a blessing word by habit. But immediately she corrects herself and asks when I am here who is thinking of you to make you sneeze.
--(Arguably a good portrait of a possessive woman's nature.)

Iniya ulavaga innada kooral kaniyiruppa
kaai kavarn dattru
When there are pleasant words available, to utter unpleasnt words is like plucking raw, unripe fruits when there are ripe and sweet fruits available in the same tree.

Ellarkum nanram panithal avarullum
selvarke selvam thakaithu
Humility is good for all. It is all the more required for the rich to retain their richness. (Here richness has a wider meaning-- richness of not only wealth, but that of all virtues.)

Thanthai makarkatrum udavi avayathu
Munthi yiruppa cheyal
Parents' duty to children is to help them be among the firsts in any forum.

Makan thanthaikkatrum nanri ivan thanthai
ennotran kol enum sol
Children should reciprocate by making others wonder how fortunate his/her parents are.
(One might have noticed that I have used the neutral gender- parent, children in place of father, son in the original. Well I earnestly believe that would have been Thiruvalluvar's intention too. Atleast let me have some solace that way.)

Anyway here is one exclusively for mothers.

Eandra pozhudil periduvarkum than makanai(makalai?)
chandron ena ketta thaai

A mother would be happier when she hears her ward's achievements praised by others than when she gave birth to him/her

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My experiments with a passport

It all started when my son helped his wife to apply for a passport. They were both employed in Ahmedabad then and were living in a house rented in his name. Her id proofs showed her home address in Patna. She hadn’t changed her maiden name after marriage. She being an employee of a new generation bank had little time to spend in the passport office. Hence they decided to apply online. In spite of the hitches she didn’t have to spend much time in the passport office while submitting the required documents in person and lo and behold she got the passport document delivered to her within three weeks. She was not present at home even when the police made enquiries with the neighbours. Awed by the smoothness of the entire experience my son asked me to apply for a passport online and get it without difficulties. There is a saying in Tamil “Aannaikku arram enral kudiraikku kurram illai”, meaning “It may be arram for aanai(elephant) in Urdu. But it doesn’t follow that it is kurram for kudirai(horse). I was only to realise it in the coming days.

I was a branch manager and asking for leave for going abroad was more than a nightmare, especially since my sons have no intention of taking up permanent jobs abroad. So applying for a passport did not find a place even in the end of the list of my priorities. But as usual my son won over me and made me say yes. My daughter in law joined him in luring me saying we could plan a trip to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand etc. I had just retired voluntarily from a nationalised bank. My second son was employed in Bangalore and my husband was in inspection department, touring north India. So I had no reason to be in Trivandrum where our home is. I went there to produce the original certificates at the passport issuing office in person on the appointed date obtained through the net. My son had assured that as in his wife’s case there won’t be many who have applied on line and therefore there would be a separate queue for such privileged people and I shouldn’t be foolish enough to stand in the general queue. Undeterred by seeing atleast two hundred people standing in front of the passport office in the scotching sun with no roof above their heads I coolly went near the closed shutter with the hope of getting inside as soon as it opened. The security staff standing there told me to stand in the queue. I was not moved. I said I had applied on line and so didn’t need to stand in the general queue. But he pointed at the notice board which stated that passport applications are accepted only through the on line mode from a specific date some six months earlier. It dawned on me that  in God’s own country that is Kerala,  which is far ahead of the rest of the states with 100% literacy and zealous gulf aspirants combined with IT professionals, the passport applications must be much more in number than in other states to warrant that requirement. I was left with no option but to go back to the end of the queue which had become much longer by now. Atleast forty persons were wiser than I to stand in the queue soon after arriving at the office after me.
Well, that was only the beginning of the ordeal not the end. After standing for about an hour in that queue and obtaining the token the real wait started.  I was expecting some guests at home for lunch and the hopes of going home in time for the lunch leave alone preparing it I made alternate arrangements to receive the guests. As for my lunch we were thrown out of the office premises when the staff took their sweet time to have their lunch and I had to do with whatever was available in the nearby petty shop.  Atlast my token number was called at 4 p.m and the climax unveiled.  After scrutinising the documents presented by me the officer asked me to produce of the marriage certificate. I said it took place more than thirty years ago and the practice of registering a marriage was not in vogue then and during these thirty years no one not even my employer had questioned me or refused to accept the fact as stated by me. The officer looked at me as if I was a person from the stone age but said politely, “Nothing doing. If you want me to accept your application either produce the certificate or an affidavit duly notarised.” Mind you, it  was 4 p.m and the document had to be presented by 4.30 to merit the officer’s scrutiny on that day. Otherwise I had to go back to square one and repeat the entire waiting on another day.  Left with no easy option, I somehow managed to get a joint foto of myself with my husband and paste it in an affidavit duly notarised. Well ,I was able to meet the deadline just in time with only a few seconds to go. Thank God they accepted my application and gave me a receipt atlast. All is well that ends well(not ends in a well as my father used to tease us whenever we used this phrase) you might be tempted to say. No, my dear only the first phase was over.
The guests,pleased with my hospitality(?) left and I was left alone at home. My husband was busy touring the wesrern pats of the country in connection with his official duty asking me to join either of my sons in Ahmedabad or Bangalore as soon as I received the passport. Easier said than done. My elder son said the police verification would follow soon so don’t leave Trivandrum till that is over. The official website states that the passport will be issued within three to four weeks so don’t leave home now, my net savvy son advised. I had from the beginning decided not to grease any pals nor approach any influential contacts for the purpose and it only follows that the entire procedure moved in snail,s pace. It took a month for the police to arrive for verification and another three weeks for the police report to reach the passport office. (Thanks to my Net savvy son who kept tracking the file movement through the net and updated me on a daily basis.) All this time I hardly slept well in the nights as I was not used to staying alone. Atlast the passport was issued and despatched according to the passport office. But the postal authorities denied having received any cover containing the journal number mentioned by the passport office.(This again was being tracked by my son with the help of the net). It turned out that the passport authorities under an arrangement with the postal department generated the said journal number at their own office and their duty ends there. To lift the covers physically is theduty of the post office and it took them five sweet days. Thanks to the time of the year—it was the hallticket season for the numerous entrance exams conducted in the country and the post office men took their own share of time and I received the cover posted in the city by speed post after seven days. Thus I practically experienced all the slips there can be between a cup and the lip. Thank God all these slips didn’t break the cup and I finally received the passport document in tact, thanks to my Net savvy son and my never ending patience. Looking back, obtaining such an important document  within three months of applying is not bad after all. Thank you passport officers.

I shall come back with my experiences of visa if I ever apply for one and if it turns out to be atleast this interesting. Bye for now.