Modern Progressive Literature

Revolutionary Poet Bharatidasan’s ‘Pandiyan parichu’ revolving on a feud between two chieftains could rightly be called a ‘Secondary Kavya’ as it lacks the customary massiveness in the depiction of mountains, oceans, nations and seasons. All the four hundred stanzas of Tamil ‘Viruttam’ metre roughly equivalent to blank verse in English, are of eight lines each.

The poet mentions that he is particular in couching his minor Kavya in a simple poetic style to enable even an ordinary literate to comprehend it. Such  a frank prefatory statement about the diction of his choice is unusual among the poets be it in Tamil or in English.

With the solitary exception of William Wordsworth, very seldom has an English poet spoken about the poetic diction he has chosen. Nor has anyone openly expressed that his literary output is meant for mere literates. Undoubtedly, Bharathidasan  has made up his mind that whatever he produces should reach the society at large. He has thus a laudable aim of passing on his poetic output even to an average Tamil- knowing person.

If one were to compare Bharatidasan with a modern English poet T.S.Eliot, it would result in the comparison of the two incompatibles. T.S.Eliot introduced himself as a classicist in literature, royalist in politics and Anglo-catholic in religion. The Tamil poet is also a classicist, but moderate in politics and an atheist in religion.

Unlike the English poet who is known for his literary  echoes and reminiscences from his learning that is basic to his poetry and an exotic style that is  hurdle to the reader, Bharatidasan wanted that his style  must be  lucid and readable  for everybody. Eliot is determined to be a ‘cerebral poet’ or as Hugh Kenner calls him he is an an ‘invisible poet’.

Eliot’s talent is to ingest the materials of others whereas the Tamil poet’s is to digest, for a palatable presentation. The Tamil poet is a democrat in politics as the first two short plays in the first volume of his poems prove and also a rationalist in religion. Moreover Bharatidasan is technically perfect, thematically sound and rhetorically mellifluous in a number of his poems. Apart from the fact that these two were contemporaries, the fact is that Eliot and Bharatidasan were very well recognized in their respective literary domains.

The story of ‘Pandiyan Paricu’ is about a rivalry based on jealousy, prestige and mutual suspicion between the minor kings of Kadir Nadu and Vela Nadu. One who exploited this rivalry and created misunderstanding between the two, is none other than the brother-in-law of the king of Kadir Nadu significantly named Narikkannan.

In the melee of the battle that ensued, he as the commander-in-chief of Vela-Nadu unknowingly stabbed the king of Kadir Nadu to death and subsequently  killed also the queen who is his own sister. His motive behind this heinous crime is to make the orphaned princess marry his idiotic son. But the wheel of fortune is not favourable in its movement. Annam the princess is taken away from the palace by an old mistress who protected the princess in a remote cottage.

A valuable chest containing jewels and royal documents is luckily in the custody of an idealistic marauder Velappan. The production of this chest and the unmasking of Narikkannan conclude the Kavya with a solemn marriage arranged between Annam and the son of the grand old mistress who had chaperoned and protected the princess. Thus the scheming of Narikkannan in arranging the marriage of the princess with his son proved futile.

If the post-Sangam epic poet Ilankovadikal has done the revolution of elevating a commoner to be the hero of his epic, no less is the contribution of Bharatidasan. He has made the son of a house-maiden marry Annam, the princess of the royal family. The social imbalance in the custom-ridden society is thus undermined. As John Dryden says, “None but the brave deserves the fair”.  Velan the valiant hero opes the wedlock with Annam, the fair princess.

Bharatidasan associated himself with the self-respect movement of Periyar E.V.R as far back as 1928. It is but natural therefore that the impact of the ideals of iconoclastic Periyar is sporadically found in this minor Kavya. In the theistic tradition of the Saiva cult, God Siva is spoken of as Madorupakan, the one half himself and the other half his Divine Consort. This is being critically commented upon in a subtle manner by the poet in Iyal No.87. The subtlety lies in the total rejection of the very concept that there could be one part of the male being endowed to a female being. If a female takes one half of the male being how could the being of a male be perfect? It is illogical and rather incomprehensible according to the poet. The foolish concept of a bi- sexual being is rather pooh – poohed by the poet.

Superstition is totally condemned by the poet in many a place. In Pandiyan Paricu, a phantom is introduced for the purpose of frightening the commoners. Once this has been spoken, the commoners of the region generate wild rumours about it and thereby convert its fictitious nature into stark reality. The poet has chosen a female character Neeli to condemn this superstition in a forthright manner. The female character has been made a mouthpiece of the poet to denounce superstition. If may be recalled that in other poems as well, Bharatidasan makes women – characters lead,  counsel, admonish and even fight against heavy odds.

Socialism     : If you own two milch cows, giving one of it to your neighbor is  Socialism.
Capitalism    : Of the two cows, sell one of it and buy a bull is capitalism.
Communism     : Selling both the cows to the State and getting milk for your  need only is  communism.
Fascism    : Getting dictated to pay to the State and buy the milk is Fascism.
Nazism     : Annihilating the owner and confiscate both of his cows is Nazism.
Nudalism     : Pour down the entire milk from the two cows into the gutters is Nudalism.
      Which of these will you accept for your country, my friend?

It seems customary on the part of the poet to choose a female character to advise a male especially in getting rid of superstitious beliefs. Identically in the first volume of his poems, the poet has chosen a brisk and talented damsel Vanchi to indict her lover Kuppan against his foolish notions about the supernatural events. This appears to be the poet’s way of cherishing the feminine talents and upholding the rights of women. These facts anticipate the modern trend of women’s emancipation. Bharatidasan may be deemed to be an ideal pioneer in spearheading feminism.

Shakespeare and a number of Elizabethan playwrights have sought the supernatural machinery as catalytic agency. The ghosts and phantoms appear and disappear either for precipitating a change or for warning the evil and guiding the noblemen and women. The dramatists didn’t bother whether the supernatural beings are factual or fictitious. Though one could sustain the argument that the playwright had a belief in them, one cannot take this argument too far. But the Tamil poet  is categorical in condemning this notion. It is all a figment of imagination.  A belief in super natural being is a mere absurdity, the poet assures.

Disguise has been a time-honoured literary device effectively handled by Shakespeare, not only for many amusing incidents but also for embarrassing situations especially when the ladies appear in the garb of males. Though such an effective handling of the device is not found in Bharatidasan, disguise, as in ‘Pandiyan Paricu’, has been resorted to by an old woman and the heroine Annam. As the poet is adept in delineating heroism, valour and dignity, he makes these female characters equestrienne playwright, and this modern Tamil poet is that the former has made use of this technique more for humorous situations than for heroic exploits and the latter for heroism only. At one instance, Annam, the heroine rides on horseback and boldly goes through the column of soldiers and cuts off the head of the villainous Narikkannan

    …..As the fruit
    That falls off from the palm tree
    Narikkannan’s head with matted hair
    Has fallen off because of the sabre stroke of Annam.

In the use of similes and metaphors, Bharatidasan is by all means an adept with proven excellence. He has an inventive skill in selecting similes and images from every aspect of day-to-day life. The similes in Bharatidasan are a class by themselves unlike the far-fetched and long-tailed similes that one comes across in mythologies. They are life-like and natural. In the portrayal of characters and situations and in the depiction of natural landscapes, Bharatidasan may be called a skilful master. The picture of a sleeping damsel in a lateral position, the poet portrays as follows:

    Putting her head down on the flowery hand
    Burying her bewitching smile on the sweet lips
    She, like the yazh of a musical adept, lay ‘down on  the ground.

Similar modern examples can be drawn from Bharatidasan as noted below:

(i)    A maiden decked with flowers is like a Punnai tree walking with a moss of flowers.

(ii)    His mind is as darkened as the ignorance of the illiterates.

Wordsworth compares the movement of a boat to a swan that glides along the smoothly-flowing waters of river Derwent in Prelude Book I. The now extinct swan seems to be universal, as the Tamil poet speaks of it as follows. Annam and Nili were

    Sailing on the boat, singing rare songs
    The boat on the surface of the river gently ran
    As gently as the white swan that glideth along.

Common literary devices, at lexical and semantic levels such as oxymoron, recurrent theme and pathetic fallacy are found sporadically in this secondary Kavya. Wherever the oxymoron retained its significance  it suffered not even in rendition.

( i)   Can this little mind tolerate the big botheration?

(ii)  The firmament laughed and  virtues felt ashamed.

Bharatidasan’s partriotism can be dubbed neither universal nor national but regional due to his devoted and long-standing alignment with a political party in Tamil Nadu. However, his love towards the Tamils and their language is in no way lesser than what has been highlighted by Sir Walter Scott- ‘One who does not  say that this is my own, my native land, will die unwept, unhonoured and unsung’.

With a few characters as his mouth-piece, the poet overtly voice his appreciation of communitic principles. On the basis of similar expressions favouring this  polititical ideology, one could safely infer that the poet would have aligned himself to communism but for the rationalistic policies  of Thanthai Periyar that swept him away in the early thirties of this century.

The  wealthy man creates the robbers

It’s the communist who counteracts robbery

Ironically the poet lived in an age when communism was deemed to be a panacea for all ills, political social or economic.

To indicate the ancientness of the story and also perhaps to avoid anachronism, to which even reputed writers are vulnerable. Bharatidasan refers

(i)    To flintstone with which the old woman makes fire in the jungle.

(ii)    To the conventional four-fold divisions of ancient army such as chariots, elephants, cavalry and infantry. And quite interestingly.

(iii)    To the habit of commoners in burying their wealth underground for the fear of foes and dacoits.

At length, the present writer is puzzled whether the poet is at fault in referring to the nocci grove on the apex of the mountain. The green-coloured nocci plant is aquatic and hence its reference on a rocky terrain appears to be a fallacy. The division of this minor kavya into iyals is rather disorderly and unbalanced.

The poet has probably completed the writing of the whole poem and then only divided them into iylas. Excepting these very few negligible blemishes, this literary work is commendable. It sustains its viability by withstanding the differing tastes of the public.

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