Expatriate Cultural Organizations
Tamil Nation is growing in strength qualitatively and quantitatively. A forum for
actual problems of expatriate community may be a useful feature. A group of people from
varied walks of life and background are trying to form a society as islands of safety in a
cosmopolitan setting. But in doing so they are trying to establish a hierarchical order.
This in itself is OK. But whatever venture we are embarking on very soon becomes a center
of disturbance, whether temples, sangams or anything. Is this actually in our genes (
infighting) or is this syndrome prevalent to the same degree in other communities? we
can't really say. What makes us tick in cultural matters, inspite of our plight is amazing
and what makes us fight is still surprising? While this is going on, and we talk about
Tholkappiyam, children are moving out into another area. May be they are fed up with what
goes on as entertainment of adults and branching out into their own idiosyncrasies. Should
we not provide a forum to bring these out? Young adults are not going to queue to this but
elders might set some priorities. Opening up Tamil chat for youth is a good outlet for
their energies. We might learn what their real interests are. Could we consider the
Clannishness is an element of feudalism. Once we have this attitude, society will find ways and means to manifest this tendency. People who migrated before 1983 several of them have a grouse , that they had a better image with locals before the influx. There may be an element of truth in this, but main point is that what was exotic & exclusive to them have now become common garden variety. This seems to be the real grouse. The professional migrants had to witness, how simple folks are able to adopt to western living, just like themselves. They have been under the impression that this sophistication is their domain. The fact remains that they had been living without the elements of culture and cuisine, before 83. They lived on the remnant of pre colonial image westerners had about Indians and were satisfied with reciprocating to this appropriately. A tinge of exoticness. But real life is harsh and not exotic. Now we are what we are. Before also we were that, but now we are reminded of it constantly. This is the problem. This change could not have come about without the influx of migrants from all levels of the society. This division becomes a factor in social interaction. Middle class lives by the rule of law. The new migrants did not come with jobs. In fact some of them were not qualified, in that sense. So they got into skirmishes with the law. They had to tell lies sometimes small, sometimes big that are needed to get on with authorities. However, lot of them with sheer determination were able to make it and their children are as good as others. This group has its own vernacular idiom and forms its own layer. They are the practical lot whose skills are called in for behind the scene events for festivals etc. Their contribution is versatility and adding colour to otherwise drab middle class setting.
But certain category of young people in this group may have gone too far in this
direction. These aggressive elements have a disregard for "educated people" and
they too had become successful. This is the potpourri we have. Whether the society
functions along these layers may be questionable, but the fact that there is lot of
aggravation can not be disputed. This is compounded by the fact that educated people do
not take a moral stand. They simply align themselves for convenience or withdraw. This way
the process of degeneration is aided. The problems one hears as happening in Toronto is
going to affect the future of the community. Looking at what is happening overseas and
what is happening in Tamil Nadu or Srilanka, I am being forced to ask a question: Have we
overrated our culture and spend energies into this ( cultural biz) whereas we cant seem to
live decently. Is there something inherently wrong in "our culture" that we are
blind to?. Or even worse the is there something wrong with our genetic make up for us to
be blind to our plight. This may not be a welcome doubt, certainly I was not overjoyed by
asking this question. Whatever the answers are proposed for the question, but the question
itself has a validity at this point. You see, modesty is a good startingpoint.
In this context the media of expressing oneself is limited. There is not much of an outlet for energies of young people. Technology has advanced to abolish communication problem over distances, but we have not taken advantage of this power in any organized way. In this Tamil Nation has pioneered. I hope this oddessy continues by extending its boundaries. At the local level, the Radio programs, video libraries and Kalai vizhas have a long way to go, in making them relevant to the society. Except in Bharatha Natyam, where teaching is a disciplined tradition others linger behind. In drama the situation is pathetic, often lacking content or form, it is simply testing the patience of audience.
I have heard that Balendra and Thasisius had been striving to establish a meaningful theatre in London. There may be others like them. There is work by individuals like Kalyana sundaram, Govindasamy Ilanko and several others who are updating technological reach of Tamils. How many of such people are widely known? The need for getting excellence into social affairs itself has to be first felt by people. We are just now getting to know this amazing medium. But the content of the medium too is important. Often this is lacking.
We can use this internet medium for upgrading our social events. For example, Cant some
sensible drama script outline be made for events and made available to societies all over
by pooling talents. There are numerous Sangam magazines, some among them I am sure has
material worthy of reaching larger audience. Cant a joint publication effort be made to
reduce costs, improve standard which individual sangams can ill afford? An expatriate
publishing house may come out of such efforts in sharing. These are now impossible not
because of Technology or finance but lack of perspective. We have not come to the simple
level of being aware of our limitations. We have not defined what a meaningful culture is
in the first place. We have to give way to creativity at the expense of being
enthusiastically naive, or clannishness. The thriving commercial ventures in video and
audio suggests ample circulation of green bag. Fact remains that we are caught in the
whirlpool of consumerism, and not even aware of it. where does this all leads to?
Reading the posting of Mr. V.Thangavelu of Canada dated 9th June 99 in Tamil Nation on the quest for one hundred Tamils. This posting brings to my mind the cultural pressures that weighed down on the SriLankan Tamils during 1960-1970's. These pressures had a widespread effect of depersonalizing Tamils and robbing them of their self esteem. I was really skirting around this topic in my last posting. In examining this further, I think I should express what I personally feel about this in order to put all this behind us.
Now, first thing I wish to state clearly is that being a communist doesn't imply that the individual is an "anti-Tamil" in the sense, we usually think. In fact some of these "communist" people had made personal sacrifices as the price for their idealism. Some examples I know are: A Vaithilingam (maths teacher), communist Karthigesu,(English teacher), Mahesan master (English teacher), Varatharajaperumal (maths teacher). There could be many others. They were dedicated teachers par excellance. They could be proudly quoted by a student as his mentor that too - even after a long experience in life. That, I am not a communist does not blind me this fact. In fact mentor is the word here, not just a teacher. They were with the people and shared their life. This of course meant that they had no great ambitions in getting lucrative jobs in government service. This would have been fairly easy for them considering their qualifications and communication skills. But they were content to remain as teachers. Anyway in a poor country, some element of communism may actually do some good. The market forces, brand names and the so called consumer choice are insubstantial. Which is another issue.
The perception that leftists were undermining the Tamils, came up in a different way, I will come to this now. This arose as a consequence of the latter-day leftists usurping the elected representatives of the Tamils (who were not co-operating with the successive governments) and filled the power vacuum. They had become the power brokers. The blame does not lie entirely with the leftists. The middle class had outstanding issues with government machinery. Transfers, jobs, promotion, increments, permits and so on, problems which were crying out for a broker to intervene. So that is 1960-70 saga. Not taking a principled stand since 1960 on the question of Tamils, had cost the left movement irreparable damage. The compromise with Sinhala parties had in the end submerged their (left parties) separate identities. This eased them out of mainstream. The otherwise potential alternative force had, thus petered out.
Coming to another point. There appears to be a threshold level of middle class ( as practiced then) in the composition of a society, beyond which the society plunges into mediocrity and degeneration.(see article "klacfcartfti[f UbfBkfkqf" by author). The "communists" I mentioned earlier were from an 'different stock', which remained close to the ethos of an earlier era.
Valluvar had to say this about evaluating greatness. No not greatness but goodness. Because in old Tamil classics greatness was synonymous with goodness. They are based on moral values.
tkfkarf tkvilrf '[fpT `vrvrf 'cfctftabf ka]pfpDmf.
This comes in the chapter nDv<nilAm. Fitness or unfitness (in public life) of a person can be judged by the "remnant" he leaves behind. Remnant could be taken as the "essence" - sum total of what one leaves behind. A legacy, a heritage. It is for us to evaluate this in the best sense of that word. That Prof. Kailasapathy (K) had a following, and left behind a certain tradition in literary criticism can not be disputed. His and Sivathamby's advent into the Tamil Nadu literary circles, introduced Eelam literature to wider readership.
We have to look charitably at K and the camp followers dominating Radio Ceylon, Sakitya Mandalam etc, as a phenomenon of an era. I have no personal knowledge of such going on (from inside) except by what one gathers from the air, so to speak. The propaganda machinery of Radio and Colombo journalism somehow contrived to subject us to what I felt at that time to be a sort of 'tyranny of left rationalism'. It appeared to me as an untimely cultural reorientation exercise. You see, this was right in the midst of a time when Tamils were facing physical insecurity as well. It could be that we felt that way, by error, then saw scapegoats in leftists or it may be that the leftist intellectuals really acted unwisely? combination of both these factors are more likely. who knows !
So we have to stand apart in certain areas but accept the original contribution of a different way of looking at literature as the result of K's influence. Of this I am convinced.
This brings me to another point which I mentioned in my earlier posting. Somasundara pulavar, Thalayasingham (T) are two names that I had earlier said could be included in the list of one hundred Tamils. I do not wish to pursue this any further than stating a few points. Just as K's adherents are teaching literary criticism in universities, Pulavar's Thinnai students have been teaching in vernacular schools and Thotta Pallis (estate schools) and had made a quite contribution. A person does what is appropriate in the circumstances.
A person engaged in spritual quest like T can not be evaluated in terms of failure or success- the quest may have its own life, which we may not recognize now. There is no scientific theory to back my last statement. Call it old fashioned belief, if you like. But I still go along with it. Bear in mind, all social and political sciences have within them seeds of heavily implied believes, which slips across quietly masquerading as common sense. We have to be aware of this as well. This posting defines my framework of viewing, which is also my prejudice.
ONE HUNDRED TAMILS OF THE MILLENIUM
Posting in Tamil Nation May 99
I had initially (mid 98) participated in this forum. I did not have "any second
thoughts" on this list created up until that time. Now I do have. Let me explain.
When people we honor are far away in time to current affairs we accept them on "a
general acceptance criteria" . This acceptance finds unanimity easy to reach. But
when we come closer to our times, we know more about these people and with mass media
image of them built over years still lingers. Then as I said second thoughts enters.
Particularly when they are alive- you never know what they might do to upset this
acceptance! Dead can not do no further damage is the presumption here!. However I accept
we have to cross this bridge. Without taking issues personally with the sponsors, I would
question a few names. It is not that I mean disrespect to the dead or alive. And with
malice towards none, I make these comments
Another name I will say that deserves a serious consideration is Ashokamitran, a very sensitive and (rare writer) not very well known just because he is not in pop magazine circuit. A list without him would not be wholesome. Obviously this is my judgement. He may outlive many others because of genuine interest in life he shares with readers. He looks at people more compassionately than others, that is without judgement. This is a rare quality in Tamil fiction. I have some hesitation about names being proposed mainly by SriLankan sponsors. The reason being this category of persons have been out of touch with recent developments. They have been out of main stream events for a period that they idolize names known when they were young and impressionable. The perceptions they have about socio-political life of Tamil Nadu is antiquated. I say this in all humility. Anyway we have to allow for this possibility, if due recognition were to be obtained for this project. If this is a Transnational venture we should have this caution. . I do not claim any better qualifications either.
Some times I wonder, whether there is a large gap between perception of Tamilian in Tamil Nadu on how he identifies as a Tamil or Indian as against how SriLankan Tamils consider the Image of Tamilian counterpart TN . I have seen this too often. Our ideas are fairly frozen in time, when we started excursions into magazine and film world. This of course is not a rule, but often happens. It is good to know this. Would it be difficult to get the list checked out by few TN intellectuals, to see if it holds water. The names of La sa Ramamirtham, Janakiraman and Jeyakanthan comes to my mind but let me not digress too much. I think I have stated my point.
Bharathidasan appears to be overrated by his association with Dravidian movement. But remember, we have already recognized its stalwarts. You see, Madras media, builds up names and sustains it for propping itself up, in the process both are in win win situation. Kalki had his cronies, Vasan his, and Hindu had its pets. This has been a self erecting crane. Having gone through so much in life, we should use our changed perceptions in these matters. Lot of us have this, but we dont express them. It has been acquired at a cost and we should not hesitate to trust our intuition.
I have no qualms with MS. She lives for music of a kind rare and her life is an inspiration. Mahakavi Rudramoorthy, Thalayasingham are two names that come up for scrutiny. Latter lived for what he wrote, he was experimenting boldly with living a certain kind of life- of practical spiritualism and encountered difficulties in the process. His social conscience was good. He needs to be taken up for review. I am not sure whether Arumuga Navalar was considered in this process. He recognized the challenges of his time even when English was not widely spoken in peninsula. Navalar had to be a controversial figure, as he was living in challenging times when the fabric of Tamil culture was under direct threat. He has to be evaluated in context of his time.
I was really happy to note the name of Dr P S Subramaniam, in this list. It assures me that there are people who could see the greatness in a modest man going quietly in life healing others. He belongs to an era in Jaffna, when modesty was a norm. In this period two scholars lived and worked quietly, but making deep impression on society. I am referring to Pandithamani Kanapathypillai and Navaliyoor Somasundara Pulavar. Latter was an icon of mid century Jaffna. He was not known in India. His poems for children had wide popularity and had attained status of folk songs, in the sense people know nut do not remember the author kind of situation. What impressed me about PS, Pulavar and Pandithamani is that they lived close to people and their life was simple. But they had profound effect on the Society. But their era faded quietly into forgotten history. Why they were not taken up later is another question.
Post 1958 saw a crop of western educated (essentially middle class conditioned) intellectuals filling the Tamil departments and journalism. They wielded much clout in public life. They were capable and had trans Palk strait scope. They had left leanings. They had visions of society, which did not find a place for old guards like Pulavar, or a spiritualist like Thalayasingham. But their era too has passed after a brief sprout. The gap between words and actual life has been growing rapidly in modern times, and it is for us to reevaluate history, taking these into account. It is in this context name of Mu Thalyasingham comes to my mind. He was a different person in difficult times. After saying this I should state that Dr Kailasapathy deserves a place among 100 Tamils along with Prof. Thurairajah. Probably only other candidate in this category would be Dr Sivathamby.
I am sure Tamil Nation readers will have something to say about all these. When we are
close to events it is not easy to get an objective agreement. I do not persist in what I
am saying, I am sure Tamils already selected lend credibility to the title but I wanted to
evoke discussion. Also feel that I should bring up what I feel about all this. I feel that
Thalayasingham, Navalar and Ashokamitran would be very likely candidates without which the
list will be lacking, on a long term.
" Wise man points his fingers at the moon and the fool looks at the finger "- Zen saying