CHENNAI: Anbu thaimargale, arumai periyorgale, iniya kuzhandhaigal…Kalai vanakkam (Loving mothers, great elders, and sweet children…morning greetings).’ Pongal, Tamizh Puthandu, and Deepavali mornings in Tamil-speaking households are incomplete without getting to hear our favourite Pattimandram moderator Solomon Pappaiah’s standard welcome speech addressing a houseful of a live audience and millions through television. Over the years, besides winning many hearts with his sense of humour and wit, the octogenarian’s contributions to society and Tamil are plenty.
A household name
An accomplished orator, eminent Tamil scholar, and lovable public figure, the Madurai native’s latest literary offering to Tamil enthusiasts is his simplified three-part version of Akananuru, a classical Tamil poetic work of the Sangam era. “This timeless piece of Sangam literature is a compilation of 400 romantic poems from 144 poets. Sangam literature is classified as Akam (inner world) and Puram (outer world). Akam deals with topics on personal or human aspects, such as love and sexual relationships, and are dealt with in a metaphorical and abstract manner. All poems in Akananuru are based on that. It’s difficult to comprehend the words and their meanings, so my task was to simplify them for the common man,” he shares, dressed in a crisp white cotton shirt and veshti, sporting his trademark ebullient demeanour.
The Kalaimamani and Padma Shri awardee has penned and released his versions of celebrated Tamil literary works such as Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram: Or Paarvai, Urai Malargal, Urai Kothu, Tirukkural Uraiyudan, and Purananooru Puthiya Varisai Vagai. Explaining what’s special about the latest work, he narrates, “It’s important to understand Akananuru to make sense of Sangam literature. What’s mesmerising about this piece is the poetic attributes of landscapes and how it’s intertwined with the lover’s emotions. For instance, the Kurinji landscape, with its mountainous regions, depicts the union of lovers. Mullai, the forest region, represents the lady waiting for his lover. Marutham, the agricultural land, shows the conflicts happening between lovers early in the morning. Neithal, in the background of seashores, highlights the pain endured during their separation. And Palai, the desert region, describes the dangerous journey undertaken by the couple. It portrays different stages of love.”
An ode to Tamil
The retired professor and head of the Department of Tamil, The American College, emphasises the need for such literary works to be made available to the youngsters. As he feels that over time, a lot of people seem to have lost interest because of the inability to comprehend the texts or lack of resources with proper explanation. “I’m a BA Economics student. But, I accidentally joined Thiagarajar College’s first batch of MA Tamil. If that had not happened, I wouldn’t have pursued Tamil with such vigour. It’s our responsibility as teachers to kindle that interest and passion in the coming generations.
Earlier Tamil was used only to sing praises of God, but now there are enough texts for it. The purpose of the language is constantly redefined with time. We have to integrate Tamil into other mainstream subjects like science for it to flourish,” he insists. Change alone is constant and we need to adapt ourselves and present Tamil in a way it’s relevant in today’s world, he believes. “Poets of those times criticised Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiyar for his progressive style of writing. But, he was much ahead of his time in terms of the issues he addressed in his works. That’s the reason he stood the test of time while the rest of them faded away,” notes Pappaiah, who rose to fame for his knack for effortlessly taking complex issues and social themes to the masses.
In a career spanning decades, Pappaiah has established a firm presence in Pattimandram. His command over the language, and ability to deliver unbiased judgment inspire people from all strata of society. Having moderated thousands of wordy duels around the globe, he speaks of the changing scope of this promising platform. “Pattimandram existed in literature, in Manimegalai. It travelled with time and now made its way into family and society with topical themes. It will gain more prominence when it enters Science.
“Pazhayana Kazhithalum Puthiyana Pugudhalum, they say. Celebrate this day when the old gives way to the new! People will always accept what they feel is right,” beams Pappaiah. His next book will be his version of Madurai-kanchi, an ancient Tamil poem in Sangam literature. His three-part series on Akananuru is priced at Rs 1,100 and can be ordered from Kavitha Publication.
A musical touch
Carnatic vocalist Saketharaman has also come up with his music composition for Akananuru to ensure Solomon Pappaiah’s version of the book reaches a larger audience. Saketh says, “The challenge was multifold, the chaste Tamil language used in Sangam literature is not easy to tune, unlike modern Tamil compositions. They are also not naturally fitted to the rhythmic meter. Lots of thoughts and efforts have gone into composing. Pappaiah’s book is very handy”, adds Saketh, “to bring more emotion into the songs.”