Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tamizh, en தமிழ்!

Of all things I write—I always hesitate to write about my language, my mother tongue…Tamizh; for my inherent chauvinism might show. But today, as the World Tamizh conference commenced, as I watched hordes of scholars (and of course…inevitably, politicians—it’s inescapable, how politics always exploits people’s emotional attachments to language. And Tamizh Nadu is the epitome of examples to elaborate on that phenomenon. But let me refrain from getting into that tangle, for I intend to write about my language here.), I could not help, but feel a surge of intimate fervor towards my language. Not momentary, this feeling, every time I hold a copy of Tamizh literature in my hand, ardor passes through me. Be it Nattrinai, Agananooru, Silapadhikaram or Panchali Sabadham…I am overwhelmed by the grandeur of this ancient language.

Tamizh, a Dravidian language, with close similarities to the ancient Harappan script, as they have the same roots, substantiates the egalitarian nature of the Tamizh people… Surviving through long periods of turmoil in history, for it’s an elaborate language, intricate in meaning, every word astounds linguists. One could love a language for it’s their mother tongue, but Tamizhians have many reasons to cherish their words. (I can see my friend Kimde Marak smirking, and saying, “Sindhu, you are such a Tamil chauvinist!”…) My Tamizh is one of those few languages in the world where secular literature flourished since time immemorial. While many languages smack of religion, my language speaks of humanism (in the Tirukkural—“Inna seitharai…”---“If someone does you harm, do good unto them.”), of liberalism, of natyam, of art, of culture. Tamizh teaches goodwill, love, integrity…and to coexist. It’s astonishing, how a martial race has ideals of forgiveness and humanness entrenched in its literature; and when one reads words written in agaval metre ten centuries ago, relevant to today’s predicaments…the philosophical nature of Tamizh astounds and enraptures.
The egalitarian nature of the language, in the past, when in the Tamizh land castes did not exist, prejudice was based on scholarly merit (…although classes did exist, poverty did reign; but why do I allow myself to think of this now?!), and women were respected, Tamizh sought to signify change---the survival of this language is ascribed to its ability to consume modernity. The multitude of women in scholarly pursuit, in Tamizh history, surely surpasses any other ancient language. Bundling so much thought into every Tamizh word I utter…I feel proud!
And I repent, that I do not possess the cherished talent to write poetry in Tamizh, that I cannot produce lines of philosophical portent in Tamizh…and this handicap I have to live with. But the pleasure of reading Tamizh, I possess. The multifarious thoughts of great human beings, spanning two thousand years…!
Long live Tamizh!


  1. Tirukkural—“Innaar seitharai…”---“If someone does you wrong, do them good, that’s the best way to punish them.” - the punishment part is not meant in the kural. Other than this, ur blog is so inspiring, factual, meaningful & comprehensive. I especially liked the usage of the word "Tamizh" instead of "Tamil".

  2. Thanks Murali...!
    "Innaar seitharai"....you are right; on retrospect-- the kural only asks one to do good to the one who did them wrong...the punishment part, I suppose it's the meaning I ascribed to it in my mind. I shall update it...thank you!

  3. Sindhu... I am going to tell you something that I generally dont tell people...because they wont understand it. But I suspect you will, from how you feel about this language already. To me, it seems like you feel so passionate about thamizh, but you also sound a little subconsciously guilty about being so attached to this language - and, as if you are trying to give people reasons why this language is so great, and that your admiration and 'chauvinism' is only natural, given the greatness of the language. So, here is something for you.... something that just occurred to me on a random rainy evening....

    Thammizh - is NOT the name of a language. Its the name of a people. A group of people who feel that their own ('tham') sense of self ('izh') is the supreme entity in the world. A group of people who feel that each person is a complete and wholesome part of universal existence. These are people who will not be tamed, will not accept rules and most importantly who will not accept one single philosophy. They believe that their own ('tham') version of reasoning/dharma ('izh') is beyond any single divine law or faith.... For example, when lord muruga,who is supposedly learned and knowledgeable in all vedas and sastras, that he even teaches his own father (Lord Shiva, the supreme) leaves his parents over a mango-dispute, Avvaiyar sings to him - "Oor undu, per undu, uravundu, pugazhundu, utrar petrar undu"....etc.... Basically saying that you are so great that you have name, fame, a great family background, even a home in the great kailash, a powerful father, an all powerful mother, etc etc etc...... and then she sings finally..."Irunthum, un thathhuvam thavarendru sollavum avvaiyin thamizhukku urimai undu".... which simply means..."yes, yes..... you are so great blah blah blah.... but I, a thammizh, has the right to say you, God are wrong!"....actually what she means to say is "avvaiyin tham izhukku urimai undu"..... This is the same concept that reverberates when God writes a flawed poetry and even though Tamil poet Nakkeeran realises that it is god, he says "Nettrikannai thurandhalum kutram kutrame"....simply meaning "No matter how much of a bully you are, you are wrong!".....

    This is why Thammizh people have a passion for anyone who speaks Thammizh.... this is why thamizh people in sri lanka opposed christianity when british first came there (later developing into a freedom struggle) - because they couldn't submit like 'sheep' to 'one heavenly father'..... this is why women have a huge voice in tamizh culture.... and this is even why the whole indian freedom movement started with a tamil girl (Gandhi supposedly said this in his autobiography).... this is why her saree's munthanai 'jarigai' has now become the indian national flag.....

    Its a people.... Its an ideology.... Its an attitude... The language that these people speak is also called by the same name as its people 'Thammizh'....

    As long as you think thamizh is only a language, you will continue to be surprised by its many accolades, and even sometimes doubtful that it is upheld artificially by pompous politicians who make a living out of it. But the moment you understand that thammizh is a people, you will only feel that the accolades of this language are only a natural reflection of the people's ideology and attitude.

    Sorry for this verbose explanation.... I couldn't help writing all this...

  4. thammizh: thank you so much for sharing your exquisite thoughts!

    i do laud my language not only for itself, but also for its inherent egalitarianism. it is true that i have a subconscious need to justify my love for the language, as i feel that people's prejudiced and sometimes meaningless love for language and culture leads to bipartisanship....and i'm a humanist, and cannot allow discrepancies!

    when i view tammizh as an attitude, as an ideology, and not as what narrow fickle politicians use to brandish for votes---my love for Tammizh does not seem chauvinistic.

    and about the chauvinism-- i abhor chauvinists, and i constantly try to ward off any predilections i may have which have the slightest chance of becoming chauvinistic.

    i am not really trying to convince people that i love the language for it's great...i suppose it's myself who i'm trying to understand, and maybe convince!

    but, as you said--tammizhians have the urge to resist anything that is wrongly imposed on them, and they question everything!...so being a Tammizhian, I suppose my need to question my own love in inherently Tammizh too!

    your views have greatly added to the respect i have for the people of Tammizh!