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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
15 October 1991
His given name at birth was Muthiah. But when he made his exit from this world, ten years ago at the age of 54, on October 16, 1981, millions of Tamils remembered him only by the name Kannadasan. For Tamils all over the world, he epitomised Tamil poetry. Even the illiterates, who couldn't read and memorise the poetry of Kamban or the maxims of Valluvan, could hum the compositions of poet Kannadasan.
A number count of his publications shows a tally of 109 volumes, which include 21 novels and 10 slim volumes of essays on Hinduism, captioned Arthamulla Indu matham (Meaningful Hinduism). In addition, he produced about 4000 poems and approximately 5000 movie lyrics, between 1944 and 1981, all with an eighth grade education at the formal level. He was also an excellent example of this century's Tamil goliard.
What made Kannadasan click? There is no doubt that he had a penetrating eye and keen observational powers. He also did not live a cocoon-type of life. He dipped into everything that the Tamil Nadu could offer - wine, women, drugs, gambling, politics, polemics, atheism and religious sanctuary. After enjoying everything, what he did was remarkable - he composed verses about all his experiences, with self depreciating humour and biting sarcasm. These verses touched the sympathetic chords of Tamils from all walks of life - school boys, undergrads, housewives, farmers, manual labourers, plantation workers, middle class representatives and even upper class elites.
He was at his best when he wrote lyrics on the philosophy of cycles of life. Let me reminisce on some of his most popular compositions in this column. It is a pity that Kannadasan's verses has not been translated into other languages yet. I have made an elementary effort here, while not attempting a literal translation.
Let the passions and bonds pass-by
Who has lived in this land forever?
Path of arrival is known - but
Path of departure and the route unknown.
If all who came opt to stay
Where's the space in this sphere?
Life is just a business -in which
the birth is credit and death is debit.
Ponal pohattum poda - intha
poomiyil nilaiyai vazhnthavar yaarada
Vanthathu theriyum povathu enge
vaasal namakke theriyathu
Vanthavarellam thanki viddal - intha
mannil namakke idamtethu
Vazhkai enpathu viyaparam - varum
jananam enpathu varavahum - athil
maranam enpathu selavaahum.
In another lyric, Kannadasan wrote,
Though born without a dress,
did we come without passions?
when we complete the merriment
can anyone carry their possessions?
Aadai inri piranthome - aasai inri
Aadi mudikkaiyile alli chenror
When describing the final passage every man makes in his life, Kannadasan pondered about who accompanies the remains:
The kin, till the house,
The wife, till the street,
The son, upto the cemetery,
Who will come beyond that?
Veedu varai uravu
Veethi varai manaivi
Kaadu varai pillai
kadaisi varai yaaro?
Kannadasan could even describe Freudian themes in mere four lines of movie lyrics. For example, he once wrote,
Mind is like a tortoise - in which
the truth hides in silence
words can bring out only the half
while justice calmly sleeps
Ullam enpathu aamai - athil
unmai enpathu oomai
Sollil varuvathu paathi - nenjil
thoonki kidappathu neethi
One of my all-time favourites, is the one which I heard for the first time when I was just six or seven years old. The deep-throated resonating voice of playback singer Tiruchi Loganathan, had fixed this Kannadasan lyric, in my mind forever.
With passions as waves
we dance like the boat
in our passage of life
With the wind of youth,
by flying in the chariot of love,
man and woman make merry, enjoy
and surprise themselves
but who can guess tomorrow's path
Aasaiye alai pole,
Naamellam athan mele,
Odam pole adiduvome vaazh nalile
Paruvam ennum kaatrrile
parakkum kaathal therile
aanum pennum mahizhvar
suham peruvar - athisayam kaanpaar
Naalai ulahin paathaiyai inre
Even in this lyric, Kannadasan reinforces the theme, "sorrows are credit of life, while the joys are debit, with the balance being mere dreams, and who can comprehend the arithmetic of fate?".
Vazhvil thunbam varavuu
suham selavu, iruppathu kanavu
kaalam vahutha kanakkai inge
If only Kannadasan would have been born in Europe or the USA, instead of Sirukatalapatti village in the Ralnanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, he probably would have become a Nobel laureate in literature and received international recognition. But on the other hand, Tamils would have lost a goliard, who composed lyrics in Tamil for every sentimental moment they experience in life.