Friday, 9 September 2016

Comparativists from All Walks of Life - Glimpses

for the Love of Literature!

Yes… this is the ‘Spivak’ian or rather ‘Wellek’ian Era of Comparative Literature!
Last month, I had the great opportunity of reading and reviewing the ‘maiden manuscript’ of an IAS Officer – Shri K. Rajaraman, Principal Secretary/Director, to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Chennai.

What surprised me greatly while going through each and every page of the scholarly manuscript - was his passion for literature – Comparative Literature – to be precise!

He has made a wonderful comparison between the Bard of the West and the Sage of the East – Shakespeare and Thiruvalluvar, respectively.
It was, to put it shortly, ‘A Fascinating and amazing Intersection of Thoughts between the Sage of Tamil Nadu Thiruvalluvar and the Bard of Avon William Shakespeare’.  Be it on Adversity or Anger, Beauty or Chastity, Duty or Fame, Forgetfulness or Forgiveness, Money or Health, Frailty or Innocence, love or friendship, men or women, prayers or repentance, society or government, suspicion or jealousy, success or failure, gratitude or thanklessness, vice or virtue, etc., the analogies are strikingly similar in their appeal, especially in the treatment of the thought, in the choice of words, and in the felicity of expression.

Interestingly, another IAS Officer Venkatachalam Irai Anbu, [Currently Principal Secretary], who has an MA in English Literature, has also done a Comparative Study on Thiruvalluvar and Shakespeare. A complete collection of all his best sellers are available HERE on Amazon. He has authored 30 books so far, and counting...!

Reminds me yet again of our own illustrious alumnus Mr. T. Radhakrishnan, Addl. Director General of Police, Chennai, who was with us on 29 August 2012, to inaugurate the activities of the English Literary Association. Radhakrishnan, who did his MA in English Literature in MCC, was a student of Dr. Francis Sounderraj. He has authored six books on literature to his credit, and all the books celebrate Comparative Literature! Speaking on the occasion, he said that his passion of literature is something that keeps him going even today. Click HERE to access the event in MCC.

Well, this must be a tad bit too much of a coincidence, but, there is yet another Retired Director with Reserve Bank of India, Mr. V. K. Vasudevan, who had the alacrity and the zest to do his PhD with the Dept of English at Madras Christian College, when he was 69 years old!

At an age when people his age start enjoying their retirement, reclining regally in an easy chair, grandchildren in hand, Mr. V. K. Vasudevan, a retired Officer with the Reserve Bank of India, at 69 years, has successfully completed his PhD, and his Viva voce examination which was held on Wednesday, 10 December at the Selaiyur Hall Guest Room, was a source of inspiration to most of the youngsters gathered there. Dr. Ms. Kadambari was the external examiner.

Yet again, his PhD thesis, which was later published as a book, was on Comparative Literature! - Reflections on the Mystical Vision in the great Tagore, Kabir, J.Krishnamurthi and Osho! Yes! His phenomenal sweep made everyone sit up and take notice of this great scholar! Do click HERE to access this event in Selaiyur Hall, MCC.

So much for their love of Literature!

These great minds involved themselves with alacrity and enthusiasm in the field of Comparative Literature – and how!

On a similar vein, yet another book that interested me very much is a thoughty treatise by a High Court Justice, of the Madras High Court.

He is Dr. Justice S. Maharajan.

The book that contains his collected works is titled, THE INNER MEANING OF HUMAN HISTORY, compiled and published by Mr. M. Chidambaram. Yet again, his chief works were on Comparative Literature!

What impressed me more about the book was the 'Foreword' by Dr. Prema Nandakumar, Trichy, a scholar of greattttt repute, whose post-doctoral research was [again] on comparative literature – between Dante and Sri Aurobindo.

Wonder who this Prema Nandakumar is?

She is the daughter of the legendary K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar who has authored the pioneering and trend-setting book Indian Writing in English. She has also co-authored many books with her father chiefly the famous, Introduction to the Study of English Literature.

From the Foreword by Prema Nandakumar for you…

Celebrating the birth centenary of Justice S. Maharajan is doubly blessed. He was not only eminent in his chosen field of service but was also a distinguished scholar, one who could write and speak with equal ease. He traversed the two worlds of Law and Literature independently. His legal career was precise and to the point for he did not allow his scholarship to weigh upon his arguments or judgements.
He takes up a Sessions Judge who had to deal with a case in which a son was accused of murdering his mother. Steeped in the best elements of Indian culture, Justice Maharajan does not reveal the name of the judge but points out how the judgement was stuffed with quotes from classics to point out how sons like Parasurama have killed their mothers. When the judge has to tackle a case of infanticide, he reels in matter like the Nallathangal story. None of them touch upon any vital point in the cases.
 Justice Maharajan was particularly generous and I felt at home in his presence as he knew my father well. His paper presented in the Conference-Seminar was of deep interest to me as a translator, as if he were holding a class for my benefit. He was listing some of the problems that one faced when translating Shakespeare into Tamil. I am glad this important essay is in this collection.
Why translate Shakespeare? There comes a breathless sentence in answer: “Fortunately for the translators, Shakespeare offers through his plays not only untranslatable imponderables, but also other things, which are worthwhile translating and which are susceptible to translation, such as his presentation of the great panorama of Life, the motive springs of human action, the grand play of impulses and emotions, the march of destiny, his reflections on the incongruities between life and death, between human weal and human woe, between Finitude and Infinity. As an incomparable storyteller, as a Psychiatrist, as a Philosopher, as an Artist and as a Mystic, he conveys many things, which can be caught by the translator.”
 He translated Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear. It is interesting to speculate why he chose only these tragedies for translation and not any of Shakespeare’s comedies. As one who had a translucent sense of humour, he would indeed have done a great job. Perhaps it is Shakespearian tragic moments that crisscrossed his mind when he focused himself on cases in the court and so he may have unconsciously veered towards presenting these three great works of crime, punishment and atonement in the Tamil language.
 The Tamil language and culture he loved on this side idolatry. He was passionate about taking the Tamil poets to a wider audience through English translations. The opening essay, ‘The Culture of Tamils’ reflects the state of his mind in pellucid terms.
 At a time when Tamil chauvinism was trying to imprison the Tamilian in narrow, domestic walls, Justice Maharajan proudly presented the cosmopolitan outlook of the ancient Tamils. Referring in detail to the trade and cultural contacts of Tamil Nadu with different countries like China and Greece, he said: “It is not therefore surprising that the Tamils, who had contacts with different nations and races, were singularly free from insularity, and a Sangam poet of the pre-Christian era proclaimed, with incredible catholicity, ‘Every country is my native land and every one my kinsman.”
 He finds science too in Tamil culture (Siddha medicine), ship-building, engineering (the Grand Anicut, for instance), psychological studies (the Aham poetics), pearl-diving, reverence for life (Pari and the jasmine creeper) and a uniformly aesthetic approach in everyday activities. And of course, the unequalled temple culture unique to the Tamil nation.
 While we have this splendid variety in the essays included in this volume, we also get to have the complete texts of the two monographs on Tiruvalluvar and Kamban that Justice Maharajan wrote for Sahitya Akademi’s Makers of Indian Literature series. Tiruvalluvar opens with a Maharajanesque statement: “Though Tiruvalluvar lived about 2000 years ago, it does not seem he is dead.”
 So the living bard of ethical perfection comes through as the Eternal Teacher, and his innumerable facets glow and spread creative light. Justice Maharajan repeatedly refers to the contemporaneous significance of the Kurals and how his quoting Tiruvalluvar got him kudos in the World Vegetarian Congress meeting. Why give long lectures on sculpting the virtuous man? One Kural is enough! “What is virtue except non-killing? for killing brings in its train All the other vices.”
 From the ethical maxims of Valluvar to the epic grandeur of Kamban, Justice Maharajan is equally at home in both the areas, and manages to imprison the splendour of Kamban in the course of a brief monograph. Kamban is Kamban the work of a rasika. Here there is no place for the carping critic or soul-destroying sceptic. Translations from Kamban’s work dot the prose narration. While V.V.S.Ayyar had preferred Miltonic sublimity for his translation style,
 Justice Maharajan wisely chose to give simple retellings that created in the translator a desire to go back to the original: “Eye caught Eye, in pairs, and each the other devoured. their feelings brought to a standstill, the Prince stood looking at the Princess and the Princess stood looking at the Prince.”
 He was never one for literal translation that forced the translator to perform gymnastics with word combinations. And yet nothing vital to the poetic statement was lost in his version. At the same time he does not allow us to forget the unique pressure Kamban brings to his Tamil words and phrases.
 Those who read a translation of Kamban must not ignore the original springs that glow iridescent in the epic, says our translator with utter humility: “The success achieved by Kamban is due not so much to what he says as to how he says it. Each word of his is a focus of persuasive energy, in which his living faith is transformed into the vibrations of the human voice. And those, who wish to expose themselves to these vibrations, must listen to the songs of Kamban in the original and not to the feeble and uncreative vibrations of the translator.”
 Meanwhile, my grateful thanks to Sri Chidambaram for preparing this volume and giving me an opportunity to open the casements of memory and remember the times when this scholarfriend with other sahridayas remained conversing with my father for hours on life and literature.
 I could sing like Wordsworth with just a little variation: Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up fostered alike by scholarship and nobility …
 Mudhal Tirumaligai
Srirangam – 620006
Image Credits

Book Source
The Inner Meaning of Human History: Collected Works of Justice S. Maharajan. Compiled and Published by M. Chidambaram

To contact the publisher Mr. Chidambaram

1 comment:

  1. sir, mr.iraianbu also studied in MCC? if so which yrpls?