Sunday, August 09, 2009

Celebrate them, even if you have not read them

Celebrate them, even if you have not read them

E Raghavan

Thiruvalluvar and Sarvajna had nothing to do with each other. One lived some time between second century BC and not later than eighth century AD, and the other some 600 years later if you accept the second date for the Tamil saint-poet. Both pondering on, among other things, what qualities make an individual better and expressing that creatively through poetry.
Great souls that they were, if they had a chance to meet, the two would perhaps have treated each other with the kind of respect you can't imagine was possible. We treat them shabbily by making them victims of cultural policing.
In his time, Bangalore as an entity did not exist, so Thiruvalluvar could not have written what he did in the hope that someday his statute would be installed there. Nor would Sarvajna have entertained similar sentiments. But our own cultural police, who are present in all public spheres — politics, academic and cultural institutions and pure play chauvinistic outfits — have ensured a kind of competition between the two. Thiruvalluvar will have a place in Bangalore only if Sarvajna gets equal treatment in Chennai.
A large body of writers and artists and political parties have, fortunately, finally agreed that Thiruvalluvar, whose statute was covered in a shroud for nearly two decades, would grace the precincts of Tamil Sangam in Bangalore because there would be no opposition to installation of a statute of Sarvajna later in Chennai.
Fortunate? Not really. It is actually unfortunate that there is need for a consensus of this sort in the first place on saintly poets who have enriched the body of Indian literature. We seem to have brought such illustrious figures into the kind of poster wars that fans of popular film actors fight. Poster wars may reflect the entertainment culture in the celluloid world. Nothing wrong with that at all; it is a facet of life in the present time. To treat art, literature and other forms of culture in the same spectrum is a telling commentary on the current value system we seem to be putting in place.
In a sense many issues that have cropped up in recent times emphasise this trend in cultural policing. The clamour for teaching all subjects in Kannada at the primary level in schools is as much a manifestation of this trend as the attack on unsuspecting candidates from other states writing qualifying tests in Bangalore. There may be no vested interest in all this though, some believe there actually is. That is beside the point. It ends up being a pretty narrow and sectarian outlook.
Neither Tamil nor Kannada literature will be poorer if the reciprocal arrangement between the two states did not materialise. But the spirit in which the two chief ministers have approached the issue would go a long way in easing the emotional tension that crops up often. It is that spirit that needs to be encouraged just as we ought to celebrate both Thiruvalluvar and Sarvajna even if we have not read what they wrote but ought to do it sometime in life.

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