Appreciation of fine poetry was never one of my virtues. With the exception of nursery rhymes and naughty limericks, I have always kept myself at arm’s length from the world of poetry. Quatrains and verses stirred nothing in me, rhyme and meter meant little, prosody a waste of my time.
When my friend Usha Rajagopalan prevailed upon me to purchase her book on the poetry of Subramania Bharati, I did so with some reluctance. The book remained safely unread on my shelf for a long time, until I finally took it up one idle winter’s evening.
And then something very strange happened. For the first time in many years, I read a book from cover to cover in one single sitting, without so much as rising from my chair for a break.
All I knew of Subramania Bharati was what I had learnt about him in school and what I had heard from my mother. That he was a renowned Tamil poet and a nationalist was not unknown to me, but other than that I knew little of him.
Thanks to Usha, I am now significantly enlightened – and quite furious with myself for not learning Tamil formally, when I had the opportunity.
Translating the work of a poet of Subramania Bharati’s stature is no mean feat, but then Usha Rajagopalan is no mean author herself. Most people have the very wrong idea that translation is a simple matter. Far from it. Almost anybody can transliterate. Few people can translate. And fewer still understand the fundamental difference between the two.
Usha demonstrates an insight that is not often seen among translators, as she accurately translates selected poems from the Mahakavi’s vast repertoire. In doing so, she gives the ignorant reader, i.e. myself, a look into the man’s mind and heart.
“The darkness of ignorance fades into the air, the radiant sun of knowledge rises steadily, casting its luminous golden rays everywhere…”.
My general impression of Subramania Bharati was that he was a fierce nationalist and that his poetry was largely anti-British in character.
“To take the name of Bharat, our country,
is to kill the fear of poverty and grievous enmity”.
“The mighty Himalayas belong to us!
The copious sweet Ganga is ours too”.
What I never knew that he was also a social reformist:
“The four castes are one.
If any of them were missing,
All occupation would be shattered,
And mankind would perish”.
And a feminist:
“Foster women’s wisdom and see,
The world shed its ignorance”.
And a passionate lover:
“I have fallen in love with you, Valli, with you!
Sweeter than life, you have no equal”.
And a philosopher:
“Show mercy to the enemy, kindly heart.
Show mercy to the enemy”.
One now realises that Subramania Bharati was a multi-faceted genius with a towering intellect and strength of character. What an enormous pity that he died so young, killed by serious injuries caused by a temple elephant.
Riveted to one’s chair, fascinated by what Usha Rajagopalan tells us about Subramania Bharati, one finally emerges with
“knowledge with clarity … and .. warm feelings that well up and flood the body”.
Of special mention is The Stream, this being the painting that makes the cover of Usha’s book, rendered by Achuthan Ramachandran, a Padma Bhushan awardee and one of India’s finest mural painters.
Usha tells me that her next book on the Mahakavi is in the offing. This time, I will not hesitate to read it!
Cheers … Srini.