Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thamizhachi's FeTNA speeches, U.Ve.Sa, Ziegenbalg etc: Ideological bias run amuck

FeTNA hosted a special event for 'generous donors' with addresses by all invitees that included an address by Thamizhachi (video below. Very nice earrings, or whatever they are)

This and her address on July 8th can be show cased for illustrating what happens when an opinion maker puts on ideological blinkers. I'll refer to Thamizhachi by her name Sumathy as I find that more palatable.

Sumathy playing to the gallery in her address talks of Ziegenbalg . I come from a Christian family with deep roots into the Lutheran church and I've relatives with ties in Tranquebar where Ziegenbalg was a missionary. Sumathy says "Ziegenbalg came to India, to Tranquebar, studied Tamil, created the first Tamil dictionary, a foreign resident Tamil scholar". If ever facts were colored by ideology to suit an audience this takes the prize.

Ziegenbalg was a Germany missionary who came to the Danish colonial outpost of Tranquebar to preach and proselytize the 'heathens', as they referred to Hindus. He learnt Tamil in order to be able to talk to the natives. The Christian missionaries and their role in India is not an unvarnished one. There is also much politics in praising a person like Ziegenbalg. It is easy for Sumathy's fellow ideologues to talk about stray incidents of Ziegenbalg confronting the Brahmins in Tranquebar. Let us remember that Ziegenbalg was a religious functionary and his prime objective in Tranquebar was to convert people. The rest is collateral. Let us not forget that missionaries who looked smugly at India's casteism were not themselves very egalitarian people. The Church was in no sense of the word egalitarian. The Crusades are a bloody stain on the Church.

To portray Ziegenbalg as a Tamil enthusiast and student of Tamil for the sake of Tamil literature is completely fallacious. One of Ziegenbalg's book is titled "Propagation of the Gospel in the east: Being an account of the success of the Danish missionariesl lately sent to the East-Indies for the conversion of the heathen in Malabar". As regards King Charles honoring Ziegenbalg it was actually King George 1 in 1716 according to Prof Daniel Jeyaraj a veritable scholar on Ziegenbalg who has published definitive studies on Ziegenbalg. I am not sure about the archbishop incident. Even if that is true Sumathy's ideological coloring is unpardonable.

Also only one who is ignorant of the Lutheran reformation movement will pay too much credit for Ziegenbalg's works in Tamil and Tamil translation of the Bible. That Bible, the God's word, should be in vernacular and not in Latin was one of the key reformations of the Protestant movement. I'll return to this when I discuss Shankaracharya.

Sumathy went on to exaggerate another incident. She claimed that at the Temple in Mount of Olives in Israel "Tamil was chosen one of the 10 most cherished languages for inscriptions of 'all of' Christ's teachings. Wrong. The Church of Pater Noster in Mount of Olives has inscription of only the Lord's Prayer, not all of Christ's teachings, in 107 languages including Icelandic (another site claims it is 62 languages ). If Tamils want to feel happy about Tamil being used in an obscure corner we can certainly do so and remember there is ample company for us and we have no special rights.

Shrill jingoism sells and is an easy, should I say 'lazy', way to throw applause lines. She starts of with a smug statement "we taught 'civilization' to the world". I'd love to know what were the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese etc were doing in those ages. Tamil has a hoary heritage, India's civilization is much respected and has much to be proud of. It is cheap tactics to indulge in such breast beating. Tagore, whom Thamizhachi used to malign Gandhi would be appalled at such cheap jingoism.

Sumathy cannot sleep blissfully if she did not tarnish people like Gandhi and Shankaracharya. On July 8th address she added U.Ve.Sa to that list. Her topic was "keys that unlocked locks". All the locks she referred to her where her ideological opponents. She did not have the intellectual integrity to turn that critical gaze to her own idols. Many who loved Thamizhachi asked me "are you defending Gandhi because he is your idol and holy cow", "can we not criticize", "should we not make idols look human". All are valid questions. BUT  when criticism is used as a 'tactic' ONLY to besmirch one's ideological enemies the game is up.

U.V.Swaminatha Iyer, widely referred to as U.Ve.Sa or 'Thamizh Thatha" did a yeoman service in gathering ancient Tamil classics and publishing them as books. What he endured is not even comprehended today and needs a separate blog by it self. One person asked me "is U.Ve.Sa credited more than he deserves". K.V.Jagannathan, Ki.Va.Ja, answers that person "What he published was not a mere transcription of the manuscripts in palm leaves. If publication is so simple as that, many others could have done it with success long ago. What Swaminatha Iyer did was to edit and publish these works with detailed footnotes, commentaries and indices, besides biographical notes on the authors. This was very useful and many readers desired to preserve these books for posterity. All this is evidence of not only the scholarship of the editor but also the hard work he had put in." Wikipedia narrates how U.Ve.Sa went door to door to Jain households to understand better to collate Jain philosophy that is important to understand 'ceevaka chinthamani'. U.Ve.Sa was supported by the paltry funds of one person. He did not have any facility to undertake such a monumental task. It is pathetic that we Tamils do not even know 'how' to appreciate such a task. Check out this article too .

Sumathy said 'with all due respect to U.Ve.Sa I'd like to narrate an incident'. When somebody uses the meaningless phrase "with all due respect' what they mean is they, in reality, have no respect. A friend of U.Ve.Sa called on him one day and used a Tamil word to denote something for which a Sanskrit word was more in vogue. U.Ve.Sa ribbed the visitor "what happened to you, you are also talking like those self-respect movement guys". The audience, ideologically sympathetic, tittered. I've NO objection  to any detailed research to unearth any detail to flesh out a complete narrative of a person to gain a 'fuller' understanding of the person. To take a man who really dedicated his life to the resurrection of the treasures of a language, without which there would be little for these jingoists to be proud of, is portrayed as a man inimical to Tamil. Today a FeTNA organizer took to DK magazine, Viduthalai, to write that Sumathy helped identify how even those who are knowledgeable in Tamil need not be loving Tamil. It is better to have a person like U.Ve.Sa who, according to Sumathy, may not love Tamil rather than having people like Sumathy who do more disservice to Tamil with empty phrases. 

DK/DMK people make endless noise about how Carnatic music dominates and that Tamil which had a musical heritage was shadowed. U.Ve.Sa, student of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, was an early exponent of Tamil music. I am often told I focus on mistakes and that I should cite mistakes after having given due space for what is good. Sumathy did not even attempt any such thing. 

Having trashed Gandhi and U.Ve.Sa Sumathy then turned to Kanchi Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Shankaracharya, the favorite punching bag for her party and many in the audience. She repeated for the umpteenth time that Shankaracharya called Tamil as 'lowly language not fit for God's during prayer time'. To be sure that Shankaracharya was a fundamentalist reactionary to the level that he would not meet non-Brahmins. He would not see me. Students of world history know that priestly classes always thought that vernacular must not be used for Gods. Publishing the Bible in any language other than Latin was considered a punishable crime. Take music, composing Operas, even if it was Mozart who wrote it, in language other than Italian was frowned upon. Churchill is his biography states that when he joined Harrow he was deemed dull and told to study only English while his more brilliant classmates studied Latin and Greek. Isaac Newton wrote his magnum opus, Principia Mathematica, is chaste Latin.  The poor Shankaracharya is not the first person to consider vernacular as degrading. Sumathy unnecessarily flogs that dead horse to satisfy the rabid cravings of a few elements in the audience. 

The final question is FeTNA responsible for this ideological agenda. I've friends, very dear ones, on both sides of the aisle especially on the side of FeTNA. They would point to inviting apolitical people like Ilakkuvanaar, S.Ramakrishnan, even Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. News of FeTNA appeared in apolitical web mags too. Agreed. However having apolitical speakers does NOT cancel out another person's strong ideology based shrill bashing. To have perfect balance when FeTNA organizers know the ideological bent of its chosen speakers they should 'actively' seek to find speakers who can be at the other end of the ideological spectrum. I do not suggest that FeTNA should be setting up some kind of ideological mud wrestling. No. Attention should be paid to how the scale is balanced. When its organizers choose to publish in a party rag sheet that is notorious for hate speech the stigma of politicization is something the organization invites. The article consciously omits mentioning that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also spoke. Given such a backdrop it is inevitable to question the ideological balance.

Before I close circling back to Gandhi. Sumathy cited an incident, Amartya Sen narrates it in his Nobel lecture,  when Gandhi wrote an autograph saying "Never make a promise in haste. Having once made it fulfill it at the cost of your life." When he saw this entry, Tagore became agitated. He wrote in the same book a short poem in Bengali to the effect that no one can be made "a prisoner forever with a chain of clay." He went on to conclude in English, possibly so that Gandhi could read it too, "Fling away your promise if it is found to be wrong."Tagore, I'd say, over reacted. Gandhi echoes what Kural asks us to do, "எண்ணித் துணிக கருமம் துணிந்தபின் ,எண்ணுவம் என்பது இழுக்கு." Tagore is no friends of Sunathy's ideas he was just used to malign Gandhi. Only a Dravidian ideologue could cook up a such a scheme where one illustrious son of India is used to malign another.

During a poetry session Sumathy moderated it nicely. She listened, noted down lines she thought were nice from each person. After the person concluded she would recite it and add a few of her thoughts. Her bi-lingual felicity stands her in good stead. She was gentle. She can be a good teacher in a class. Her ideological fealty is her undoing. I hear she was more photographed than actress Amala Paul. Sumathy did charm many a man and woman with her dressing sense and jewelry :-) :-)

A parting suggestion to Thamizhachi, "குணம்நாடிக் குற்றமும் நாடி அவற்றுள் மிகைநாடி மிக்க கொளல்". It is a beautiful verse. Valluvar asks us to 'first' seek the good in a person, and 'also' seek the bad and take what weighs most. 

For the audience my suggestion would be, "எப்பொருள் யார்யார்வாய்க் கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள்
மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்ப தறிவு." -- This is even more profound. Do not look at the messenger, it could be anyone, யார்யார்வாய், seek the truth in what is said.


kmr.krishnan said...

Nicely written Sir.

IF one takes to U VE SA urai for one classic like Kamba Raamayanam , we are introduced to so many other classics in Tamil.I always used sit awe struck by his memory and erudite scholarship.

Thamizachis' must prove their mettle before even mentioning U VE SA'S name.'Popularity' comes to a politician only when he/she maligns
others, particularly the ones who are venerated.

வன்பாக்கம் விஜயராகவன் said...

Dear Sir

You write "She repeated for the umpteenth time that Shankaracharya called Tamil as 'lowly language not fit for God's during prayer time'"

It has been bandied about a million times by Dravidan circles; I have not come across any original quote to that effect by Kanchi Shankaracharya. It is always somebody quoted somebody saying somebody seeing somebody hearing ...... Shaknaracharya said so. You cannot see such a quote from any of Shankaracharya's own writings.

This is a typical Dravidian misinformation campaign in the fashion Sumathy. For all her sanskrit origin name, she should carry a Brand name like 'Thamizachchi'. It looks like the Dravidian movement has no respect whatsoever for historical truths; they indulge only in wild propaganda. That is a style they have inherited from late EVR.


nsf101y said...

Why did you post Thamizhachchi's speech instead of SHri Sri Ravinsanker, if you think the later is importatnt?

subbu said...

Thank u.this is a classic rebutal.