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A “Literary” Aside

Jassie Gift (or is it Kay Kay) screaming “IR-ettu pallukkaari” before being drowned out by others shouting “randakka randakka” is definitely not something that you would imagine as continuing a classical Tamil tradition. Yet, strangely, it is.

This is A. K. Ramanujam’s “translation” of Kuruntokai 119, from here.

What He Said

As a little white snake
with lovely stripes on its young body
troubles the jungle elephant
this slip of a girl
her teeth like sprouts of new rice
her wrists stacked with bangles
troubles me.

The operational part is in the fifth line, where a girl’s teeth are compared to newly-sprouted rice. The comparison is not literal, obviously, as that would mean our heroine had teeth somewhat like a rat’s canines! Rather, it refers to the evenness and pleasing (to the eye) arrangement of the grains of rice.

This imagery is subtle and requires a bit of work on the part of the reader, or listener, as most poetry was recited rather than read in those days. Borrowing from this, today’s Tamil “poets” make it a literal, straightforward comparison, calling our heroine “IR-8 toothed” – IR-8 here referring to a variety of rice!

So much for an ancient Tamil literary device!

As for Mr. Ramanujam’s translation, I simply don’t agree with “wrists stacked with bangles” – it’s just not good English.

While on the subject, here is another of my favourites, also from the same source: Kuruntokai 40

What He Said

What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
did you and I meet ever?
But in love our hearts are as red
earth and pouring rain:
mingled beyond parting.

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