Articles About ANNA

THE VERSATILITY OF ANNA – Dr.R.E.ASHER, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

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It would seem to be a basic feature of human nature to retain a special affection for the initiator of a series of a pleasant things. Thus, no visit to a foreign country one learns to love ever gives quite so much pleasure as the first. The first great cathedral or temple one sees always retains a grandeur that once visited later never seems to match. The first orchestral concert one attends is remembered as the most exciting and pleasing of all.

The some is true of the first book one reads in a language other than one’s own. It is this which provides a number of reasons why I am pleased to be invited to join in this volume of tributes to Arignar Anna, the distinguished Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. For it happens that the first book I ever read in Tamil-apart from such things as school readers, which fall into quite a different category was his drama ‘Ore Iravu’.
Before this, I had quite naturally heard much about the glories of ancient Tamil literature and had read such of the classics as were available in translation-notably the three major translations of Dr.G.U.Pope. But a good part of the appeal of Tamil lies in the fact that it is one of the few languages’ with a literary tradition of two thousand years or more that has continued right up to the present day. From the start, therefore, I was eager to know whether contemporary literature had anything worthwhile to offer. C.N.A’s Ore Iravu (one Night) was enough to suggest that it had. I see no reason to revise my initial impression that this is a good play.

Many excellent plays get off to a slow start as a result of the difficulty experienced by the dramatist in presenting the setting and motivation for the main part of the action. By a skillful succession of short (superficially unrelated) scenes to present the setting and dominant atmosphere of play, C.N.A. here holds our attention right from the start. The pace is then maintained throughout by means of dialogue in a very modern idiom.

It is not easy in a discussion of modern Tamil writing to draw a clear line between theatre and cinema. Indeed a somewhat different version of Ore Iravu(One Night) made by no means unsuccessful film. Because of the “box office” demands in India that the action of a film should be regularly interrupted by song-and-dance routines, few Indian films (with the notable exceptions of the work of Satyajit Ray) are found entirely satisfying aesthetically by foreign audiences. This, however, should not be allowed to blind us to the literary merits of certain scripts when written by a master of dialogue. Such a case is the script of ‘Velaikkari’ (Servant Maid) which, with the songs conveniently relegated to an appendix, reds as a straight play with many of the qualities of Ore Iravu. Indeed on one point, namely the realism of its dialogue, it might be held to be superior.

Velaikkari (Servant Maid) is, of course, a film play with a message; and indeed Thiru Annadurai has reputation of always using his considerable literary talents for the purpose of making political of social “propaganda”. The controversy about the nature of literature with one side claiming that it must have a social content and the other arguing the case of “art for art’s sake” – is both an old one and one that will always be with us. With-our taking a stand on this, one can note that Thiru Annadurai’s literary creations are of two sorts though with no clear line draw-able between them. Some of his stories, for instance, make good reading because of the way in which they present fascinating characters or situations, and not by virtue of an important “message”. An example of this is Nadodi. This has a lot in common with the author’s theatre-and-film plays, in that it is almost entirely made up of dialogue-dialogue moreover, of a very colloquial style. But as a good short story must, it depicts the personality of the few involved in the action of the story by short, telling phrases.

A novel, by way of contrast, can, and indeed must, fill in more detail, both through narrative and dialogue. It demands a different sort of skill and a different kind of technique. And here is yet another literary technique of which C.N.A. has shown his mastery. The author’s own awareness of his control of this medium is apparent in the opening chapter of Rangoon Radha, where by implication the outcome of the story is is started almost at the beginning of the book. In spite of this, the reader is still curious to know how the action will develop to reach this conclusion.

It is inevitable, with narrative having an importance in a novel that it clearly does not have in a play or even in a short story, that the language of this book should be more formal than that of the other writings so far mentioned in this essay. Stylistically it stands mid-way between the colloquial Tamil of the plays and stories, and the language of Thiru Annadurai’s non-fictional compositions. And, however much one may like and admire his work in the field of prose-fiction and drama, there can be no doubt that his main claim to have made a significant contribution to the development of Tamil prose style lies in his powerful oratory. But is interesting to not that this eloquence that has given him so many followers is to be seen in Thiru Annadurai’s novels also-even in conversations like authentic conversations. There is an example in the first chapter of Rangoon Radha. Though not undeserving of the work “eloquent”, this passage is nevertheless a good way from the magnificent, complex and intricately constructed sentences that are the hall-mark of an Annadurai speech. To hear him speak in public is an essential part of the education of anyone who is interested in understanding something about modern Tamil and in learning what the Tamil language is capable of. It is impossible to have any acquaintance whith Tamil and Tamil Nadu for long without being aware of this.

But what many of us who had been taught by our Tamil friends to appreciate the linguistic talents of Arignar Anna were not aware of, was his quite extraordinary mastery of English. Then came the Second International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, at the concluding session of which we were privileged to hear the Chief Minister speak in English. After this, no delegate to the conference could fall to understand how he has gained such a following through his speeches in his mother tongue. For this was a great performance, mingling humour with sentiment, no native speaker of English present on the occasion could have surpassed, or even equaled. Nor should the technical mastery displayed make us forget either the moderation of the views expressed or the sincerity with which they were put forward. There was no sigh of the “Extremist” that C.N.A. used occasionally to be reputed to be.

One aspect of his supposed “extremism” that one occasionally hears of is the way in which reputedly he never uses a borrowed word when writing or when speaking in public in Tamil. Any page of his works of fiction or drama will show this to be untrue: for C.N.A. is no pedant. Thus one frequently finds such words and phrases. The essential feature of C.N.A.’s Tamil style, in fact, is his use of words and constructions that are appropriate for the context and for the occasion. If dialogue is to be realistic, it must contain grammatical forms and vocabulary items (whatever their source) that are actually used by speakers of Tamil in normal every day conversation. Moreover, certain words might be acceptable in the narrative parts of a work of fiction that can have no place in the fully formal style appropriate to a public address. Anyone with a sense of occasion must accept that nowadays a formal speech before an audience demands the use of what, for want of a better description, one must call “pure” Tamil. It is part of the greatness of C.N.A. as creative user of Tamil that he has appreciated this, whilst at the same time acknowledging that there are contexts where this form style would be entirely inappropriate.
The versatility that these few pages have attempted to hint at is of a sort that most of us can only admire and envy. Yet they are only part of the story, for the history of the present Government of Madras State shows that, in addition to all of this, Thiru Annadurai is an outstanding administrator and statesman. To achieve this standing and at the same time to make contribution to one’s literature ( and C.N.A.’s speeches, as well as his more obviously “literary” endeavours, are an important contribution to Tamil literature) is very rare. There have, it is true, been examples in Britain of Prime Ministers making a name for themselves as writers too (one thinks of Benjamin Disreali and Winston Churchill among others) and there is the very special case of Jawaharlal Nehru in India.

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