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On the need to avoid being envious: Canto XVII, K161, K162 of the THIRUK-KURAL, Translation with Commentary
[ ENVY, of course, knows no racial nor ethnic boundaries, but I wouldn't be wrong, I dare say, in thinking or assuming that being envious in an inveterate manner could be considered one of the principal Tamil character traits. How else may one explain the total lack of verifiable information on Thiru-VALLUVAR's life and times? What we know and have of him is a dismal kyrielle of hearsay and myth, together with some linguistic evidence culled from his work linking him to the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, but this isn't evidence which sheds light on his personality or educational background or, for that matter, his professional or personal circumstances without which - since he has not given us any clue or aperture to his self in his work - we cannot with certainty pronounce on the influences he was subject to, nor whether he was amenable to such influences either. It is quite obvious he was the object of much "envy" on the part of his peers. My hunch is that his enormous capabilities, knowledge and energy might have invited "oppression" from all quarters. Envy, as we all know, plays no great part once the period of his/one's generation or two comes to an end. And somehow the Thiru-Kural was preserved and handed down by successive generations who were not plagued by the presence of the author. One possibility of suppression owing to envy may have been his social caste status. Upper caste Tamils of his time - if he belonged to a lower or the lowest caste such as it was presumed in his case - might not want a priest of the Valluvar caste to outshine them. Normal reaction among Tamils!
I have said elsewhere he "deliberately" - knowing the situation he was in - left us some clues in his work which would ensure its perennity. Sooner or later, I'll deal with this topic: Stay tuned in!
Just a word on THIRUKKURAL publications and conferences: To say the least, these are so numerous and breast-beating (now that the poet is absent), and like all money-raking shenanigans, the book is sure-fire attraction the moment some publisher or institution of learning decides to do one or the other, often with the backing of the Tamil Nadu Government or some Tamil diaspora authority. The Thirukkural has long attained the status of a "bible" among the Tamil populations, so much so that nothing rakes in the cash as the celebration of a bard of incontestable honour and reign which translates as something as close to the deification of the author through his work. As everybody knows, ask in the name of the giver's god and none will withhold even their last penny! In every decade, the number of publications or conferences tend to become ever so redundant that there is grave danger the contents of the treatise on ethics by our "unknowable" poet might become so debased and mammon-ised (to coin a word) that Tamilian ethics may need to be recast by a second-coming of the poet, himself.
Two recent readily-available paperback publications require singling out:
1. Thirukkural Tamil-English Version. Translations by Rev. G.U.Pope, Rev. W.H. Drew and Rev. John Lazarus. Chennai: Kumaran Pathippagam, 2015, 288p. Price Rs 140.
(This version appears in clear print, and the translators hardly need to be introduced, for they number among the few who have rendered Tamils and foreigners interested in Tamil studies great service.)
2. Thirukkural. English Transliteration & Translation with CD. Chennai: The Wisdom World Publication, 2016, 276p. Price Rs 475.
(Selections from eleven translators' efforts are proffered, among them Pope, Drew & Lazarus, with a totally muddled-up "appreciation" by the Tamil Nadu government cultural affairs official in five short paragraphs and an obfuscating preface about the origins of the selections by V. Ramamurthy, both of whom quite frankly judging by their texts cannot possibly be knowledgeable in English. One would do well to discard the book pullulating in grammatical and printer's errors. The CD, only in Tamil, is worth keeping, though.)
According to G.U. Pope, the Thirukkural, written in the venba metre lends itself to "ceppalOsai", that is, the recitative or didactic tone, and this is further extended, according to the quantity of the feet in each couplet, into the "balanced recitative", the "grave recitative" (K397 is the only case) and the " mixed recitative". The great majority of the couplets are in the last category, giving rise to a variety of rhythms.
K161: olukku aaraak kolka oruvanthan nencatthu
alukkaaru ilaatha iyalpu
As 'strict decorum's' laws, that all men bind,
Let each regard unenvying grace of mind. (Transl. G.U. Pope)
Let a man esteem that disposition which is free from envy in the same manner as propriety of conduct. (Transl. Drew & Lazarus)
One should in one's heart cherish the state of being devoid of envy and make that a cardinal principle of virtue. (Transl. T. Wignesan)
K162: viluppeetrin ahthuoppathu illayaar maadtum
alukkaatrin anmai perin
If man can learn to envy none on earth,
'Tis richest gift, -- beyond compare its worth. (Transl. G.U. Pope)
Amongst all attainable excellences there is none equal to that of being free from envy towards others. (Transl. Drew & Lazarus)
Of all the most cherishable qualities one may strive to possess, nothing compares to that state of being where envy has no place. (Transl. T. Wignesan)
© T. Wignesan - Paris, 2017
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