Thursday, May 31, 2012

An apology to South India

I'm still working on Kalidasa, the 4th century playwright and poet, and he's pretty damn interesting. But my conscience has been bugging me a little over my choice, so I've gotta make a post about the cool folks I didn't feature.

You see, when the West discovered Indian culture, they mostly went gaga over Northern Indian culture: the Vedas, Valmiki's Ramayana, the Kama Sutra, etc. This was literature written in Sanskrit, virtually the Ursprach of the Indo-European language family tree.

What's less publicised is the fact that Tamil literature is older and just as rich. In fact, the Tamils believe they were there first: they were the Dravidians of the great Indus Valley culture, the builders of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, marginalised by the invading Aryan barbarians (although the last bit turns out to have very little actual historical evidence).

As the boyfriend of a Tamil guy, and as a citizen of a country where Tamil is an official national language (and which was once colonised by the Chola Dynasty), I feel a vague sense of duty to stick up for Tamil culture. That's why I read Thiruvalluvar's Thikkural and bought The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction as soon as I heard about it. I've been bugged to read the Sangam texts too, and Kamban's 12th century version of the Ramayana, the Ramavataram.

In fact, I just received my copy of Shilappadikaram (சிலப்பதிகாரம், or The Ankle Bracelet) in the mail:

It's by the Jain monk/poet/prince Ilango Adigal, and it apparently features a sequence where the widow Kannagi hurls her breasts at the kingdom of an unrighteous king and they turn into grenades and explode! Whoa boy, that's some freaky Japanese shit right there. My friends also assure me that Tamil culture was much more interested in female perspectives than those Sanskrit snobs.

Contemporary Indian culture is still hella Nordocentric, of course: Bollywood and Salman Rushdie and Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and even bloody Octopussy are still all about Delhi-Agra-Rajasthan-and-now-Mumbai; never mind Chennai and Madurai and Mahabalipuram (and Mysore and Bengaluru, I suppose, they're in Kannada-speaking Karnataka but they're also lovely places).

Of course these internal subdivisions are evident in every country; no book is completely representative of the nation it's from. But just wanted to say, you know? Just wanted to say.

UDPATE: Look what Blaft Publications tweeted about this post!

This, by the way, is what an aruval looks like:


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