Subramani Bharathi or Mahakavi Bharathiyar, as he is affectionately known, is perhaps the best known poet from Tamil Nadu. In cricket parlance he was an all rounder a la Garfield Sobers. He was not just a poet, but also a freedom fighter, social reformer, fiery orator, an outstanding spokesperson for women’s liberation. His thoughts and speeches were ahead of the time. He lived for just 39 years old, when he died in 1921, much before we got our freedom from British rule. But he was so optimistic about achieving it, he sang,
ஆடுவோமே பள்ளு பாடுவோமே
ஆனந்த சுதந்திரம் அடைந்துவிட்டோமென்று
ஆடுவோமே பள்ளு பாடுவோமே
Let us dance let us sing
We got our liberating freedom
Let us dance let us sing
Note he did not say, “we will get our freedom” but we got our freedom. I have mentioned about a Bharathiyar poem in my blog Two Great Teachers.
December 11th is the birth anniversary of Bharathiyar. It’s only apt today’s blog covers one of his short stories – Crow Parliament. He was so clairvoyant he wrote this story about our rulers.
காக்காய் பார்லிமெண்ட் – சுப்ரமணிய பாரதியார்
A religious teacher came to meet me yesterday evening. I asked him, “What’s your name?” He answered, “Naryana Paramhamsar.” “Why have you come on a visit?” I asked him. He replied, “I wanted to teach you birds’ language. Uzhakku Pillaiyar from Udupi sent me here.” “OK teach me.” I said and he did teach me.
Crows language is very easy. You can learn in two hours.
When they cry ‘Ka’ it means ‘I want food.’ When they call ‘kakka’ it means ‘don’t ask for a share in my food.’ When it says ‘kakka’ it means ‘give me a kiss.’ This is from a male crow to a female crow. ‘Kahaka’ means let us get into a fight. ‘haka’ means ‘I will kick you.’ Like this, more or less the entire dictionary the human beings use, can be told in seven or eight syllables using ‘ka, ha, ksha etc. I don’t have time to explain the coding to you now. I should not do either. Narayana Parmahamsar does not know Tamil, so he won’t be reading Tamil Magazines. Else he would get angry with me even for letting you know the secrets of Crow language. He had insisted that I kept this a secret. I just took some pity on you, so I explained a few of them.
Today in the evening I wanted to test my knowledge on crow’s language and went to the terrace of the house. In the next terrace forty crow were sitting. Some Grammar experts would taunt me and say, “you should have mentioned forty crows were sitting as that would denote plural.” But I can quote from Bogar’s grammar that I what I mentioned was correct. You may ask ‘where did I get Bogar’s grammar?’ I would talk about that some other time. This is about crows parliament. Among the forty crows one was an old one. That King crow was saying, “amongst the human being they pay their King very highly. They have more assets than ten million poor people that is ordinary citizens combined. Last month I had been to the city. There I met a crane which had come from Russia and the crane told me. Seems there is a lot of fighting going on there. One was emperor Czar’s party. He is a good man. The second party wants to remove him from power. The third party says both are rascals and wants to punish both. The fourth one says the first three, all are thieves. The fifth one says we should punish all the four then only we should pray to Lord Jesus. It seems, there are hundred and twenty parties operating like this in Russia.”
The king crow continued, “The crane told me, ‘we could could not take all the trouble created by these 120 parties. We decided to go to India and live in a cave in Himalayas where there are no fights.’ And one day it came down to Dr Annie Besant’s theosophical society and rested in a garden there. The crane continued, “I heard in the Himalayas that the winds in the garden there carry peace and philosophical aroma and can wash off the sins of watching the killings carried out against each other in Russia.”
“Have you heard this? The Czar has been thrown out in the revolution now. He alone was paid in millions in millions. Even in our country, the people have given enormous wealth to Trivancore Raja and Mysore Raja.”
“I am ruling you without any benefits. When you all fight you come to me for a peaceful solution. I give you a solution till my throat goes dry. When you get into a dangerous situation you come to me for a solution. I struggle a lot to find a solution for the same. For all these do I get a salary or compensation? Nothing. I toil hard without any use. I too run all around and work like any of you for finding food.”
“Listen you crows. From now on, every crow should give me one sixth of the food it collects. With that portion, me, my wife, my brother, my children, my brother in law, my seven concubines and their families, all will be able to feed at least half our stomachs. Now there is no difference between crows from my family and other crows. A week ago I saw something at someone’s backyard. It was not rice or small portion of meat. Just some unhygienic stuff. I flew to get it and an old man threw a stone at which has hurt my right wing. This won’t work. From now on, everyone will give one sixth of the portion of food they find everyday.
Upon listening to this plea, another old crow said.
“Maharaja, this is not fair. This has never been a practice. But you are asking this due to a sudden need that has come. So we are not going to oppose this. But it is strange and surprising that you have forgotten that even ministers like us have a need. It is only fair to ask every crow should give you one twelfth of their collection everyday and one third of that collection should be given to ministers like us. Please make a law accordingly.”
A black crow stood up and said, “Kakha kakha, you both are rascals and I am going to kick you.” A crow from the crowd pacified it. Another from the crowd, pointed at me and said, “that man sitting there understands our language. So we should go somewhere else and continue our conversation. Immediately all the crows dispersed and flew away.
Of course this did not happen; it is only story from my imagination.
Chinnaswami Subramania Bharati, also known as Bharathiyar (11 December 1882 – 11 September 1921), was a Tamil writer, poet, journalist, Indian independence activist and a social reformer from Tamil Nadu. Popularly known as “Mahakavi Bharati”, he was a pioneer of modern Tamil poetry and is considered one of the greatest Tamil literary figures of all time. His numerous works included fiery songs kindling patriotism during the Indian Independence movement.
Born in Ettayapuram of Tirunelveli district (present day Thoothukudi) in 1882, Bharati had his early education in Tirunelveli and Varanasi and worked as a journalist with many newspapers, including The Hindu, Bala Bharata, Vijaya, Chakravarthini, the Swadesamitran and India. In 1908, an arrest warrant was issued against Bharati by the government of British India for his revolutionary writings, forcing him to flee to Pondicherry (city), where he lived until 1918.
Bharati’s influence on Tamil literature is phenomenal. He was prolific in his output. He covered political, social and spiritual themes. The songs and poems composed by Bharati are very often used in Tamil cinema and have become staples in the literary and musical repertoire of Tamil artistes throughout the world. He paved the way for modern blank verse.