Sunday, November 25, 2007

Down but not out

After a long time I managed to put some art into my life, at my wife's insistence.

We were fortunate to have caught a staging of "Thondan" at the Esplanade last night, the Tamil literary interpretation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Staged by Miror Theatre and supported by Ravindran Drama Group, the play boasted several excellent actors, great sets, an intimate audience setting and one of the bloodiest tragedies ever conjured up by Shakespeare.

The dialogue was in literary Tamil... and that's the part that made me ashamed of myself. You see, I used to take this subject known as Higher Tamil in primary and secondary school. I used to top it every time, and I skipped Tamil in JC altogether because of this. Unfortunately, it was to be my undoing. I was totally lost in the first 30 mins of Thondan, as the actors spewed dialogues of fury in high-powered Tamil lyrical. My brain tried and tried to understand the little speaking Tamil that I could pick out, but failed. It was only well into the last one hour that I understood about 70 to 80%.

It brought home the point how much contact I'd lost with my mother tongue, the language I speak with my parents and close Indian friends. Heck, I even think in Tamil, ask God in Tamil. But I had not kept in touch with the language enough.

The director, Mr Vadi, later spoke to the audience, and said that it was his aim to stage the play in literary Tamil so that those of us who seem to hear it for the first time can fall in love with it all over again. In this respect, I think he has succeeded with me.

Once you get past the syntax and verb-noun structure confusion, literary Tamil is like smooth-flowing honey down your throat. There is a beauty to it that appeals to even self-declared non-literary persons like me. (I guess all of us have that capability in us - to appreciate and to love beauty.)

Which brings me to the other literary masterpiece of all - the Qur'an. There are countless writers, thinkers, poets who have extolled the unmatched literary beauty of the Qur'an. I, for one, have always longed to understand the Qur'an in its Arabic form, to be immersed in its irresistible power. But for me, Arabic is a difficult language to grasp, and needs a lot of practice - and the Arabic that the Qur'an uses is a different ballgame altogether, with totally different rules and grammar. But I see why the Qur'an penetrated the hearts of the early Arab speakers, and millions still today.

Although I don't see myself grasping the literary power of the Qur'an in the immediate future, the beauty of literary Tamil, my mother tongue, is enough an example for me to see how a beautiful language, put forth in a beautiful style, can make the hardest of hearts soften.

As for the producers of Thondan - congratulations for a job well done, you can be sure you've gotten yourself another follower. I might have been down on my Tamil, but not out yet. I'll be flipping through some Tamil books in the coming weeks for sure.

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