ஏ.கே.ராமானுஜன் எழுதிய பழைய கட்டுரை கிளப்பிய புதுப்புயல் பற்றி அறிந்துகொள்ள கூகிலில் மூழ்கிய போது, நீண்ட நாட்கள் முன்பு, Hindu நாளிதழிலிருந்து நான் வெட்டிவைத்திருந்த இந்தக் கட்டுரை மீண்டும் கண்ணில் பட்டது.
கட்டுரை எனக்குப்பிடித்த இந்தக் குறுந்தொகைப் பாடல் பற்றியது.
யாயும் ஞாயும் யாரா கியரோ
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம்முறைக் கேளிர்
யானும் நீயும் எவ்வழி அறிதும்
செம்புலப் பெயல்நீர் போல
அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாம்கலந் தனவே.
செம்புலப் பெயல்நீர் என்கிற சங்கத்தமிழ் தொடரை, ‘Red earth and pouring rain’ என்று ஆங்கிலத்தில் அற்புதமாய் படம்பிடித்திருக்கிறார் ராமானுஜன். இந்தத் தொடரின் ஈர்ப்பில்தான் Vikram Chandra தன் முதல் நாவலுக்கு இதே தலைப்பைச் சூட்டியிருக்க வேண்டும்.
இதோ அந்தக் கட்டுரை:
Red earth and pouring rain: A poster from England
BROILING day on the last week of May. You stagger into the office in a daze of heat and dust. But what is that cardboard cylinder doing on your table? Postmarked from England …? You prise out the sheet within. It is a poster of a poem now put up on the Underground trains in London. The blistering heat vanishes, as rain pours down on the red earth.
For the lyric is “Yayum yayum yarakiyaro” by an ancient Tamil poet of the Sangam age, your favourite love song from the Kuruntokai anthology. The metaphor of earth and rain for the lovers retains its urgency across the centuries. The passion is as electrifying as it was when the poet Chempulapeyanirar lyricised it some 2,000 years ago.
The poem is printed in Tamil letters along with A.K. Ramanujan’s English translation. The accompanying note from Judith Chernaik, (one of the selectors of the Poems on the Underground, London) says, “Hope we did this as you like it”.
What does a Chennai scribe have to do with a poem put up on the London subway, you ask. The answer requires a flashback.
I first encountered poem posters on the London Underground a decade ago. Verses old and new, known and unknown, beckoned between the advertisements, making you chuckle and sigh. Each time the monster escalator plunged you into the subterranean warrens, you wondered – what poem will I find on the subway today?
Who could have found such a marvellous way of lighting up the dark? Who could have given the metaphoric function of poetry a literal extension here? Persistent enquiries at Underground stations finally yielded a name and telephone number.
That was how I found myself in Chernaik’s home, to hear how the project came up as the brainchild of British poets Gerard Benson, Cicely Herbert and American-born, London-based novelist scholar Chernaik herself.
I was surprised at the enthusiastic response to my report of that visit in The Hindu. “What do you expect? Poetry touches a very primeval and a very private chord,” Chernaik remarked. The preface to the anthologies of the Poems on the Underground (Cassel; with reprints every year) offers its own explanation. “The idea of poetry on public transport remains somewhat farfetched, if not preposterous – and in this may lie its appeal.”
Since then I have been in touch with Chernaik, exchanging books and letters. I also kept track of the Underground Poetry happenings, as when Benson decided to watch the dawn from Westminster bridge and recite Wordsworth’s poem in situ – for those who braved the autumn cold, on a “birth anniversary” of the sonnet. There were poetry readings at the British Library, workshops at schools. Sometimes the lyrics were performed with music, or were sung as per the original score. New settings were composed for songs by W.H. Auden and Maya Angelou – and a rock score for Christina Rossetti’s catchy rhythms in “The Goblin Market”. For the “Carnival of Animals” instrumental music imaged the creatures the poems described. Composer Thea Musgrave set to music verses from the Underground for choir singing.
On a 1997 visit, I sadly noted the decrease in the number of poem-posters. “The annual cost has gone up from œ6,000 (Rs. 42,000) to œ60,000 (Rs. 4,20,000),” Chernaik disclosed. Aid from institutions like the London Arts Board and the Arts Council, Britain, has kept the movement going.
The response over the years has been staggering. A recent poll disclosed that after the claims of frequency and punctuality, passengers asked for more poems on their trains and buses.
The London Underground has been very supportive from the start, with its tradition of looking at its task as a matter of public service, offering something more than safe transport. Says Jan O’Neill from the Press office, “Our use of poems on posters is over a 100 years old. It began as a means of encouraging travel. During the war years the poster verses exhorted people to carry on with courage and fortitude. They may seem sentimental now, but they were inspirational during trying times.” Those old posters can still charm you by the elegance of their design where, from flowers-strewn meadows and woodlands, Milton and Swinburne urge you to go far from the madding crowd.
But the Poems on the Underground movement launched in 1986, had a different aim. Benson explains, “Our selection not only had poems celebrating life in London and Britain, but poetry as a criticism of culture, as an expression of truth.” The choice was far more eclectic, wide-ranging in themes and styles. “Healthy” grief is in, but excessive gloom is out. Light verse gets special attention. Translations from other languages (mainly European, occasionally a Chinese verse) came in, reflecting the increasingly multicultural ambience of London town.
Poetry competitions for poem posters on the Underground began in 1995. O’Neill was enthusiastic about morning readings of the winning entries by the young poets themselves on National Poetry Day (October 2000), at Canary Wharf, a brand new subway station. Copies were to be distributed to office workers disembarking there.
When I asked Chernaik what the subway odyssey had come to mean to her personally, she said, “Go back to the beginnings of English poetry, juxtapose the early lyrics with the most recent by living poets, and you discover the sense of continuity in the language and themes of poetry. The world changes, so do culture and life styles, but poetry shows us that our relationship with fellow humans, with the natural and the working worlds, do not change. It is one of the functions of art to reassure people about their connections with the past.”
“I agree that our most contemporary thoughts are often expressed in our oldest verse,” I smiled. “My own favourite love poem was written 2,000 years ago by an anonymous Tamil bard whom we have named after the striking metaphor he created to visualise love.” I proceeded to describe the Sangam literature of ancient Tamil, some of it Englished by A.K. Ramanujan, a sensitive 20th Century scholar poet. And walking down the quiet Mansfield Road at sundown I found myself reciting the poem to Chernaik.
"What could my mother be to yours? What kin is my father to yours anyway? And how Did you and I meet ever? But in love our hearts have mingled as red earth and pouring rain" .
She was delighted when I suggested that this poem be included in the Poems on the Underground. And the vintage Tamil verse became the first (also the only Asian and Indian) poem in a set of six, now displayed on the London subway through June-July 2001. The other voices – except for an Elizabethan May Day song at Durham Castle – belong to Hilaire Belloc, Delmore Schwartz, Ruth Padel and John Burnside of the 20th Century.
The poster of the Tamil poem features a design by my grandmother Rukmini Krishnamurthy, from her book (Kolam: a Living Tradition of South India). Sadly, she died just two months before has her kolam brightened a poster across the seas.
Readers can access the Kuruntokai poster poem on http://www.poetrysoc.com/
மேலும் தேடியதில் இந்தப் பாடல் இன்னமும் இங்கிலாந்துப் போக்குவரத்துக் கழக இணையதளத்தில் இருக்கிறது (நிறையப் பிழைகளுடன்). லண்டன் சுரங்க ரயில்களில் இன்னும் உள்ளதா என்று தெரியவில்லை.