The Parrot and the Woodpecker may return
Kasiananthan’s Poem on the Tamil Diaspora and Eelam
[Sung by TEnicayccal Cellappa] Translated by T.Wignesan
mAnkiliyum marankottiyum The parrot and the woodpecker
kUtutirumpa tatayillai their nests to regain nothing waylays
nAnkal mattum ulakattilEyE Only we in all this world
nAtutirumpa mutiyavillai our homeland to seek may not turn
nAtutirumpa mutiyavillai our homeland to seek may not turn
[Above refrain repeated twice]
cinkalavan pataivAnil From skies filled with Sinhalese planes
neruppai alli corikiratu fire tumbles down in seething showers
enkal uyir tamil Elam Our lifeblood our Tamil Eelam
cutukAtAy erikiratu a simmering graveyard on fire
tAykatarap pillaikalin While mothers rave in pain children’s
nencukalaik kilikkinrAn breasts the oppressor tears apart
kAyyAkum munnE ilam Long before they might ripen tender
pincukalai alikkirAn the buds crushed from burgeoning
pettavankal UrilE Those who begot us back home
Enku rAnku pAcattilE tossing turning in their longing for us
ettanai nAl kArttiruppOm For how many days might we linger on
atuttavan tEcattilE in the other man’s refugee land
unnavum mutiyavillai Without proper food
urankavum mutiyavillai without sufficient sleep
ennavum mutiyavillai Unable rightly even to think
innumtAn vitiyutillai when will the day dawn for us
kitti pullu atittu nankal We who played at kitti pullu*
vilaiyAtum teruvilEyE joyously in the heedless streets
katti vayttuc cutukirAnAm There now tethered others lie felled
yAr manatum urukavillai no no hearts pain for us
Ur katitam patikkayilEyE When our eyes light on letters from home
vimmi nencu vetikkitu sobs prise open our brimming breasts
pOrpulikal pakkattilEyE By the flanks of battling Tigers
pOkamanam tutikkitu there to be our hearts throb and yearn
Note: * A competitive game played by hitting a small stick with a bigger one, the goal being to cover the greatest distance. Also called in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia: kavuntA kavunti.
Analysis of the above poem
It is not an overstatement/hyperbole to say that - from the point of view of diction, rhythm, rhyme, that is, where the sense lies perfectly bound up with the sound - this poem comes as near to capturing the ultimate sense of loss of the Eela diaspora and may not be easily excelled by the poet, himself, in any other of his verse compositions for song.
Before we take a look at the prosody in the piece, let’s admit that the transcription/transliteration of the poem was undertaken without heed to the dialectical pronunciation of the singer Chellappa who is a Tamil Nadu Tamilian. The musical version of the poem incorporates a spoken form of the language that constricts many similar but not the same postpositional endings in an uniform end-rhyme which may be designated by the phoneme: « e », such that, although each of the seven quatrains have only different two similar end-rhymes, like the second quatrain: defe, there are no less than fourteen « e » end-rhymes. Excepting the fifth quatrain where all lines end in the same rhyme: bbbb and the same number of syllables affording a uniformity of the rhythm in successive lines and where the Tamil prosodic rules of etukai (initial rhymes) also apply almost uniformly, especially in the first three lines: the first words being: unnavum/urankavum/ennavum, the end-rhyme scheme in the rest of the quatrains is typified by the following order: abab, for example, in the last quatrain where first rhymes, semantic and phonic correspondances exist between lines.
First rhymes include ur andpor; patikkayi and pakkattile; vetikkutu and tutikkutu; and semantic correspondance between nencu and manam, meaning breast and spirit or mind. Besides, there are eight syllables (in the sung version) in each line.
The last quatrain resembles prosodically the quatrain-structure of the Malay pantun, another argument of the Indian literary influences bearing down on the form of the latter genre. [Cf. T.Wignesan, « The Poïetics of the Pantun » in Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies, vol. XII, n°2 (Tiruvanmiyur, Madras), March 1995, pp.1-15.] In fact, the refrain can almost pass for a pantun. There is the sampiran, the first two lines, on which the second two, the maksud is hung as on a clothes-line, though the first two lines serve as a metaphor by contrasting the perilouis situation of the Tamils in diaspora: the parrot(of the mango tree) and the woodpecker may return to their nests without hindrance, but the Tamil refugee may not.
One of the major characteristics of Tamil poetry is its concision, rather an economy of words which is strengthened by the use of ellipsis. Here in this poem, there is ample evidence of this. Kasianantan makes effective use of this device to enhance the amplitude of his narrative which here is the unenviable plight of his people at the mercy of the Sinhala government in Colombo, and through the exposition of this situation as epitomised in the second and third quatrains, he empathises with the Eela diaspora while invoking their sense of responsibility for those they have left behind even against their will: how long may we stay in another man’s land when we have neither proper food, sleep or even peace of mind! So, in the final two quatrains, he manages after virtually wringing the hearts of the Tamils overseas to make out a case for them to drop everything and to go to the aid of the Tigers who are defending their homeland. All this is achieved - as it can be seen from the translation above - through a few deft touches in lines of two or three words, each of two or three syllables, and by juxtaposing two lines at a time which constitute a consummate depiction of the perilous situation in the homeland, for instance, as when he says in the sixth quatrain: there where we played kittu pullu heedlessly in the streets, now turned to killing fields, whose hearts pain for us?
Of course, it might be added as well that the musical version of the poem, sung by a musician who lends appropriate fervourto the words and lines, and the particularly catchy orchestration, does indeed enhance the communicability of the poem, especially since the dialectal pronunciation of the inflexions/endings makes the poem available to the greater masses of the Tamil population. The poem does not certainly make out a case of attempting to appeal to the literate masses or the intelligentsia only. Besides, it is said of Kasianantan that he himself insists on the manner in which his poems ought to be sung. So, at least, we may be certain that the dialectal version of the song which emerges is not what Chellappa might have wanted by himself alone.
© T. Wignesan – Paris, 1995. From the collection: “Words for a Lost Sub-Continent” (2001). Excerpted from “Kasi Ananthan: Poet Laureae of Tamil Eelam” by T. Wignesan in Hot Spring: A Journal of Commitment, Vol. 3, No. 9 (London), December 1998, pp. 17-18.