Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tulika's Tamil stories: Bridging the spoken and the written

Some time ago, a lively local radio jockey called to ask what I thought was special about Tamil. Words, I replied. Original and borrowed and the way people used them. In different places, in different ways. All amazingly creative.

Tamil is such a versatile language, but what happens when we write for children? It’s the Full Missyamma Mode: didactic, prescriptive, and correct at the cost of resonance, mood and elegance and if Tamil doesn’t have resonance, mood and elegance, what does it have?All this and more. That’s why it was so much fun the other evening with the irrepressible Jeeva Raghunath, a born storyteller. The event was a celebration of Tulika’s Tamil books in the spirit of Madras Week. Come on, she said, TuliKAKAvin kathai kelunga… listen to Tulikaka’s stories. She went from the mad verse of Aavilirundu Akkvarai to the peculiar sounds of Gasa Gasa Para Para’s ‘jnya-jnyaa-jnyi-jnyii’ to the great merriment of children and adults present at the Madras Terrace House. It didn’t matter even if you didn’t understand all of it… fun and laughter go beyond words.

She told the stories through the frame story of her popular Malli, capturing the flavour of place and tongue with her warmly amusing imitations. Once past her own books, she then went on to Cathy Spagnoli’s classic Priyavin Oru Naal, giving it full sound and tune with old Tamil film melodies, and Muthu’s story of the magic vessels… and lots more, each rendered in a special and different Tamil accent, all spoken and heard on the streets of Namma Chennai. Kamaal Hassan, you got competition machi!

Jeeva has a fresh, new approach to Tamil and she is completely convinced that when children read, they must connect. So, not for her the tongue-twisting chasteness of high literature (beautiful though it is, she always says; she loves her mozhi, she always says). Her tongue twisters leave the reader gasping for more.

But there are always naysayers and recently we went on a critical appraisal of Tamil for children’s books. As always, we went to our friend, philosopher and guide, Cre-A Ramakrishnan. His considered opinion: there are some things that are sacrosanct, but the effort must be to bridge the gap between the spoken and the written. Go on, he said, you’re heading the right way.

So, adjust the mindset light-a for a wonderful journey through Jeeva’s stories, written and told. Piragu you will understand what I mean… Semma Tamil, Namma Tamil!

- Sandhya Rao, Author and Editor

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