Rich legacy

Rich legacy

By: ND Rajkumar
July 30, 2017 11:05:36 IST

Editor's Note: Naked display of dissent straddles the boundary that separates fear from revolution. For India's Dalits, this proclamation of dissent has assumed many forms, both passive and combative. It has mutated over the millennia before BR Ambedkar prodded the word Dalit into mainstream consciousness, and transformed anew since then. Some things have not changed — songs remain the sinew of Dalit protest in almost all its configurations. And the lyrics that sew these together continue to serve as a manifesto of resistance. The poems in this series, drawn from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi and curated by Krupa Ge, founding editor of The Madras Mag, represent the prosody of contemporary Dalit literature. They are accompanied by Chennai artist Satwik Gade's illustrations.

In the tenth edition of this column, meet ND Rajkumar. A Tamil poet and translator of note, Rajkumar has brought works hitherto unfamiliar to Tamils into the language through his prolific translation and writes powerful poetry steeped in the folk idiom.


I worked in the postal department for 14 years of my life and was ousted from my job following a plot that sought to make an issue out of my caste. Currently, I teach Carnatic music at a few schools and people’s homes. Some people, even now, cheat me of my pay. Earlier, I was teaching Silambam, modern children’s plays and folk songs. I also know Adivarmam a little, a craft that will fetch not even 5 paisa today.

It was my father who introduced me to the habit of reading. Ancient poetry, bhakti poetry, manuscripts of mantrikam (sorcery) and vaithiyam (medicine) that are entirely in the traditional poetry format, mansucripts on silambam, Ayya Vaikuntasami’s Akilathirattu especially Saatu Neettolai, and Dravidian literature — all of these formed the foundation and continue to lend strength to my own writing. I sing because of my father as well. I grew up listening to him sing about our ancestral deity as well as saatu neetolai.

My Tamil poetry works include Theri, Odukku, Kaattaalan, Rattha Sandana Paavai, Sottu Sottaai Vazhigiradhu Sevvaralipookkal, Kalvilakkugal, Garudakkodi. I have also acted, penned lyrics for five songs and sung a song in the 2012 sociopolitcal satire Tamil film Madhubana Kadai.

From Malayalam, I translated the works of one of the masters of modern poetry, A Iyyappan as well as the prolific contemporary poet Pavithran Theekkuni. I have also translated the works of ‘Poikayil Appachan’, who was a priest with great social conscience and was chosen many times to become a bishop but was insulted by other priests of the church as he was a Dalit (Pulaya). Protesting the the church and the pastors that did not allow him to become a bishop — as well as the bishop who stood by the caste atrocities against him — he ditched the robe. Further, he studied the Bible through the Dalit perspective and sought to bring the oppressed across the world together and worked until his last days for their upliftment.

I do not translate works that are already in Tamil or just about anything. I cherrypick works that are new to Tamil to translate.


தெரச்சிமீன் வாலெடுத்துச் சுழற்றும் அப்பன்

மான்கொம்பெடுத்து அப்பனுக்க அப்பன் வீசிய

அடவு முறையைச் சொல்லித்தருவான்.

அப்பனுக்கு அப்பனுக்க அப்பன்

ஆடுகளத்தில் மல்லுபிடிப்பான்.

முன்ன்ங்காலைத் தூக்கி  முட்ட வரும்


கழுத்தைக் கடித்தெடுத்துவீசிய கடுவாப்புலி

கம்புகளால் அம்புகள் செய்து

படைநடத்திய கதைகளைச் சொல்லுவான்.

இன்னமும் மிஞ்சியிருக்கிறது

இந்த போர்க்குணமும் மானமும்.

எங்களுக்கு சொல்லித்தர அடவும்

தகுதியுமில்லாத துரோணா.

மீன்முள் வாளெடுத்து

ஆமைத்தோடு கேடயம் செய்து


ஆயுதம் பிடிக்கத் தெரியாதவன் நீ.



Father, who could pick up a pomfret

by the tail and twirl it, taught us,

wielding antelope horns,

the silent, rhythmic steps by which

Father’s father used to throw his spear.

Father’s father’s father was a renowned

wrestler in the playing field.

Father told us stories of how

a ferocious tiger that had once

bitten off the neck of a white ram

that had raised its forelegs to come

charging at him fashioned arrows

from canes and ran a whole army.

This combative spirit and honour

still survive in our midst.

Drona, you don’t have the skill

or ability to teach us those moves,

nor do you know how

to brandish a fishbone sword,

make an armour out of tortoise shell

and bear arms that beat back

and vanquish the enemy.

நண்பனை அவனது அம்மா

பைத்தியக்காரப் பயலென்று கொஞ்சுவாள்

வேறுசிலர் மெண்டல் என்பார்கள்.

இதில் எது சரி என்கிற கத்திமுனையிலிருந்துகொண்டு

நானும் அவனும் மதிப்பிற்குரிய மரணத்தை

விதவிதமாக நிகழ்த்திக்கொண்டிருப்போம் அல்லது

தனித்தனியாக செய்துகொண்டிருப்போம்.

சிரிக்கும் ரோஜா இதழ்களில்

பூச்சிகொல்லி மருந்தை ஊற்றிவிட்டபடி.

சிறுபிராயத்தில் சுடலைவரை ஓடிக்களித்த

நுங்குவண்டியில் சென்றிருந்தால்

இதற்கு முன்னால் ஊர்போய் சேர்ந்திருக்கலாம்.

நரிகள் ஊளையிடும் பன்ங்காட்டுக்குள்

வேதாளச் சிறகசைத்து ஆந்தைகள் தள்ளியிடும்

பழங்கள் தின்றாவது நகர்ந்திருக்கலாம்.

மெர்குரி விளக்குகளில் மஞ்சள் எச்சங்களில்

புதைந்து தவிக்கும்

நகர்ப்புறப் பேருந்து வெளிச்சத்தில் நானோ


மஞ்சளாகிப் போன நண்பனை

மஞ்சள் வண்டியில் ஏற்றி ஊர்கடத்திவிட்டொரு

மஞ்சள் கொலை செய்ய முனைந்தபோது

அடையாளங்களும் பயணப்பாதைகளும் அல்லது

குறிப்புகளும் அவனை பாதியில் இறக்கிவிட்டுச் செல்ல

தப்புதப்பாய் ஓடிப்போன பைத்தியமும்


பிரம்மையெனும் ஒலைத்தும்பில் ஒரு பனித்துளியைப்

போலத் தொங்கிக்கொண்டிருந்தோம்.


“Crazy boy,” my friend’s mother

called him fondly. To a few

others, he was just ‘mental’.

Which of the two was right?

Living on that razor’s edge

of a question, he and I staged

many kinds of honouorable deaths,

or we performed them separately,

each to his own, pouring insecticide

on rose petals in bloom.. .

Had we travelled on the cart laden

with palm fruit, the same one that we had

as children happily run

behind all the way

to the cremation ground,

we might have reached home sooner.

We could have moved on,

subsisting on the fruit pushed down

by owls flapping their ghoulish wings

inside the palmgrove

where the jackals howled all night.

When, after having turned yellow

under the glow of city buses

helplessly buried

in the yellow residue of mercury lamps,

I pushed my friend, yellow by then,

into a yellow van and smuggled him

to a distant town to attempt a yellow murder,

the landmarks and the pathways

(or markers) let him out

halfway along the route.

Then the lunatic who made

his erratic getaway and I

were suspended like a dewdrop

on the frond of illusion.

Both poems were translated by N Kalyan Raman from untitled Tamil poems by ND Rajkumar

N Kalyan Raman is a Chennai-based translator of contemporary Tamil fiction and poetry into English. He has published nine volumes of Tamil fiction in translation, with two more books forthcoming in the near future. He has also translated over 200 poems by leading contemporary Tamil poets, published in journals and anthologies in India and abroad. He also regularly contributes essays, reviews and articles on literature, culture and public policy. In February 2017, he received the prestigious Pudumaipithan award for the year 2015, given by Vilakku, for his contribution to Tamil literature through his translations.