Is a poet always in search of his roots and ends up always in a blank? May be so.
Somehow you get the feeling when you browse the poems of the famed triumvirate - Nissim Ezekiel, Ramanujan and R. Parthasarathy – that they are irredeemably distanced from the environment in which they found themselves. Ramanujan was unable to find any via media between the distinct cultures, the one he was born into and the other he adapted in U.S. Nissim was a totally a different kettle of fish, a Jew who was weaned away from the intractable, growing metro of Mumbai especially as a lot of his community left for Israel soon after 1947 or thereabouts. He stayed put, so fascinated he was with the life in Mumbai that he loved and disliked it in equal measure. Almost all his poems may be about this dichotomy in him. That needs to be looked at separately.
When you come down to Parthasarathy the same feeling comes to you especially if you have read his ‘River Once’ which is about the ancient river of Madurai – Vaigai. Incidentally Ramanujan also wrote about it and the poem turned out to be the most talked about piece. Parthasarathy, born near Tiruchi, went to UK for academic reasons because of his immense attraction to English and also the fact that Britain was the acknowledged seat of the rich language. He looked at it as a kind of a second home until the reality just exploded on his face. He was put out by the proverbial British stiff upper lip and the reception within the campus and outside was snobbish, if not hostile. He had taught English literature for ten years in Mumbai and joined the Oxford University Press as Regional Editor, Chennai in 1971. He left for U.K. with the feeling that his first love Tamil found its due only in Thiruvalluvar (the author of the famous couplets) and hope that he would get his just rewards in U.K. He returned with his hopes flattened and tried to reidentify with his first love. Therein lies the story and theme of his collections of poetry - Poetry from Leeds, ,Exile and Rough Passage, the last being a long poem where all poems are part of a single poem as it were.
His Homecoming in Exile is an attempt to bring closeness between English and Tamil because of their latent richness and classical base but realizes soon that it is futile. He was aware that he was being looked upon as ‘coloured’ and not as part of the creative group. These lines illustrate how distant he felt.
I return home, tried,
my face pressed against the window
of expectation . I climb the steps
to my flat, only to trip over the mat
Outside the door. The key
goes to sleep in my palm.
That may be the prompting to declare on his return that a native poet must scrape from the experiences in his own tongue rather than a borrowed one without being derisive about the West. However his distaste for the colonial hangovers and the impact of the Imperialist West on his mother tongue is evident. In River Once he regrets the decadence of Vaigai which was once the seat of Tamil culture and his celebratory tone in ‘Tamil’ soon turns into despair.
‘My tongue in English chains,
I return after a generation, to you
I am at the end
of my Dravidic tether,
Hunger for you unassuaged,/ I falter, stumble’
But he is also disillusioned that his first love had become jargonistic, ‘hooked to celluloid and you go reeling down plush corridors.’ Essentially Parthasarathy was a keen Indian nationalist who resented pervasive influence of the West but he was at cross roads always. His translation of Chilapathikaram, a 5th century tale of the south, still redounds to his credit. Somehow he is still on the horns as was best illustrated by the lines in his Homecoming.
Hereafter, I should be content,
I think, to go through life
with the small change of uncertainties.
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