The writings of T. P. Meenakshisundaran (Thé. Po. Mee for short, in Tamil, and TPM in English) have been compiled in seven volumes under the heads: ‘History of Tamil language', ‘History of Tamil literature,' ‘Tirukkural: The Philosophy of Valluvar', “Silappadhikaaram: Kudimakkal Kaappiyam,' ‘Sangatthamizh,' ‘Samayatthamizh,' and ‘Palkalaitthamizh'.
The one under review, ‘Palkalaitthamizh', has to do with various branches of Tamil studies. It consists of a detailed commentary on the first four charukkams (subdivisions) of ‘Soozhaamani'; a biography of Rabindranath Tagore; ‘The Art of Living: Dhyana'; ‘Tenippu: Transcendental Meditation'; ‘Maanatha Saattiram', transformational grammar; and ‘Linguistic games'.
This volume alone is enough to establish that TPM was gifted with a capacious mind and an artistic greediness that increased with age and that he had an amazing range of scholarship covering history, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, religion and so on. The languages in which he was well-versed included English, French, German, Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, besides Tamil.
TPM's commentary on a few sections of the lesser known Tamil epic ‘Suuzhaamani' is an eloquent testimony to the depth of his knowledge of ancient Tamil texts ranging from ‘Tolkappiyam' to the devotional poems of the Azhvars and the Nayanmars as well as the works of medieval commentators like Perasiriyar and Nachinaarkkiniyar, whose methodology and style are modified to suit the comprehension level and taste of modern readers. As for Tagore's biography, going by its sketchy account and the style, the piece would appear to have been written in a hurry. Instead of an insightful intellectual biography or a historical-critical treatise on the evolution of Tagore as a poet, we have a poor summary of major events in the life of the celebrated Nobel Laureate. The long essay on dhyana, stressing the value of meditation as a cure to “the strange disease of modern life”, commends the practice especially to students and labourers. The learned disquisition on ‘transcendental meditation', which TPM calls tenippu — a word used by the formidable saint-poet Manickavachagar — is a glowing tribute to its proponent, Mahesh Yogi.
On human psychology
TPM was the first to write in Tamil on the complex subject of human psychology and it served two purposes. First, it introduced to the Tamils a hitherto unknown area of knowledge that was worthy of exploration. Secondly, it demonstrated that any sophisticated, complicated, or subtle scientific idea could be expressed in chaste Tamil. A close study of the human mind is undertaken in ‘Maanatha Saattiram' — which may variously be called as the ‘science of the soul', or the ‘science of consciousness' or science of behaviour' — employing comparative, genetic, and pathological methods of analysis.
What distinguished TPM's treatment of the subject is the way he juxtaposes the views of modern western scientists with those of ancient Tamil poets and scholars. A poem by Avvaiyar or a stanza from ‘Tolkappiyam' is cited and elucidated to explain a difficult concept that has been given a modern name and interpreted incomprehensibly by some western intellectual. Tolkappiyar's meyppaadu and its scholarly interpretation by the commentator Perasiriyar throw a flood of light on the various human emotions discussed by present-day psychologists.
The fundamental ideas of Noam Chomsky's transformational-generative grammar are explained with illustrations in a series of well-written chapters that go to make the first Tamil book on the subject. Apart from writing a comprehensive history of Tamil language, TPM authored several essays on the different aspects of Tamil syntax, and some of these fascinating pieces have been put together under the heading, “Linguistic Games.” Immediately after Indian Independence, TPM did pioneering work in a number of fields answering the demands of Tamil resurgence. Thanks to his knowledge and understanding of literature in more than one language, TPM had a broader perspective than his contemporaries whose study was confined to Tamil literature.
As a literary critic, teacher, and research guide, he could share the benefits and pleasure of his unique literary experience with students and ardent lovers of literature, who in the process got introduced to a number of western concepts, theories, literary movements and terms. As a “warehouse man of letters” and as a seminal critic, he has left simple lines of numerous sketch-maps that are immensely useful for initial orientation. It is the paramount duty of the present generation of scholars to work on them and come up with elaborate studies that will contribute to a fuller understanding and appreciation of our language, literature, and culture.