Solomon Pappiah tellshow he is able to sustain people's interest in ‘patti mandram'
This personality needs no introduction. His voice is a craze among the modern day mimicry artistes. His command over the language enables him to get complex literary issues across to common man. Not many find fault with his ‘down to earth’ speaking style. He has taken ‘patti mandram’ based on social themes to the masses.
No points for guessing the accomplished orator and a public figure, Solomon Pappiah, who has moderated more than 5,000 debate programmes across the globe. During the Weekend chat too, he was in his elements, witty throughout the conversation.
Dressed in ash-coloured shirt and white dhoti, the septuagenarian was all at peace and responded smilingly to the ‘routine drills’ of the photographer.
“My familiarity stems from the Tamil debate programmes. The reach and fame depends on the topics selected by my team. Social themes attractlarge sections of people,” he says.
Born as the ninth child in afamily of 12, young Solomon Pappiah had his job cut out as his father was a mill worker and did not have the wherewithal to financially support his studies. But he was relentless in his pursuit to do well in studies.
Financial help from his friends sailed him through. His drawing master
at American College Higher Secondary School, Arasu, taught him the skills. Professor Jothi Muthu of American College groomed his love for the language. He can never forget them.
Pappiah joined Thiagarajar College to pursue Post-Graduation in Tamil and became the first batch of M.A Tamil students. “We were fortunate to have scholarly speakers like Professor Gana. Sirsabesan. From them I learnt that to become a good teacher, one should also be a good speaker,” he shares.
He entered the public stage fray in 1960, when he became a teacher at The American College. With the knowledge accrued over the years, he was able to etch his name in the already established literary circle. That was the time when literary topics ruled the roost. It was beyond the reach of common man as not many were conversant with literature. Programmes were mostly confined only to big temples where religious based topics were chosen for discussion.
“Tamil enthusiasts like Sa. Ganesan took efforts to organise debate programmes outside temples, but they too were literature-based. Kudos to Kundrakudi Adigalar for simplifying the themes of debate programmes. Having understood that lay men, though enjoyed the wordy duel, were not able to cherish the complex word play in the discussions, he organised programmes on Thirukural topics . I grew up on the stage set by him. It was he who popularised it among the masses . He brought about a social awakening,” the retired professor and head, Department of Tamil, The American College, tracks the evolution of patti mandram.
In the meantime, he too pondered on topics based on social themes to entertain people. “There was no dearth of good scholarly Tamil speakers. But when it came to debates, not many patrons were found.
Even those parties which supported the cause of Tamils and Tamil language did not take note . Lack of space for such discussions in big temples also forced people like Kundrakudi Adigalar to take the topic to public forum outside the temple.
In order to establish an intimate contact with the audience,he followed the style of ‘Thanthai’ Periyar (Dravidian social activist) and it clicked. “Even today I follow the same style,” says Pappiah, unable to hide his elation.
But it took him nearly a decade to establish himself. . “When I decided to change my style and shift to social topics, I got the opportunity to organise a debate on “Whose contribution is much valid in making a good home: Husband or Wife?” I grabbed it and success was instant. Initially, the speakers in my team were reluctant as they were quite apprehensive about the topic. But later, when the programme was well received they supported in my journey,” he recalls.
The huge success forced many other organizers go for the same topic and in Madurai alone, more than 500 shows were organized. “The fluffy intellectual quibbling war of words attracted huge crowd. Sometimes people would even identify themselves with the topic and take sides with the team. The wordy duel and the counters impressed people. In between, I too ignited tempers with my interventions,” he smiles.
It might look easy but a lot of hard work goes behind every programme. Even today, his team works together and prepares for each programme, right from the topic to important points to be discussed. “Only when every speaker gets an applause from the audience, the programme clicks Sometimes, a speaker’s spontaneity also matters,” he explains.
Pappiah’s interest in Tamil literature, especially Tirukkural, is immense. He has streamlined the couplets order to read it like a story. “I had this inkling even when I was a teacher. I wanted to make it simple. For a programme on Tirukkural on the All India Radio, Tiruchi, my interpretations quoting real life incidences were well received and I have been doing so ever since.
. When Sun Network approached me for the ‘Amudha Mozhigal’ I streamlined the order of the couplets. It was well acknowledged and I got it published as a book,” he says.
On youngsters wanting to become good debaters: : “Literary background is a must for an aspiring debater. He or she should be voracious reader of all topics. But not many come forward. They are trapped in the ‘net’ (read internet) and are more bothered about their marks to get into lucrative job positions.”
Though he has ventured into the tinsel world with few appearances, he still feels that acting is not his cup of tea. A good stage performer that he is, he believes that these traits help him in getting closer to the people. After all, you can’t brush aside his rib-tickling role in the movie ‘Sivaji: The boss’. “It clicked because I was portrayed as what I am in real life. Filmdom is a different world, where your talent alone does not help. You also need a good director, cameraman and a strong script. Success of ‘Sivaji’ , got me more than 20 film offers, but I rejected them, ,” he says.
Pappiah fondly remembers a chicken poultry vendor, who got mesmerised in the debate and later accused him of spoiling the day’s business.
Of all the things in the world, he values friendship the most. “But for them, I would not have been in this position. I’ve not seen God but friends mean everything to me. Whenever I have been in trouble, they have always bailed me out. Even now, I am in touch with each of them,” he says lovingly.
Pappiah is a very good singer and also a good actor.
Has written and directed plays when he was in college.
Is an avid diary writer, a habit cultivated from Fourth Standard.
Started Madurai Kamban Kazhaga Arakkattalai along with like minded individuals in 2003 aimed towards development of Tamil language in the Temple City.
Has penned four books: “Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram: Or Paarvai”, which was released in Madurai Central Prison where he was lodged along with his teacher colleagues for agitating on behalf of the association; “Urai Malargal”, Collection of literary-based prose pieces, prescribed textbook in Madurai Kamaraj and Thiruvananthapuram universities till recently; “Urai kothu’ – Collection of speeches on general topics and “Tirukkural Uraiyudan” – an interpretation of Tirukkural.
K. RAMAMURTHI: “My friendship with him spans five decades. We used to call him ‘dentist’ in the college as the bag he carried resembled that of medical representative’s. He is such an efficient writer, his play ‘Nellikani’, which he wrote and directed, still holds relevant.
D. SAMUEL LAWRENCE (Professor and Head, Department of English (Retd.), The American College): I know him for 30 years. His courage and conviction to fight for justice, unmindful of the consequences strikes me the most. He courted arrest on several occasions to get rid of issues affecting the college teaching community. His popularity with the jail officials during imprisonment was such that one or two patti mandrams were conducted within the jail premises. His witty remarks, humorous anecdotes and infectious laughter, cannot be easily forgotten. His steadfast and passionate attachment to his alma mater is extra-ordinary.
J. VASANTHAN (Professor of English (Retd), The American College): He is a simple person and never let fame get into his head. We had several interesting moments inside the college faculty room, as there would be no dearth of entertainment for staff members. He never hesitates to appreciate other’s ability. We had so many funny incidences while on tour on our two wheelers. He is very good at drawing.