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Words and wisdom

DEEPA H. RAMAKRISHNAN
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PERSONALITY Writer M.L. Thangappa's book “Chola Kollai Bommai” has been shortlisted under the children's literature category for this year's Sahitya Akademi award

WRITE STUFF M.L. Thangappa PHOTO: T. SINGARAVELOU
WRITE STUFF M.L. Thangappa PHOTO: T. SINGARAVELOU

I t is his love for Nature, children and Tamil that stands out when you speak to Sahitya Akademi nominee M.L. Thangappa. His first major work was ‘Aandhai Paattu', the song of the owl.

“This poem that I wrote in 1955 as a school teacher was my response to (Subramania) Bharathi's ‘Kuyil Paattu'. It was my wife, my colleague then, who encouraged me to get it published,” recalls Thangappa. ‘Aandhai Paattu' narrates the story of an ordinary looking girl who dies and is reborn as an owl and talks about the ugly side of human beings.

He moved to Puducherry from Tamil Nadu in 1959 to teach English and taught in various schools till 1967. In 1968, he joined Tagore Arts College where he taught students for 20 years, and later retired from Government Bharathidasan College for Women.

“My parents instilled in me an interest for prose and poetry. I used to recite songs from the ‘Kamba Ramayana' when I was six years old. I started writing rhymes for my sister, who was a teacher so she could teach them to her students,” he says.

A tool to reach kids

Thangappa says he wrote also because his dearest friend Kovendan, who ran a Tamil school in Chennai, wanted to teach students through poems that describe animals, their mannerisms and the need to love them. “As a teacher, I believe anything taught to children must carry a message, and be able to kindle the urge among them to learn more.”

His work “Chola Kollai Bommai” has been shortlisted under the children's literature category for this year's Sahitya Akademi award. The book is a collection of rhymes in Tamil for children. It has been named after a poem on the scarecrow. Among his other publications are ‘Puyal Paattu', a long poem on a cyclone that raged in Tamil Nadu in 1955, ‘Agamum Puramum', ‘Mazhalai Pookkal' and ‘Pinnirundu Oru Kural'.

“I enjoy reading out poems to my grand children and listening to their tales when they come back from school. I help them with their projects and spend as much time as I can with them. Even while I taught in school and college, my students were my friends.”

Asked what's essential to write good poetry, he says one must read as much as one can.

“Poetry is about enlarging the consciousness. It also brings out sympathy and compassion. It helps us look at life in a new light. Nature will also give you ideas to write. It helps you become courteous. And you get only what you give.”

A strong believer in teaching in one's mother tongue, he says the knowledge of Tamil helps children learn better and think originally.

“I studied in Tamil… yet I have taught the English language. There is no bar to learning other languages,” he says. Translating Tamil books into English and vice versa is also among his areas of interests. Selected poems from “Thiruvarutpa” and from the works of Bharathidasan are among his translations.

DEEPA H. RAMAKRISHNAN

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