Delving into her roots

Subashini Tremmel  

“Look at me!” says heritage-historian Subashini Tremmel to an auditorium of girl students at the MGR-Janaki College of Arts for Women. In fluent Tamil, without pause, without clichés and with only the barest trace of an accent, she reveals that the only reason she has accepted this unscheduled invitation to talk to them is to tell them to use their education well. With a touch of defiance, she exhorts them to be bold, break barriers, speak their mind and be their own people. “I have travelled to 36 countries, have lived in many of them, have been inspired by people I've met. I believe you'll be able to pick up take-aways from my experiences, my journey,” she says.

And what a journey it has been! Born in Penang-Malaysia to parents who migrated from south Tamil Nadu, she studied Tamil as a second language in school and grew up watching her Tanjore-bred mom write short stories for local papers, “develop herself” through distance learning, and speak for the rights of indentured labourers. “By 11, I realised I had a genuine love for music, I learnt Devaram, won several state awards and two gold medals in national competitions.”

She also discovered a dominant must-do-more streak in herself. Having graduated in Math, she taught school but left her job when her efforts to introduce computer education were met with opposition. After heated arguments at home, she went to Australia for an IT/Biz Admin course, lectured in a business school in Penang and finally went on to head a department there, According to her, it was “A golden period where I could inject plenty of new thinking.”

But she knew she still had to push horizons and, “find new opportunities.” She flew to Stuttgart, Germany for her Masters in automation engineering and was offered a green card and a job by the company she researched for her thesis. Four years later, she met her husband there and has been a Stuttgartian for 15 years now and has learnt German and become part of the community.

Her pride in her Tamil lineage however stayed strong and she knew she had to explore her roots. She reached out to a group of Malaysians/Singaporeans interested in Tamil heritage and discovered that people were using the English alphabet to write Tamil, “Once the Anjal software (tools that help create, edit, convert and publish Tamil content on Windows and Mac OS X operating environments) came along, we could write in Tamil, exchange information in Tamil worldwide easily,” she says adding that they soon went on to form the Uthamam, International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil and, “held computer-related conferences in different countries, talked of creating digital villages. From 2001-2009, I was the executive committee member for organising conferences.”

The information exchange pointed to a sad fact-- Tamil heritage materials were disappearing, rare books and palm-leaf manuscripts were being damaged, stone inscriptions were chipped and oral-aural literature forgotten.

With Dr. Kannan Narayanan, she formed Tamil Heritage Foundation in 2001, and since 2006 has been “making annual trips to Tamil Nadu. I choose my topic, research people's attitudes and cultural orientation, form theories, ideas. Last year, I made clippings of Chola temples and encouraged discussions about them on online forums.”

Last week, over three days, with Dr. Padmavathi and video-journalist Prakash by her side, she video-taped an interview with the head of the Mel Sithamur Mutt, made clippings of Paraswanathan temple and Peramundu (12kms away), talked to school kids, met with interest groups in Thiruvannamalai, visited Vizhukkam and Vandavasi, recorded the prayer at Thiruneermalai, interviewed its Mutt-head, video-recorded at Karanthai Arani and Poondi – all of which will be uploaded in the Jain section of the website. “I arranged it all from Germany,” she says. She then whips out a palm-leaf. “Have you seen one of these, filled with small letters?” she asks. “We found this at Rajeendra Cholan's Maaligai Medu in its 1000th year. Watch the video on it,” she tells the group of young women she is addressing, who have now begun to sit up.

Presenting pictures as proof, she goes on: “Innumerable stone inscriptions have been damaged, cemented. At Ettayapuram, a jamindar had stacked old documents carelessly, old books are left to crumble.” Some 50 per cent are lost, she says. “We’ve defaced murals, thrown away stone carvings and funeral artefacts. We are indifferent to our way of life. She raises her voice to ask: “At Chiththannavasal, a boy climbed the low fence and scratched his name on the mural wall, so what is our culture now?”

She appeals to them saying, “Say no to Tamil movies, start heritage clubs, take this knowledge to the public, use material on the website to write theses. Our great heritage goes beyond clothes, celebrations. And finally suggests, “Start delving into heritage, you will meet more people, make more friends.”

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 2:39:04 AM |

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