A poet, rediscovered

Until a decade ago, not many knew of a poet called Velliangattan from Coimbatore. Today, the State owns his published works, and many scholars have based their research on his books. Bharathiar University and the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, have included his poems in their Tamil syllabus. The Singapore National Library has placed his books amidst the must-reads.

So, who was Velliangattan? The poet was born in 1904 in a scenic village named Velliangadu in the foothills of the Western Ghats. He studied only till the third grade and taught himself the Vedas, Upanishads, Thirukkural and Sangam literature. The poet’s pen name was an ode to his village, and he wrote on social issues and raised his voice against superstition.

He was true to every word he wrote. Ironically, even though Velliangattan was involved in improving society, unmindful of his family’s poverty, the same society neglected him.

He wrote over 15 books, including poetry, essays and some translations from Kannada in Tamil, until he passed away in 1991. His 75-year-old daughter V.R. Nalini helped bring his work to light in 2005.

“Velliangattan writes clearly, and his emotion-filled lines have great impact on the reader. That is the quality of a great writer,” says writer Marabin Maindhan. M. Muthaiah. “His poems are intense and true. And, he used simple words without violating the literary heritage of Sangam Tamil.”

His works reflected an immense pride for his language and country, and the rage he felt on seeing inequality in society. But, the poet rues that he stands alone. “Even a murderer about to be hanged will be accompanied by someone; but a true poet stands all alone,” he writes.

“It’s not easy to see a man with such strong principles. He endured poverty throughout life, yet stood up for the values he held dear,” says Ilangeeran, a poet and retired Tamil professor who spent his youth with Velliangattan in Nava India newspaper where the late poet worked as a proof-reader. In fact, some of his writings speak about the sad incidents in his life — from living in a thatched rented house to the death of his wife.

About himself the poet writes: ‘En kaaviyangalae en vaazhkai, En vaazhkayae en ezhuthu, Ennai pattri solvadharkku, En ilakkiyangal uyir vaazhdhal mattumae!’ (My works are my life; My life is my writing; Only if my works live, will they speak about me).

Velliangattan’s grandson N. Mahendran recalls the last days of his grandfather. Cancer had left him unable to speak, and he wrote to his youngest daughter Nalini on a slate. “For a poet, life and death are the same. He lives beyond time. Don’t forget that you’re a poet’s daughter. Don’t cry when I am gone.”

After his demise, Nalini tried to publish his works, but was met with humiliation and disappointment. After 13 years of struggle, ‘Velliangattan Kavidhaigal’ (Velliangattan’s Poetry) was published with the help of poet Puviarasu. Other books soon followed.

“I settled in Coimbatore in 1989, and if I had known about him, I would have met the great man. It is the language’s misfortune that people did not recognise Velliangattan when he was alive,” says Sahitya Akademi winning writer Nanjil Nadan.

There is a saying that a poet is seldom appreciated in his own house, in his own land and by his own people. Sadly, that was true in Velliangattan’s case. Poet Senthalai N. Gowthaman says the pure language used by the poet and his principled stand was why his works did not reach the public.

“He would not bow to anyone; the light of the media never fell on him.”

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 3:58:52 PM |

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