An aura of timelessness


AT the book release of Poorani Kavithaikal, Era. Murugan, a much-appreciated Tamil short story writer, said, "What does age matter? Ninety three-year-old Poorani's consciousness of the contemporary is still very focussed; much more than that of many writers and readers of today. Till recently, most of the Tamil literary world was not familiar with the works of Poorani Ammal, though she has been writing since the late 1920s."

Sampoornam Ammal — pen name Poorani — has proved that natural talent is what really makes a poet. She says, "Even as a young girl, songs of my own making would ring in my ears. Though I did not formally study grammar, Thayumanavar's works, with their commentaries and the poems of Vedanayagam Pillai and Bhaskara Das greatly influenced me. They gave me an inkling of what poetry was made of."

With a Tamil Pundit for a father and a mother who was a true product of the oral literary tradition, it is not surprising that words and sounds fascinated her. After an early marriage, when she initially lacked the stimulation of books, the songs welled up from within. "I just put down my songs on paper and put them away,"she says. Dr. Tirupur Krishnan, Tamil scholar and writer, observes, "Poorani's voice reminds one of one's own aunts and mothers who could spontaneously express their emotions by creating songs with expressive phrases; but Poorani was different in that she wrote down her songs. She understood the importance of registering the voices." Comparing the Malayalam poet Lalitha Antharjanam with Poorani, Era. Murugan marvels at how, "these women managed to educate themselves from behind closed doors. Both, however, received the support of their husbands in their literary quest, something unheard of in those days."

Poorani wrote songs for her brother's plays, for celebrations of women's groups and for marriages. With her off-beat sojourns into descriptions of nature, she brought a freshness to traditional songs. Murugan enjoys the way Poorani delighted the older generation in a poem that seemingly made fun of the modernisation of society. "That was how Poorani's message that wisdom lay in accepting change entered orthodox households," he says.

A move to Madras in her middle years gave Poorani more exposure to the world of litterateurs. She published, though sporadically, a few stories and poems. Traditional poetry, with its innate rhythm and alliteration, as well as free verse focusing on social issues, flowed from her pen.

Through all the vicissitudes of life, she retained an optimism that is reflected in her compositions. If at all she was despondent, it was only because her fellow women were not participating in the changes that were shaping the New Woman, and because the changes were often only superficial. Tirupur Krishnan comments, "Poorani's feminism is not a voice raised against men but against their attitudes which deny women justice." She is equally angry with women who endorse those attitudes. Like some other women writers, Poorani gives a new slant to the stories of Sita and Ahalya, exploring their feelings with a woman's empathy. Her Sita is not happy at the turn of events in her life.

Tirupur Krishnan mentions how Poorani's use of similes that are in popular usage strike a chord in her reader instantly. She describes the hair of a 40-year-old woman as "a mixture of rice and sesame seeds", an expression often used to convey shades of black and white. He also sees in her an able story teller who can weave stories into poems, as in "Sathiram", a poignant tale of love.

Poorani recalls, "I always had an enquiring mind that could not accept unconditionally many of the norms and practices of my society. Social evils like untouchability, the treatment of widows and the subjugation of my nation bothered me, and made me verbalise my protest through poetry. My open spirit took me through several experiences. I went to the Isai Velalar street to learn music and saw there a life so different from mine."

Tirupur Krishnan likens Poorani's creations to Sangam Poetry. "The poems do not boast of superfluous ornamentation but shine in their natural beauty, raising them to works of literary stature." Ambai (Writer C.S. Lakshmi) in her introduction to this volume, Poorani Kavithaikal, says that this collection of Poorani's poems "has within it many time-frames, historical events and human emotions; these poems have effected the magic of drawing into them the external world, remaining all the time inside the confines of the house... Nature, locale, all existence, become the subjects of her poems. Over a period of time Poorani uses poetry as a bridge to forge her relationship with life."

Poorani very rarely speaks of her personal experiences. In a rare moment of feeling the burden of her age, she refers to weariness and isolation. Curious as she is to get familiar with new experiences, she is disappointed when

Those in the know Do not come and speak ...Today, life's just expectation ... Duties all done Weariness comes in.

Even here, her disenchantment with life is not merely personal, but more with the world around her.

Most of Poorani's poems are on issues that interest and affect humanity in general; this endows her poetry with an aura of timelessness. Poorani's autobiography, to be published shortly, promises to be a faithful record of several decades of south Indian history and culture.