This is second in the Madurai series. The first one is here.
Ever remember playing a game called ‘Statue’ in school? Well, I do. You didn’t have to do much. Someone had to point to someone else and say ‘statue’. You were required ‘freeze’. Just pretend you are a statue and watch the other chaps lick their lollipops and wallop their chocolates. And you had to wait till they came around to point in your direction and say ‘statue’ again. If you wanted to be a winner that is.
In most cases, as soon as the lollipop was unwrapped, people gladly embraced defeat, disgorged themselves from the statues they were forced to become and went after the lollipop like an animal in heat. That story is for another time.
But there are several statues that adorn roadsides and have watched the world go by and sort of had a ringside view of the change that is happening in the world. Every city has a few. Madurai has them too.
Those that bear the names, shapes and figures of political leaders, leaders of a sect, a community etc have automatic addition to the following. Like being born in that community. In that sect. Or being sold to a political ideology. These statues themselves undergo a clean up or two. Regularly.
But how about literary figures? People who made a difference to an art scene? To language and therefore to culture and life? How good are their statues? There are few such statues that I found. As I slugged the camera around and decided to rediscover ‘home’ as I sought balance on a roller coaster of a trip back home. Pardon me however for the poor quality of my snaps here. Most of them are tilted. Perhaps indicative of the state of my mind then.
These statues have seen me grow from a young boy to a bristling young man and then morphing slowly into the graying balding chap that I am. That is, THEY have seen me. Never before have I paused to give them a second look. Never. Which is surprising considering that I normally am interested in such stuff. I have passed this road as many times as perhaps there are rain drops in a monsoon shower. These are in the Tallakulam area of Madurai. A small area of less than 2-3 Sq KM.
Here are a few statues that I found and some looking up the web lead me to some people that I didn’t know of that well and lives that made a difference to a different generation of people.
So here is an invitation for you to dive deep into their lives and see if we can make more meaning. Perhaps you would like to dig more. Or if you already know more, maybe share here!
If only God came back and waved his magical fingers and brought them alive, I am sure these statues would spout stories that world doesn’t know. How fascinating would that be! And for that reason, and for that reason only, I think we must petition God to walk the roads again.
Most of these statues are ones erected as part of the World Tamil Conference held in 1981, I have recollections of that conference as a massive event that got talked about for a while. I was too young to understand the nuances of language and the passion in the conversations at home but was old enough to soak into the pomp and pageantry! That these statues have been there from then on is a ‘nice to know’ thing.
In an area that is earmarked for rain water puddles, marketing campaigns for two wheelers, protest strikes of various political parties and Kabaddi matches sit two piercing statues.
First off, there is Kavimani Desika Vinayagam Pillai. A tamil poet who translated the work of Omar Khayyam. Wikipedia doesn’t give me much else. The name is more than merely ‘familiar’ but the thirst for knowing him more stands revived. The tags underneath the post on Wikipedia point to a few things that points in a direction. They read : “• People from Kanyakumari district • Tamil poets • Indian Tamil people • 1876 births • 1954 deaths • Indian writer stubs”. Helpful!
A little distance from there stands U.V.Swaminatha Iyer. Wikipedia holds much more on him than Desika Vinayagam Pillai. U.V.Swaminatha Iyer called ‘Tamil Thaatha” ( The grandfather of Tamil ) is credited with extracting ancient Tamil literature written on palm leaves and publishing them on more readable material. Wikipedia also tells me Civaka Chintamani was a “Jain classic”. Ignorance is limitless. Mine that is!
Do give My.Iyer a look up. Atleast for the sake of his statue that has looked at every single passing vehicle on Alagar Koil Road, Madurai. Come rain or shine!
A little further down the road is the statue of Shankardas Swamigal. A man well regarded as the Everest of Tamil theatre. To the best of my memory the auditorium at Tamukkam is also named after him. I promptly read more about him here and figured he must have been a pioneer and a fantastic passionate man of his time. The industry could get to new lows with juvenile ‘masala’ movies but there are some film makers who would make him proud. Where the industry is, is a different matter. His statue sits right at the junction of four roads and what a ringside view he has. This statue has been up since 1967. I wish it could speak. The world can be the stage. Seriously!
Diagonally opposite to him is this pillar. It sure must have some history but nothing that I could find. I am curious if anyone knows more.
A couple of kilometers away in what is now called KK.Nagar junction sits this man. Tholkappiar. Right under the KK Nagar Arch.
A statue again bearing the time stamp of the World Tamil Congress, 1981. For me, KK Nagar is like home! And right under his nose, I have been upto mischief, had run ins, worked studiously, ran campaigns, bought medicines and what not. But never before did I realise that Tholkappiar was looking at it all.
I recall reading Tholkappiar as one of the foremost grammarians of the world. Around 2000 years ago. Google doesn’t throw up any proper leads on Tholkappiar on the first page of search. There are politicos opening parks in his name but about the man himself, there is little except a mention of his being Agastya’s disciple. Some more diving deeper keeps me glued to the monitor for a good hour. Debates have raged on the net and you may want to look up here or here.
I have no inclination and remarkably shorn of knowledge on this subject to get any close to such a debate. More pertinently, the fact that Tholkappiar’s statue stood right there and I had no idea that it stood there painted a rather dim view of how much I knew of ‘home’!
As I stood there, camera in hand, the traffic whizzed by. Buses. Cars. Cycles. Bullock Carts. Mopeds. From the corner of my eye, I notice many curious eyes looking at me. I wonder how many people know of Tholkappiar or atleast aware of his statue sitting there!
I wonder if the general populace of the land care much about its true roots, language and culture. I wonder. But Tholkappiar sits there. Blissfully peaceful. With a handle bar moustache and huge ears.
He stares me down as the unkempt undergrowth and random wreck of a landscaped garden dominates my picture frame. Perhaps it indicates the state of the language today. Or maybe it just points in the direction of how much people know of their own backyard while they strive to build their futures in other lands. Whatever.