To the author(s) of Manimekalai

To the author(s) of Manimekalai

by T. Wignesan

“Apart from its popular conception of transmigration, (which is) sometimes almost humouristic, Manimekhalai offers a documentary contribution of immense value, under an easily accessible form, on the philosophical speculations of Ancient India. The cosmology of Sankya, the scientism of Vaisheshika, the logic of Nyaya, the materialism of Lokayata, originally related to the Ajivika tradition, (all of) which re-appeared with force in the Dravidian world following the Saivite renewal a little before the beginning of the Christian era. The(se) concepts which had little by little, during the course of centuries, influenced the Vedic tradition manifested themselves with force from then on in an autonomous way and went on to give birth to the philosophy of Mediaeval India.”
     ( From Alain Danielou’s “Preface” in his and T. V. Gopala Iyer’s Manimékhalai )

To some the interest is in the reading hearing singing
To others in the Buddhist faith that moved the begetter(s)
To most the wondrous-unwonders of the story
            born in the Cilappatikaram
To a few in the monstrous bending of the verse in                                                      
To all time to parse in tongue-grinding heady rhymes
    initial rhymes
rigourous unsyntactic ellipses
      double syllabic feet
          four to the line
               the exceptions in three
all a mnemonic scaffolding of repetitive sound

For yet others after Catanar's warehouses in Puhar were long empty
                     the task of interpretation arose
Some sought to impute his motives to caste-enhancing kingly favours
   Some as Aravana Atigal's hagiographer
       Some as a bodhisattva-feat acquirer
           Some as the anthologiser of myth and tradition
              Some as the poet-laureate of a people's ancient lore
           Some as a collective grass-roots inspirational catalyser
        Some as the hindu kings' proselytiser
     Some as a patron of a ghost-writer
   Some perhaps as the first ecstatic copyist
Some who knows as an unrepenting plagiarist

Who should care after all these years
Who wrote what and why
       no image rests of him
           nor the jetties and godowns of the Cola entrepôt
       nor whether some Yavana read to him
during the long monsoonal wait back for Rome
the feisty encounters of a Ulysses
or the airy goings and comings of the Olympian pantheon
nor whether he cared to listen
being full of a pride of his own

To have written is to leave but a mark
nothing stands for the proud rhyming syllables
more than his acquired business acumen
a Vaishya karmic hope

Now we stand aghast before this edifying monument
and verily wonder at some man
who may have in gusting wind and blasting brine
clung to his loincloth on the scaffolding
his knotted hair thick with the chimes of the Colamandala tide
the bells from Mahabalipuram to Chidamparam tolling in his veins
his sinewy rhyming muscles pulsing to the chiselling of reliefs
in memory of Kannaki and Matavi
and the liana apsara Manimekalai
in her forbidding expunging of her caste courtesan rôle
the lethal unmaking of an infatuated prince

Tied then to the creaking wooden framework
left by Ilango Adigal's epic-making epic
his stomach heaving
the low burning wicker lamp stinging his nostrils
in the stilled small hours
his eyes hardly following the olai leaf of his beaten memory
night after sleepless night
his merchant's paunch and eyes sagging
wife and mistresses in unrequited rut
while in tryst forlorn
one thought lingering under the tree in Bodhgaya
lamenting for the disciple's offering of trichinosis
he lets the dawn creep into his ears
with the kuyil's ironically teasing call
the fingertips charred with lampblack
till loaded cartwheels grind on the gravel of his spent dreams

It is easy for us now to quibble over him
and make much of when he may have conceived his poem
for at least in so doing he comes alive
only to be killed revived chided praised drowned in words
                  more than he has bequeathed us


T. Wignesan


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