Sunday, June 09, 2013

On Tamil poems, Kannadasan, and ... mental disorder?

All it takes is a casual comment by a friend for me to turn nerdy.  Houston, I have a problem!

At dinner table conversations (well, other than when I dine alone, that is!) I often find myself consciously staying away from a nerdy seriousness.  After all, social conversations are not classroom seminars, though, ironically, often academic seminars feel like they are dinner table conversations!

So, anyway, a friend commented about the poetry in Indian movie songs, "i like the old ones... Only tamil poetry a lot more" I wanted to launch, yet again, into that frustration of mine that I can rarely ever find anything like a book-reading or poetry evening in Chennai anymore, when I visit India.  It is a shame that a culture with a rich literature past has practically abandoned prose and poetry in everyday life that has been transformed into a never-ending pursuit of material comforts and entertainment.

My schooling didn't prepare me to appreciate poems.  Thankfully, that has not prevented me from exploring at least a little bit of poetry.  One poet, whose mastery always amazed me when young--and more so now-- was Kannadasan.

While famous as a lyricist for movies, Kannadasan, to me, was a poet in the old traditions--highly creative in being able to distill the emotions and mysteries of our existence into verses.  Great poets are able to get to those emotions inside, even if we didn't know we had them in us.

Thus, a few minutes after the friend made those comments, given my interest in autoethnography, the nerd in me wondered whether researchers have tried to psychoanalyze Kannadasan via his writings.  After all, even from my own writings, a friend concluded that I am charming, attractive, witty, seeking millionaire beauties, ... nah!  Anyway, Kannadasan seems to be a prime candidate for such analysis given the quantity of his work and with his sharp deviations from the norm of the day.  Stories were in plenty about his fondness for alcohol, drugs, women, and whatever else, while always producing nothing but brilliant literature, sometimes produced within minutes.

Which is how my quest ended with this article, "The seeds of creativity and the soil of poet Kannadasan," in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry.

The web is phenomenal.  It is truly the oracle that the old societies wished they had--you ask questions and the web answers. And to think that I accessed this essay via the US' National Institute of Health!  I have to be careful when I describe this as "mind blowing" in case any of those psychiatrists then come after me :)

The essay, published two years ago, is exactly what I was after:
It is proposed to study the extraordinary creativity of poet Kannadasan, who lived from 1927 to 1981, with regard to the psychiatric factors. He was an outstanding poet, lyricist, novelist, journalist and devout writer of Hindu philosophy. He was the "Kavi Arasu" (poet laureate) of Tamil Nadu and recipient of the first National Film Award for the best lyrics of Tamil in 1969 and Gnanpith Award of the Sahitya Akademi for his historic novel about the Chera kingdom (the present Kerala state) in 1980.
Kannadasan was a prolific writer of varied interests; he has 3000 lyrics and the scripts of more than a dozen films to his credit. His religious writings include “Meaningful Hinduism” with an introduction by Jagadguru Sankaracharya Chandrashekarar Swamigal, whose orations Kannadasan compiled as a book “God's Voice,” an exposition of the Bhagvad Gita, some translations of short works of Adi Sankara, the epic of Jesus and more than 40 books of poems, dramas and plays. Kannadasan's autobiography deals extensively with his political activities and there is also a biography written by his close associate, relative and friend, Thiru Muthiah.
The creative genius of Kannadasan is assessed by analyzing his life and works. 
How did the oracle know that I would look for this?
On analyzing Kannadasan's biographic and autobiographic details, we can reach the indisputable diagnosis of cyclothymic temperamental disorder.
So, was Kannadasan's genius a result of this disorder?  Without the disorder, would Kannadasan have been as prosaic as I am?  If he hadn't suffered from this temperamental disorder, would Kannadasan have been even more prolific than he was?

The essay does not address those questions.  The author does note the creative process in Kannadasan's own words:
Kannadasan introspects:
“Whenever I sit to write I don′t feel I am writing. An unknown energy, force possesses me. A new sensation arises from head to foot when new words, new similes fall in. There is gooseflesh without my knowledge. Telling becomes bliss.”
It certainly was bliss for lesser mortals like me to listen to his lyrics that were masterfully rendered by musicians.  
In a previous entry on Kannadasan, I included this piece:

Wonderful lyrics by the poet Kannadasan, this includes the following lines:
வாழ்க்கை என்றால் ஆயிரம் இருக்கும்
வாசல்தோறும் வேதனை இருக்கும்
வந்த துன்பம் எது என்றலும்
வாடி நின்றால் ஓய்வதில்லை
உனக்கும் கிழே உள்ளவர் கோடி
நினைத்து பார்த்து நிம்மதி தேடு
Easier said than done!
Here are a couple more from my many favorites by Kannadasan:

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