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:


Ramesh said...

Oh yes, Kannadasan is an amazing poet. His genius is best appreciated if you see the lyrics of present day Tamil film songs :)

Poetry that can be enjoyed even when one is not a master of a language is a treasure indeed. Such are Kannadasan's poems - even I, a relative ignoramus of the Tamil language can marvel at the beauty.

But I would have never thought of enquiring about the psychiatry of it !!!!!

Indu said...

Nothing I can say will do justice to his poetry- cannot add enough to what you say about his poetry…. But this psycho analysis thing of his brain puts me off.. sorry to come across so strongly! Here’s why such a strong reaction:
He was I guess a normal human being with the most wonderful emotions sweeping thro him, whats more he was so well aware of whats going on within him – he lived thro them emotions and probably grew out of them- what courage he displayed when he wrote & published what he wrote – he was showcasing all his interiority to the rest of the world!! And, we dare to dissect his consciousness thro his psyche –well, He was a public personality, and Sriram or any one else is free to do what he can in his blog space; And Kannadasan’s or whoever else, the brain is an organ and we believe that we can purely scientifically figure out the fuzzy logic (or illogic!!) that rules what we feel, say and do –so let it be.
I have this thing about these psychoanalytics – most of the time they ‘dissect’ a sick brain to understand how the normal human brain (psyche) functions. So I have a problem here… They analyze a sick psyche and extrapolate it to the general population.

Yes- he didn’t stick to the easy topics- he stayed close to his heart- more authentic than the others in his times– he said what is true for himself. It resonated with most of us since we also felt the same most of the time, but couldn’t find the right words or most likely lacked the clarity to see things in perspective. What he wrote seem to fit in 50 years later also, when even morality has a different definition. He put morality aside in his poetry and talked about basic human emotions, not being judgmental on whats right and wrong from a social perspective but steered toward what seems right, rather responsible as a human being.
Anyway, Thank God, they will never completely figure out the most complex layers of human conscious or the unconscious… Kannadasan may be defined in a limited way thro a psycho analysis, but also pl let the nerd in you know that the nerd should humbly acknowledge the fact that Kannadasan (or Sriram) is many many aspects more than what a psycho analysis can find.
The blog posts of Sriram is an end product of so many faces of the attractive- witty …. Sriram - your friend had found thro the blog posts!! I am sure another nerd academician who was looking for a case study into psycho analysis would have found very few things about you from reading your blog posts –definitely not a friendly-attractive witty Sriram… Now, what do you want to be – a friend or a case study?....
As for me, I would hate to be a case study
I hope I can now rest my case

Sriram Khé said...

(part 1)

Ramesh, stay away from the contemporary Indian film music ... is injurious to your mental health ;)

Indu, good to see you here.  and, boy, can I feel the heat from "nettrikan" :)

first, yes, as I noted in the post, I have nothing but awe to the nth degree that a mortal in my own lifetime created such amazing works.  I won't go anywhere near commenting on his works ...

so, what is my interest in this?  the one that I had identified in the blog:

"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?"

it is not to cheapen Kannadasan at all.

as I noted in my post, my hypothesis is that writers provide us with lots of clues on their inner persona, whatever be the personalities presented outside.  Even in the miniscule writings of mine, I am confident that it will come through.  From the kind of comments i make in classes, students piece together a picture of me as a person.  I am dropping hints all the time, almost always without intending to do so.  so, psychoanalysis might be a strong word, but this process is essentially that.  Thus, when sometimes students come to share with me their problems, I have even asked them why they felt it was ok for them to share those with me, even though they don't know me at all.  Because, they had arrived at an image of sriram who has lots of empathy, and would be a good listener.

too long already, and I have more to say ;)

Sriram Khé said...

(part 2)

again, this is not because i want to ridicule Kannadasan, or to "judge" his character.  when we inquire into what exactly drove Van Gogh to chop his ear off, we are tryng our best to understand Van Gogh.  We are not debasing him into any "case study"

Above and beyond that, I have a long standing interest in "creativity."  I have remarked several times in classes that I feel it might be easier to teach logical thinking, but I have no idea how one can be taught to become creative.  I forget now who said, but whoever it was said something like this: "without an Einstein, science would still have advanced enough to figure out that E=MC2 because science is driven by logic.  It might have taken a few more years.  but, without a Mozart, we might never have had all that music."  day in and day out, I am amazed at creativity that defies logic.

You can, therefore, see why I wrote:

"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?"

Further, there seems to be a high degree of correlation between creative people's behaviors and "norms" in that they are typically non-conformists.  Kannadasan's life was far removed from the norms of the day.

now, we can turn that around and ask ouselves whether we do a great disservice to creativity when we force kids into following the norms.  By "brainwashing" kids into rules, are we killing that creative spirits inside them?

This question of creativity becomes all the more important as we enter the world of automation and robots--those hardware and software agents can potentially do anything routine way better than we can.  We--humans--can then explore our creativity even more, given that we will no longer have to be bothered with ditch-digging or cleaning dishes.

So, hey, by no means was I implying that such intellectual inquiries were nothing but some cheap and tawdry ways of talking about Kannadasan's life.  perhaps it came across that way because of any carelessness in my blogging all these ideas that were in my head.  mea culpa!

Indu said...

I can almost hear someone say : Sabaash -Sariyana potti!!!

@Ramesh Very pleased to see your last line!!!

Now to Sriram : Thanks for the lengthy explanation. Wasnt trying to instigate you... Just exasperated with the current day social norms and lines drawn to define the socially acceptable behaviour. We attach a disorder to creativity; but make a disability 'special'. Our psychiatry is really really funny! I note this with a lot of respect and empathy to the people with such issues. I live very close to Van Gogh town - and you talk about VG!!! It baffles me how we cant deal with extreme emotional energies which burst out into creativity and then land up in depression. We are unable to channelize them so that their creativity can last longer. As a society - as family units somewhere we seem to fail..

Exactly what we do with our kids : shout at them when they want to just be happy and exuberant - pretty much what you said about 'brainwashing' them into our rules...

Guess such a strong reaction from my side wasnt really warranted :-) May be I'd be called bi-polar for suddenly appearing and giving such a lengthy explosive response to an innocent-nerdy blog i follow once in a while :-D

But it was fun - in the process i also heard many of his songs all over again - nice post - Thanks for triggering this discussion. It is nice to engage in a verbal duel like this once in a while- Else the pillar to post running life would be so boring -right?

Sriram Khé said...

I bet Ramesh was reading all these and thinking to himself, "damn, this is a lot more exciting than the NBA Finals!" ;)

It appears that we are then largely in agreement. Why are we arguing then? ;)
I tell ya, Sen was correct in more ways than one by titling his book "The Argumentative Indian" muahahahaha And no wonder I have that book displayed on the bookshelf in my office to grab students' attention .... and no wonder most of them never ever return to my office .... muahahahahahaha

You live close to Van Gogh's town? If I come to visit, I can get free room/board at your place then?
In a comment once before you threw in some Chinese phrase, and you and Ramesh started discussing the tonal aspects of the language. Now in the Netherlands (see, i Know VG's country!!!) ... next stop???? While not really fitting into the context, I am reminded of another old movie song, "kaal pona pokkile manam pogalaama ..." ;)

I worry that we more than brainwash kids these days ... we even highly medicate them. We diagnose way too many, I feel, as ADD, ADHD, xyz, and restrain them in so many ways. As one who thinks twice even before taking a pill when my headaches (especially when I read some comments at my blog ... haha!)

But, yes, all these are all the more the reasons for us to understand (analyze) what might have made some awesomely creative minds work the way they did. It is an important research topic.

BTW, stop running from pillar to post--you might hurt yourself ;)

Anonymous said...

I want to know the lyrics of Kannadasan speech to his friend about explanation of consuming bethadine.

"நித்தம் நிந்திக்கும் மனிதரால் பெதடின் ஊசி போட்டேன் "
like that it will come ,Someone pls send me to my mail id ,

I'll be waiting for ur reply.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sriram Khe,

To me, Kannadasan is a poet who seemed to have infinite wisdom to address all facets of life. His choice of words and the depth of meaning in his lyrics are unmatched by any contemporary. I feel feel that listening to a dozen Kannadasan songs can be as enlightening as reading scriptures.

To this end, we have been trying to revive some of the magic of old (and new) songs by translating them (rather providing our interpretation of it) .

We would love to hear what you have to say about what we are trying to do.

Kannadasan songs :


Sriram Khé said...

There is no doubt that many of Kannadasan's poems are loaded with profound observations on life. I am so glad there are people like your group attempting to bring Kannadasan to an audience that is larger than the Tamil-speaking population. I wish you folks well.

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