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To the author(s) of Manimekalai


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 nilamantilavaciriyappa

    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




© April 7, 1992             



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