Sunday, May 20, 2012

CAME THOMAS A Novel in Thamizh by KA.NAA.SUBRAMANIAN Translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan


A Novel in Thamizh by KA.NAA.SUBRAMANIAN

Translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan

1. Thiruvalluvar (Tamilதிருவள்ளுவர்Tiruvaḷḷuvar ?)was a celebrated  Tamil poet and philosopher [1] whose contribution to Tamil literature is the Thirukkural, a work on ethics. Thiruvalluvar  is thought to have lived sometime between the 2nd century BC and the 8th century AD.This estimate is based on linguistic analysis of his writings, as there is no archaeological evidence for when he lived.He is sometimes also called Theiva Pulavar ("Divine Poet"), Valluvar,   Poyya mozhi  PulavarSenna Pothar, or Gnana Vettiyan.

2. Thomas the Apostle, also called Doubting Thomas  or  Didymus (meaning "Twin," as does "Thomas" inAramaic") was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is best known for questioning Jesus' resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus in  John 20:28. He was perhaps the only Apostle who went out side the Roman Empireto preach the Gospel. He is also belie ved to have crossed the largest area, which includes the  Parthian Empire and India.

3. Ka. Naa. Subramanyam (b. 31 January 1912 - d. 18 Dec ember 1988)[1] was a Tamil writer and critic from Tamil Nadu,  India. He is also popularly known by his Tamil initials as  Ka..Naa.Su. Subramaniam was born in Valangaiman  in  Thanjavur District. His first noted published work was the novel Poithevu (1946). He also wrote poems using the pseu donym Mayan. He published many literary journals like  Ilakkiya vattamSooravali and Chandraodayam. He became a literary critic in the 1950s. His reviews first appeared in the magazines Swadesamitran and Saraswathi. In 1965, he moved to New Delhi and started writing articles for English language newspapers. For the next twenty years he lived in Delhi and moved back to Chennai only in 1985. In 1986, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for Tamil for his literary criticism Ilakkiyathukku oru Iyakkam (lit. A Movement for Literature). Pondicherry University made him an honorary professor. He died in 1988. The Government of Tamil Nadu nationalised his works in 2006.
 [*courtesy: wikipedia]

I] down memory lane….

latha ramakrishnan

I am never good at undertaking ‘down memory lane’ journeys. And, twenty years is a long time. Still, a few reminiscences about this book seem inevitable…

Two or three years before his demise, in December 1988, veteran writer Ka.Naa.Subramaniam had come to Chennai and was living in Mylapore, with a failing eye-sight. Learning this I wrote a card to him saying that I would consider it an honour to be of some help to his literary activities. Shortly afterwards I met him and started going to his place almost everyday. I was one of the few who could read his handwriting (it would be too small but so neatly aligned with no corrections, addition, deletion etc.) and so was able to be of some help to him. I could feel a sense of peace in his presence.

When he asked me to translate into Tamil his novel ‘Avadhuthar’, originally written in English by him I thought he was kind of evaluating my literary capabilities and nothing more than that. But, he did get my translation published. So, when he asked me to translate his poignant novel ‘Thomas Vandhaar’ into English I set out to do it in right earnest.

Sad indeed that when I was half way through the translation assignment, Ka.Naa.Su breathed his last. Nevertheless, I finished translating Thomas Vandhaar, giving it the title ‘Came Thomas’, in the next six months. And, when his wife left for Delhi I gave my typed manuscript to her, thinking that in Delhi the prospects for its publication would be far better.

Nothing happened in the next twenty years for which no use blaming any body, including my own self. Recently, when I came to know that writer Ka.Naa.Su’s books and works were handed over to Kalachuvadu for preser vation, I contacted the son-in-law of Ka.Naa.Su, Mr.A.R.Venkatachalapathy and the head office of Kalachuvadu in Nagarcoil asking for my manuscript. They made arrangements for the manuscript to reach me within a month for which I genuinely thank them.

Seeing my manuscript, the white-sheets having turned grey and brown, after almost two decades, with the covering letter written by me, in fact, I experie nced an eerie feeling, to say the least.

We can perceive a general trend around us, the ‘in-thing’ so to say, whereby if one echoes our views he/she is hailed and approved of, and, if not, abused and subjected to class-based and caste-based castigation. But, Ka.Naa.Su belonged to that clan of writers who write what they feel right no matter whether they get accolades or brickbats and who would never be the mouth-piece of any particular individual or group.

When this novel was serialized in a small magazine for several months it gave considerable food for thought. I sincerely hope that this English version of it would also prove that poignant. Whatever be the merits of this translation of mine, they truly belong to Ka.Naa.Su and the lapses are entirely mine. Hope they are few.

There are a round 25 chapters in this novel, comprising some 230 pages. I would be uploading my English rendering of this novel chapterwise in this blogspot of mine once in every week. I sincerely wish to have my English rendering of this very thought-provoking novel published in a book form. I sincerely hope that there won't be any need for me to remind anyone that though writer Ka.Na.Su's works are nationalized my English translation of his Thamizh novel 'Thomas Vandhaar[Came Thomas] is not!


Latha ramakrishnan

Chapter 1

Can anyone claim for sure that Thiruvalluvar lived thousand and nine hundred years ago or thirty, fifty or hundred years earlier or later only, from hence?

How can anyone say with absolute certainty? Apart from the fact that there lived a man called Thiruvalluvar and he wrote Thirukural, the rest like when and where he lived, which religion he belonged to , what educational qualifications he possessed are things not known to us clearly, we should admit.

Still, stories afloat such as Thiruvalluvar Year, that he lived in Mylapore, had a virtuous woman by name Vasuki as his wife… All these are…?

Should be mere tales only. It is man’s tact to fill in those gaps when nothing is known for sure, as suits his whims and fancies. There is nothing wrong in it.

Of course, nothing wrong. But, will that become true?

What at all is Truth? Usually, we accept things if we feel that accepting that which is accepted by one and all would be good to us as well as to others and also to the society.

Don’t we tend to think on the line that accepting stories in the place of History has been the Indian Custom?

But, History, Fiction, Mythology, Novel are all, in a way, the Truth that all have accepted for convenience sake. Aren’t they? Instead of saying that this was ‘The Truth’ I came here to ask whether it was a lie. But, I changed course. Isn’t believing History as nothing but facts and accepting it in stories, Mythology too, just a Custom?

Viewed in that light we can accept that more or less thousand and nine hundred years ago form hence – it can be fifty or hundred years earlier or later too – in a place called Mylapore, lived a man called Thiruvalluvar. When nothing is known as to whereelse and in what other period he lived, what is wrong in accepting the available information regarding the time and place of his being? We can say with conviction that though not exactly known it looks like it might have been so _

The nativity of Thiruvalluvar and the period in which he lived are not known. Does one know at least the religion to which  he belonged…?

Even that is not to be. Hindus, Saivas, Vaishnavaites and many other sects and also Jains, why – even the extremists claim him to be of their clan. But, by and large, there is more room to consider him a Jain.


From things like such terms as that appear in the very first Kural ‘Aadhi Bhagavan’ [the Prime God] and ‘Malarmisai Aeginaan’[He who is atop the floral seat]. Vaiyapuri Pillai and others consider him a Jain. Seems like, we can also consider him so, thus.

Will that alone suffice?

Ofcourse not. Taking into account the prestigious place to which Justice is raised aloft and also the atmosphere of non-violence in the Universe of Thiruvalluvar also, we can consider him to have been a Jain. In one Kural he says that as long as there remain men who eat the flesh of the killed animals, there will exist the practice of killing animals. This was an argument of the Jains in those times to checkmate to the Buddhists. Likewise, it is very clear that he regarded Agriculture in the same vain as like the Jains who considered it holy, high and noble. Having come to agree that he did not belong to the religion of Buddha, taking into account the fact that he had dealt with at length many thoughts common to both the Schools – the Boutha and the Jaina also , there is room enough to think of him as a Jain.

What about the practice of describing Thiruvalluvar as a ‘so-called’ low-caste born, which is in vogue?

Isn’t there room to speak of him as a ‘low-caste’ born, even if he was a Jain?

It is believed that he belonged to the ‘Valluvar’ caste. The reason for such a notion is not known.

In his work one can find several views and sayings of Christianity. Which gives room to consider him a Christian. After Rev.G.U.Pope voced his opinion that he was to be viewed at least as a person who was familiar with the views and ideology of Christianity, such a viewpoint has come to stay.
That  Jesus himself had engaged his immediate, chosen disciples in the mission of converting the whole humanity as Christians, holds the history of Christianity. It is said that according to the Bible the task of converting the Indians as Christians was assigned to one called St.Thomas. I don’t know with what evidence they claim so. And, the eleven  disciples of Jesus known as Apostles divided the world between themselves and toiled hard to spread the gospel of Jesus throughout the  world. This seems to be a veritable historical fact.

Then, would he, called St.Thomas who was one of the eleven, who came to India thus, have met Thiruvalluvar and spoken to him elaborately about the Christian views and outlook of life?

Who can say that such a thing  should not, could not have taken place? We can think on the line as to whether it could have happened. On the other hand, one can also say that some of the noble Christian concepts of life would have become known to Thiruvalluvar from within. None can say for sure that they couldn’t have been taken shape like that, from his own inner light.

Then, what are the possibilities of a meeting between Thiruvalluvar and St.Thomas? For, don’t we need some proof to believe…?

True, we do. There exists an age-old story, age-old and widespread among the Christians, which says that the disciple of Jesus called Apostle Thomas came to India for the first time during 40 B.C. and propagated Christianity in the North-West region of India, with the support of King  Kondaberns and, either after his death of dethronement , went away from the place for want of help and support, and, for some time worked in Kerala, and, somewhere around 50 B.C., a little earlier or later, initiating the fishermen into Christian ideals, he went along with them in their boat and along the eastern coast of Indian Ocean reached the seashore of Mylapore during 52, 54, 55 B.C., most probably 62, 63 B.C., was killed by a Brahmin, and attained the status of a martyr.

One set of people might tend to ask whether a Brahmin could have killed him.

The opposite section, in keeping with today’s trend might say that a Brahmin alone could have murdered as the rest have come and journey through the Path of Love and Brotherhood. Don’t know whether the story is real or not. But, St.Thomas Mount, St. Thomas Cathedral and so on, possess evidences to show that this story was indeed believed as true. The fact that exist today lend credence to the thought that St.Thomas might have come to Mylapore.

Thus, if St.Thomas had indeed come to Mylapore, Thiruvalluvar might have had the opportunity of listening to his religious-speeches; gospels.

Of course, he would have listened to the speeches of St.Thomas that were spreading Christianity. Because, for those like St.Thomas who had belief in conversion, only those among the Hindus who were considered ‘low-caste’  born could be won over. Several wealthy and powerful men might have also lent ears to his speeches. These men would have been slightly indifferent and angry toward the approaches and style of and functioning of their own religion. But, indeed Thiruvalluvar, who was in a way a saint and a seer, must have lived in pride and glory during his period, in the then prevailing social atmosphere. And, would such a person have gone to meet St.Thomas?

Then, how could there have been a meeting between the two?

Before proceeding on that line we should think of another aspect. We do not know for sure whether Thiruvalluvar was a Jain or not. We can only say that there is scope to view him as one. He was one who tried to preach to the world through his work, something beyond the mere Jain concepts of Life, Humaneness and a set of ideals would be acceptable to one and all. If the Apostle who was trying hard to make the world accept the thoughts and ideals of Christianity would have met such a person there is room to think that he would have tried to steer him toward Christianity.

Indeed, it is funny to contemplate so. If both of them had indulged in converting each other to their respective religions who would have succeeded? And, we feel that one who won or lost is not what is important, but the meeting and its consequences.

Both of them were men of great mental strength and will-power. St.Thomas was one who came to India with the prefix ‘Doubtful’. Though his suspicion or disbelief was there in him regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ only, still it goes to show that he had a mind of his own. And, it seems indeed a matter of great interest to imagine how both the wise men would have met and what all they would have talked.

Ok. But, how and under what circumstances both of them would have been thrown together?

Someone called Vaadhoolan in his capacity of an associate of Valluvar, is telling about the historic meet between the two learned men and their dialogues and association. Shall we listen?

Who is this Vaadhoolan?

Someone. Someone like you and me. After some thousand years who would believe that You and I did exist? He is someone like us. He is required to narrate this story.

Isn’t it that through him the story should take place in our perception only? But, what is wrong in that? The perception of the narrator is one; that of the reader, listener, viewer is yet another one and the fusion of the two which gives rise to a wholesome perception. All indeed all of these, have a place in this. Don’t they?

Shouldn’t we know something about Vaadhoolan?

He himself will tell- Let’s listen.

Are we to believe this too? Everything should be believed. Isn’t it a known fact that, in this vast world there are very many things which we refuse to believe, but are bound to believe.


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