VIII: Thirukural

It’s been an interesting few days in Madurai, a typical crazy melting pot of a place. The 12 gopuras of the great temple here dominate the skyline, but this time the technicolour pantheons are covered up by these massive brown hats – basically rush matting on a stick-scaffold. The 1000-year-old temple is busy as buggary, & just as noisy. I can’t blame them tho’, there’s so much detail on the sculptured phantasmagoria in & around the temple, from the huge cow at the main gate to the horses prancing like the Scottish lion rampant. There’s also the Golden Lotus Tank, a wonderful ghat a little larger than a basketball court. It’s very lush & looks like some ornamental garden-fountain, with the said golden lotus emerging from the waters. In the early morning when the sun just peeps above the high porticoed walkway that surrounds the waters, it is a wonder to behold.

The city itself is quite clean, very busy, but generally a nice place. I’ve been showing off my primitive Tamil, & it’s gone down like a house on fire. My best memory was taking a walk along the river & seeing a few slices of Indian bankside life The river itself was cool, lots of grassy islands with a few horses grazing on them. The main event down there was the washerwomen, hundreds of them bearing the rocks with their wet washing, leaving gleaming white bedsheets on the grass like sails in the Spanish Armada.

Further along I came across about twenty kids – 6-12 years of age – holding hands & trying to tig each other. It was kabbadi, a great wee game, sort of rugby without the ball, full of dust & cheers. I loved their celebrations, like raving away at a dead good Sheffield techno-trance night.

I have also ‘discovered’ the Thirukural. I was browsing thro’ a bookshop when I saw a picture of a man I thought I recognized. It was in fact the poet-saint, Thiruvallavar, the statue of whom towered over me back at Kanyakamari. The book was a mere 20 rupees, & on first glance found it a fascinating thing – a kind of guide to life. Then something happened to really kick off my fascination with the book.

On my way back to the hotel I was accosted by a scrawny guy offering to sell me some smoke. I was running out, so agreed to top up, biting a little of the ‘weed’ to check it out. There was a crush, & then a rush of liquerice flew round my mouth. ‘That’s not weed.’ I said. ‘It’s opium,’ he replied. I’d never tried the stuff before, so my curiosity get the better of me. I didn’t exactly have Coleridgian visions but it trigger’d off a shed load of poetry. Not long after my first bite I was spun out on my bed, staring at the spinning fan above me. I then began to look thro’ the Thirukural, & almost immediately started converting them into a more poetical English, using the same form as they appear in Tamil – 4 words on top & three below. There are 1330 individual ‘maxims’ & I already intend, one day, to translate the lot.

16th February

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