XIV: Nalatiyar

After completing the pen & paper version of the Thirukural on Christmas Day, I was looking forward to a leisurely seven-week cruise back to Britain. I was wrong. I love a spot of literary archaeology, where the libraries of exotic countries are like the mausoleums of antique emperors, the treasures of which lay forgotten under centuries of dust – just like the central library at Madurai. I’d decided to spend a few hours there, unwinding & studying a few Tamil measures, when I stumbled across the Nalatiyar. Well, less stumbled, more guided there by the statue of Thiruvallavar downstairs. It turns out this collection of 400 quatrains is the revered sister-poem of the Kural, though nowhere near as famous. There is an old Tamil proverb praising which says;

The Nalatiyar and the Thirukural are very good in expressing human thoughts just as the twigs of the banyan and the acacia trees are good in maintaining the teeth

I felt a bit like Howard Carter as he found a new door in the antechamber of what he thought had been the main royal tomb in 1922. Beyond that door lay Tutankhamun. “Great,” I thought, “a good reason to come back to Tamil Nadu.” Then I thought, “for fucks sake I’m here already & it took seven years to come back & do the Kural.” So I’ve decided to ‘have a pop’ at it, despite there being very little source material to work on. I go to Kodaikanal tomorrow, a much more salubrious location to compose. It’s supposed to be a very gorgeous hill-station, with lakes & trees & shit, so happy days.

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It’s been very pleasant staying in Madurai over Christmas. I’ve had a lovely hotel with all the mod cons – laundry, room service – including a panoramic view of the city from the restaurant rooftop. Back at the hotel one morning was funny. I was coming down to pay my advance for a couple more nights, when one of the guys behind the desk said I’d have to move out. Now I’d already had an altercation with the geezer after ordering one of those ‘new-fangled’ continental breakfasts – it’s basically a jam butty & a cup of coffee. After a lengthy argument he agreed to change the menu heading to ‘sub-continental breakfast.’

So, in the hotel foyer around me were about 20 Indians all wanting a room & waiting for check-outs. Despite having a single rom, the hotel would put in another bed & charge for another person. But I stood my ground told him I wasn’t going anywhere & asked him what the fuck was he going to do about it. Then I showed him the Thirukural & told him that the divine saint of Tamil Nadu wouldn’t approve. Then I said if I was going he’d have to give me 150 rupees compensation, as that’s what I would have to spend on travel arrangements after missing ‘that lift off my mate yesterday after I was promised I could stay in your very lovely hotel (a lie).’ The last one did the trick – money talks in India & so do I, far too much again, so happy New Year.

Madurai
29/12/08

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