An Algorithmic Approach To Modern Tamil Verse

by Ramesh Mahadevan

(Please note: This post is written in jest. So, if you have a fragile personality or if you are a habitual flame-thrower, skip this post. However, responses, especially those espousing opposing viewpoints, are most welcome)

I was sitting down with a bottle of booze, with my good friend Chiddy and we decided to 'test drive' the latest craze from Madras, Raghuman's latest musical hits from the movie 'Pudhiya mugam' (?). There was a very catchy song that went 'Kannukku mai azhagu, kavidhaikku poi azhagu'. The words sounded very interesting and so we tuned to the words more than the tune itself, as we listened on.

As the song progressed into very pedestrian extension of the first line, I was shocked to find a line that went 'Avvaikku goon azhagu'. (Stoop beautifies Avvaiyar, the ancient tamil poetess) I wonder if Avvaiyar should have a say in the matter or would find her osteoporosis cute. Then there were more inane lines like 'Thayukku sey azhagu'. (Kid beautifies a mother) The bottomline is, the whole thing was very predictable and quite algorithmic ! So, if anyone out there is desperate to make verses, here are some simple algorithms, based on the Vairamuthu formulae.

Algorithm number 1 is very simple. Just take any object. Think for a second and discover one of its attributes. It doesn't matter if there is anything creative or poetic about the attribute and the object. You simply say 'Object-kku attribute azhagu'. For example,

Rasathukku uppazhagu, vishathukku warning azhagu
pazhathukku juice azhagu, kizhathukku thadi azhagu
(Salt beautifies rasam; 'warning' beautifies poison; juice beautifies a fruit and a walking stick beautifies an old person)

You can carry this one step further and compose the next stanza,

Wire-kku current azhagu Vaigaikku karai azhagu
Vayatrukku thoppul azhagu, vairathukku muthazhagu
(current is cute for the wire bank is cute for Vaigai river bellybutton is cute for the belly and diamond is cute for pearl)

Here, the 'Vaigai' line is important - so that old fashioned, conventional guys are satisfied that you are not Picasso-like modernist when it comes to crafting verses. And 'vairathukku muthazhagu' is one of those phrases you quietly slip in, hoping that no one would analyze it, because it sounds 'meaningful' and cute itself, even though it doesn't mean a damn thing.

Even the name 'Vairamuthu' (the name of the poet who came up with 'kannukku mai azhagu' and thousands of other songs) seems extremely phony and nonsensical. It probably sounds very poetic and senthamizhish. It is highly likely that the poet stumbled on this one fine day and decided it was better than his mom-pop-given name of perhaps Ananthagopalasanthanasubramanian, especially if he were to make his bucks in the film world. 'Vairam' is diamond and 'Muthu' is pearl. And I can't see anything common between them, except that both are used in jewelry and that too, perhaps not in the same jewel. I can't see any material parameters common to both of them. And here, the poet uses Vairam as an adjective to Muthu, that is, he is looking for Vairam like qualities in Muthu (could it be hardness or surface electrical conductivity ?) and for the world of me, I can't decipher this name. I am sure, Vairamuthu can quickly cook up some etymology for this name. If there is actually a kind of pearl called Vairamuthu, I will eat my words and take all these back.

In creating nonsense phrases, Vairamuthu is probably a man without rivals. Its almost like the Japanese car companies coming up with meaningless names like Altra or Sentra for their cars, which somehow sound genuine. For example, during one period, he was using 'Paadhame Suprabaatham'. ('Your feet are Suprabaatham') It sounds very nice and rhythmic, except, when you try to figure it out, you go nowhere. Again, I am sure, the poet has a long winded explanation for such usage. But then, if it is so tough for us people to dig his poetry and we always have to rush to him, what is the point writing something like this ?

I know 'movie songs' are not exactly vehicles for writing creative poetry. Even Bharatiyar might compose songs like 'Lovunna lovuu, man ennai stovuu' if twenty five film producers were chasing him with money. But, lets quickly take a look at Vairamuthu's magnum opus, 'Ilaya nila pozhigirathu'.

First of all, what is 'ilaya nila' ? Is it the moon right after new moon, lets say the third or the fourth phase ? or is it moon at the beginning of the evening ? And what does it 'pozhinjify' ? Isn't pozhigirathu a transitive verb requiring a noun or a noun clause (direct object) ? If Vairamuthu had his way, the age old song which went 'Amudhai pozhiyum nilave' would be simply reduced to 'Pozhiyum nilave, nee arugil varaadhadhu eno ?'

The rest of the song meanders around disjointedly from one subject to another and at one place he writes, 'Mugilinangal alaigiraTHU, mugavarigal tholaindhanavo'. What exactly is 'Mugilinangal' ? 'Kinds of clouds' like Cumulonimbus and Cirrus ? All occurring simultaneously in the sky ? Or was he simply implying a 'lot of clouds' ? In which case, why is he mixing singular and plural ? Isn't it 'AlaiginDRANA', especially when the plural also goes with the tune ? Why didn't he mix singular and plural in the second part of the line ? If this can be accepted as simple 'poetic license', I guess, he will not get his poetic license in the state of Colorado.

Now lets go back to Ilayaraja-Vairamuthu era. Here is algorithm 2, to compose 'old' Vairamuthu songs. In the following section, just choose one word each from columns 1, 2 and 3 and bingo, you have an early Vairamuthu song.

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3
Raaja Mullai kaathirukku
Deva Idhazh poothirukku
Raathiri Roja paathirukku
Pesiya Maan vizhithirukku
Azhagu Jeevan sethirukku
Boogambam sirichirukku
minnal pozhinjirukku

For example,

Azhagu minnal kaathirukku
Deva mullai sirichirukku
Pesiya jeevan paathirukku
Raaja idhazh verthirukku
and so forth.

Remember, 'Vervai' is one of Vairamuthu's favorite words. One only presumes the poet does not refer to an athlete's post-marathon sweat, but something sexier.

I have read a lot of his prose and I found it to be excellent. He is certainly a talented person. So Vairamuthu fans, no personal insults, please ! But, like most of us, he too has sold his soul for money. He is just an emperor without clothes. But instead, we simply call him the greatest of modern day poets. At any rate, it is always easy to make fun of someone else.

This reminds me of that story (shall I say 'fictional story', just to invent a new phrase, a la Vairamuthu ?) about this old Pulavar whose name was Anonymous. He was probaby the first poet to use algorithmic approach to tamil poetry. He went to the Pallava king in Kanchipuram and sang 'Nagareshu Kaanchi'. (Trans: 'Of all cities, Kanchipuram is IT !') The king was tickled to death and awarded the poet four hundred gold coins. After a few days of Pallava hospitality, the poet went to the Chola kingdom and had an audience with the king and sang 'Nagareshu Tanjai' (Trans: 'Of all cities, Thanjavur is IT') and the Chola king was very thrilled and gave the poet a lot of money and made him his Arasavai Pulavar for a whole month. After which, the Pulavar went to the Pandiya kingdom and sang 'Nagareshu Madurai' and later, went on to became very famous in history for having composed similar such poems about many other cities.

Copyright(R) Mahadevan Ramesh