I am pleased, and honoured, to contribute an introduction to this collection of poetry produced by So Pathmanathan. I got to know him well when he helped with the production of Mirrored Images, the collection of English and Sinhala and Tamil poetry that the National Book Trust of India published a couple of years back. He then participated actively in the various launches of the book, in Colombo and Jaffna and Matara in 2013. Then, in 2014, he toured a number of other universities too, together with English and Sinhala language poets, to introduce the book and discuss its contents from a shared pluraristic perspective.
In the case of this volume too I use the work produced because, while the bulk of the book consists of translations which he has produced of the work of others, his own poetry is also included. The work as a whole showcases Tamil poetry of the last several years, and does this in English, which makes it accessible to more readers in the country.
This is an eminently worthy task, because for far too long people in other parts of the country had no knowledge, let alone understanding, of what people whose first language was Tamil were going through. I do not say Tamil people, for this volume contains many poems by Muslims, which suggest both shared experiences and some instructive differences.
The volume covers a wide range of experience, described in vivid language and moving imagery. Though obviously the skill with which the poems are presented is that of the translator, he has also managed to indicate some flavor of the individual styles of the various writers he has included. Obviously, given the dominant experiences of the last couple of decades, there is much emotion arising from violence and deprivation, but there are softer emotions too, and also some examples of whimsicality and romance.
The most unusual of the poems new to me was Solaikili’s ‘THE MAD BUFFALO’ with a conclusion that brings us back to earth, reminding us of what could be seen as the rewards of absurdity –
Drinking the muddy water
“I drink boiled filtered water”
“Entry into the fields
Hot mid- day sun
The buffalo’s madness worsened
It applied soap
dried its head with flowers
‘I don’t like dirty ones”
and chased away the white cranes
Who knows its speeches and photos
may appear in tomorrow’s papers!