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827. The Genius of a Language

Poetry rose to dizzy heights in India during the first millennium after Christ. Life sagged and lost its vitality in the second millennium. It was after 1500 that Europe came to life and emerged out of the Dark Ages. As social, commercial life develops and spreads, PROSE takes shape and acquires refinement. This was true of all European nations. During this period, Italy produced an epic, England threw up Milton and Shakespeare, France fashioned the French language as an intellectual tool, German became an expressive language of scientific thought. Russia gave us Tolstoy and Pushkin. In India, at least in the South, such efflorescence was not there in Tamil where in the Sangam period poetry had reached classical eminence.

Tamil prose was born in the last two hundred years. Prathapa Mudaliar Charitram was valued greatly as the herald. The Tamil prose we have has been developed in the 20th century mostly by newspapers and journals to which a silver lining was added occasionally by eminent scholars like TVK or journalists like Kalki. One vice-chancellor said we have no grammar with official sanction for Tamil prose. Prose develops when life develops. Life did not develop until the end of the war and for 30 years after independence. Any hope for the development of prose in Tamil lies in the future. I do not subscribe to the view that Tamil is dying a slow death. Expressive phrases simple or complex are born in intense social situations that arise in a nation whose daily life goes through waves of throbbing intensity.

English prose rose to great heights. The masters of English prose rode like a colossus constantly enriching the language by finer expressions of refined sentiments. The simplest idioms of English which children learn at school and at home are an ornament by their simplicity which is elegance. When an eminent writer describes the liquid lustre of her animated eyes, he is successfully trying his hand at an embellishment. Most of us think in Tamil and translate it into correct, good English, but the genius of the language will not emerge out of it. We say ‘he is a proud man', but the native idiom may choose to describe him as one eaten up with pride. We say ‘he is extravagant in his spending'. It will never strike us to say ‘he has no turn for economy'. The context of life, when it is intense or important or both is an occasion for an idiom to spring up. The Tamil colloquial word ‘summa', though a colloquial phrase, is so expressive of several contexts in daily life. It will refuse to go into English, as ‘one minute too soon' refuses to go into Tamil. Inspiration for writing cannot come in a foreign language, especially when works of classical nature are to be brought out. It has to emerge in the mother tongue

story | by Dr. Radut