Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tamil A Biography by David Shulman

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Tamil A Biography

The book under review is an account of the Tamil language situated in its historical and linguistic context. It is one of the unfortunate intellectual legacies of the colonial era that many of the discredited theories pertaining to racial origin, evolution of language, scriptal literacy, religion are all wrapped up in the dense fog of ideology that it is today impossible to deal with some of these issues dispassionately. It takes a peace activist from Israel, the well known Indologist and historian, David Shulman to write about these and other issues with integrity and deep commitment to scholarship.

I have not come across a book that captures the complexity of Tamil literary and political history as eloquently and with scholastic depth as the present book. It is quite obvious that the present breed of Tamil "intellectuals" will rail against the account given by Shulman as he completely destroys the self serving myth, perpetuated over two centuries that Tamil has an origin independent of Sanskrit. Until Cauldwell made "Dravidian" into both a linguistic and racial characteristic, the term Dravida was used in Tamil literary works only as a geographical expression.

The nineteenth century which saw the crystallization of racially charged theories, bequeathed to India a toxic legacy in the form of the Aryan/Dravidian Dichotomy, the Aryan Invasion Myth, the conflict between the oldest Tamil language and the upstart Sanskrit language. All these theories, though discredited have traction due to the purchase of identity politics in India. Hence, it is essential to read Shulman very carefully as he has argued effectively that throughout the medieval period, the Age of the Cholas, Sanskrit enjoyed a privileged status in the royal court and that status was neither resented nor did it lead to the sort of shadow boxing we find in the last century when the "Pure Tamil " movement sought to expurgate Sanskrit from the Tamil language altogether.

David Shulman, unlike Asko Parpola and others is a recognized authority on Sanskrit Language and Literature and knows nearly 24 languages including Telugu, Kanada and a host of European and Asian Languages. His own early foray into Tamil history when he wrote Tamil Temple Myths marked him as one who uses literary texts in new and novel ways. The tallapuramam of medieval Tamil region were studies against the general background of history and iconography in this work which was followed by King and Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry a path breaking work on the textual construction of South Indian kingship. More recently, Whitney Cox has added to the thin corpus of historical investigation in his Politics, Kingship and Poetry in Medieval South India (Cambridge University Press, 2016). This line of investigation, a new historicist perspective that melds the fluid poetry of medieval Tamil compositions to the firm foundation of historiography.

Tamil A Biography demolishes three fundamental myths of the dominant political ideology prevalent in Tamil Nadu today and pervades the entire gamut of academic studies on early Tamil Language and Literature. As he says, "In modern South India Tamil has become a major criterion for collective identity, often seen now as forged in opposition to Sanskrit and an invasive north Indian culture and ideology". Shulman goes on to show that the Chola royal court was bilingual with Sanskrit enjoying the same status as Tamil and there is no sign of any conflict, real or imagined during the four centuries of Chola rule. The advent of the anti brahmin movent meant that the South Indian brahmins were represented as agents of the alien culture and that was used as a justification for excluding them form public and cultural life altogether. The scholarship of David Shulman goes a long way in correcting the distortions of the past. His discussion of the enduring presence of the Agasthya Myth, a north Indian therefore a putative Aryan as the founder of Tamil Grammar is both convincing and sound.

The date of the so called Cankam literary works and the presence of the enigmatic Kalabrahs are two vexed issues in early Tamil literary history. Following Tieken, Shulman also argues for a late date for the Cankam works, There is little evidence to show that the puram and akam varieties of poems were contemporaneous with the Roman presence in South India and the graffiti marks found on pot shrds from sites like Arikamedu, Porunthal, Kodumanal and other places do not help in tading the Cankam literary works. There seems to be a close association between Bhakti literature and the redacted bardic poetry of early Tamil region. His disdussion of the Sangam tradition based on the Velvikkudi Copper plate Inscription is interesting.

The work under review is a classic and will remain a reliable introduction to Tamil language and literary history.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Donald Trump Attacks Syria: War on False Pretext

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Donald Trump was elected President on the promise that he would Put America First, Make America Great Again was the rallying cry which unitied a vast swathe of supporters from white factory workers, to Latinos, to marginalized groups in US society. Almost all sections which sdaw their incomes fall their aspiration erode voted for Trump. The white privileged professional groups in the Academia, Media, Financial Institutions and in the Intelligence Organizations were solodly behind Hialry Clinton. Right from the start there was an attempt to delegitimize the election of Trump by suggesting overtly in the beginning and then it became an avalance of allegations that Russia under Putin had hijacked the Elections. Specifically the allegation was that Russia had hacked into the servers of the Democratic Party and acessed emails which embarassed and compromised the candidature of Clinton. The assumption behind the campaign was that had the misdeed of the leadership of the DNC colluding illegally with Hil;ary Clinton not been exposed, Trump would have been defeated. It is shocking that a sizeble section of the US media maintains this self serving  lie.

After his election there was a sustained campaign of weaning away a good number of pledged delegates from the Electoral College and transfer their votes to Clinton. In the final count, it was Hilary delegates who drifted into the Trump camp. Be taht as it may, Trump in his flamboyantly eloquent Inaugural Speech promised a end to the "American Carnage". And in resposne to a white correspondent who asked about the "killer" Putin, Trump honestly replied that "we are not exactly innocent". The honesty and forthrightness that had marked Trump's initial foray into the rarefied realm of diplomacy was met with utter derision by the White Liberal Media. Calls for his impeachment over the so called links with Russia were getting strident. Some like Fareed Zakharia of the CNN were openly sceptical about the stability of the Trump regime and the defeta of the repeal of Obamacare seem to imply the imminent demise of the Trump Presidency. To top it all, the Intelligency community was openly hostile and there was some speculation of the CIA doing a Kennedy on Trump. The President stood up to all these challenges well and earned the respect of all who felt that Trump no longer stood for American exectionalism and leadership over a unipolar world.

The hard earned respect that Trump had earned was dissipated when he ordered his crusie missiles to strike Syria as retaliation for an alledged "gas attack". The US medcia was quick to balme the Assad Government. It must be said that similar allegations were made in 2013 by John Kerry and the UN had certified that Syria did not possess chemical weapons. By making an issue of the chemical weapons and by stating publically that the use of chemical weapons would draw a quick retaliation from the uS, American policy seemed to encourage its loyal rebels to create a pretext for intervention. It is now apparent that the Free Syrian Army is being trained and fiananced by USA and a faction of the Free Syrian Army which is linked to ISIS is known to have stckpiles of chemical weapons. Strangely the US fights ISISI in Rraq and is supporting ISIS in Syria. The contradiction in this policy is clear to the whole world except to the Deep State that runs the US. It is clear that an influential section of the Media and the Intelligence Community is pushing USA in the direction of war.

It must be said to the credit of Donald Trump that he valiantly resisted yeilding to the pressures from the Deep State and now it is clear as daylight that he has bought peace without honour by launching a savage attack just to appear "Presidential".