Chennai: “It’s elementary my dear Watson.” On hearing just this one line, if you felt you were into a Sherlock Holmes’ realm of essaying forensic precision with patience and gravitas to get at the ‘Truth’ at any cost, just hold your breath for a minute!
Ms Lakshmi Devnath’s just republished book, ‘Poorva’, comes as an admirable demonstration that Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous one-liner in the mouth of his equally world famous detective-protagonist, could enable communicative synergies for a modern, tech-savvy youth to take wings and dwell into the space and times of the 12 famous Vaishnavite saints of medieval South India.
For the ‘elementary’ something that anchors the entire ‘Bhakti’ tradition of ‘Vaishnavisim’ in this part of the country, as it comes out through her work, is the unshakable belief that “all the Aazhvaars are incarnations of Lord Vishnu” one way or the other, besides their immense contributions to Tamil hymnology.
In another place, Devnath’s co-protagonist, an elderly Swami who takes the school girl Poorva, around whose ‘chatter-box’ queries the narrative revolves, in a magical journey over the clouds to transcendentally revisit the lives of these 12 great saint-poets, has a rhetorical poser with a line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
“How fell you besides your five wits?” It means, “how did you lose” your five senses? “Languages change over the centuries Poorva,” adds the Swami.
In an age of smart phones and DVDs, when Gen-next have lost sense of the oral traditions that made and re-made India’s religious matrix over the centuries, the
author has revitalised a dysfunctional mode of story-telling in an engaging, lucid style sans heavy technical jargons, and with all warmth for the girl child, largely
neglected in Indian society.
The title ‘Poorva’ itself seems a subtle blend of a proper name and a metaphor of our times- tossed by acts of remembering and forgetting.
From the earliest known ‘Aazhvaars’ — Poigai, Bootham and Pey Aazhvaar in the sixth C.E., — the greatest Nammaazhvaar and Aandal, to how Naathamuni in the 10th C.E. rediscovered the poems of all these ‘Aazhvaars’, the author has covered considerable ground with useful glossary and sketches that should engage the elderly readers as well. As the Swami hints to Poorva, when one closes one’s physical eyes, the inward eyes open a whole new world of how the self can be related to the all-pervasive Being....