TN literature enthusiast translates Sangam Tamil poems

P Chenthil Nathan

Chennai: Tamil texts are aplenty; so are the English translations. Despite abundant resources available online, exposure to Tamil literature is not a routine. But here is P Chenthil Nathan, who gives his followers daily dose of Tamil literature through his Twitter handle @OldTamilPoetry.

A mechanical engineer by education, he runs a transport company in Thoothukudi. Amid his everyday business, Chenthil makes it a point to devote an hour to translate one stanza of classical Tamil poetry.

“One of my friends brought to my attention of Joel Christenson, a Twitter user and a professor, who was translating Greek poems. I was in my nascent stages of translating poems. She gently asked me if I can do something similar and that is how this project came into existence,” Chenthil recalls while he speaks to News Today.

Thus began his quest to spread the glory of Tamil in 2016.

Initially, he was working on Naaladiyar and Thirukkural owing to its simplicity and straightforward meaning. Due to character limitations set by Twitter, he began to share the screenshot of the original and translated verse and drop his blog’s link.

“Gradually, the followers’ base expanded as I began posting every day,” Chenthil adds.

Previously, in 2007 he says that he used his personal blog for translating and Chenthil started from modern poetry and travelled back in time and later this project happened.

Asked about criteria for picking verses, the translator adds, “I choose randomly. At times, I pick the ones that are relevant to the current happenings.”

He admits that his work has shed light about the classical language. “I began to read consistently. I would not have been able to speak about Sangam poems a decade ago and now, I know that 44 poetess, besides men, have contributed to the literature 2,000 years ago. To my knowledge, no other language has so many poetess. It has provided me an opportunity to learn more about Tamil history through literature,” the bi-linguist shares.

On seeing his consistent work, Joel Christenson flew down to Chennai. “His Greek students were doing a research on pepper trade between ancient Rome and Tamilnadu. I was explaining them how the term was coined. Pepper in Tamil is known as ‘Thippili’; in Greek, it is ‘Pippili’. The English name for the spice was derived from the Greek term and thus it got the name pepper,” Chenthil adds.

Asked about the verse he admires a lot from the vast literature, he admits it is difficult to pick one stanza. He pauses for a while and quotes 192nd poem from Purananooru. “The verse speaks about accepting everyone, no matter no matter where they hail from or the language they speak. To put it in simple terms, we are responsible for our actions and not others. If analysed, it negates the external force like God or any other person. It also teaches us how our ancestors treated everyone on par without discriminating on any grounds,” he adds.

Having worked consistently, Chenthil wishes to compile his work as a book.

Bhavani Prabhakar