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‘The Sweet Salt of Tamil’: Translation of ThoPa’s classic brings Tamil way of life to English readers

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New Delhi, Dec 31 (PTI) Twenty five years after it was first published in Tamil, an English translation of iconic Tamil writer Tho Paramasivan’s classic book “Ariyappadaatha Tamizhagam” offers a look into the Tamil way of life to English readers.

In “The Sweet Salt of Tamil”, translated by V Ramnarayan and published by Navayana, Paramasivan, popularly known as ThoPa, looks at the unknown and untold aspects of the Tamil country, including a deeper version of its history going back to the Sangam period of 6th century BCE, its literature, ways of life, food, festival, gods, and languages.

“Tho Paramasivan’s work on the unknown, untold, uncharted aspects of the Tamil country reads like notes and entries in a ledger. It has Borgesian flair, giving off the mixed scent of logic and lunacy. The text is dense with sights and insights,” S Anand, publisher, Navayana, said.

The book is divided into seven chapters diving into Tamil culture and traditions.

In ‘The Lie of the Land’, ThoPa looks at the changing and diversifying food traditions of the region he fondly calls “Tamizhagham”, the conceptual space of the premodern Tamil country.

Until the introduction of the chilli fruit, “milagai” in Tamil, in the 16th century from Chile, Tamils used black pepper to spice their food, which is also the etymological origin of the widely used term ‘curry’.

“As black pepper, karunkari or kari, is largely used in cooking meat, the word kari has become synonymous with non-vegetarian fare – known as curry globally. The Tamils did not greatly favour the use of white pepper or vaal milagu,” Paramasivan writes in the book.

He also adds that while ancient Tamil food was largely cooked by roasting, dry heating or steam cooking, fried foods, including items like vadai, bajji and mixture have become prominent only in recent times.

The late writer and academician also noted that with the increasing use of oil in Tamil households, the oil-free, steamed, dry-roasted or boiled food is fast disappearing.

In the chapter ‘The Fabric of Life’, Paramasivan has addressed Tamil traditions in housing, clothes, names, familial relationships, and wedding rituals including the tying of ‘taali’, a Tamil equivalent of mangalsutra.

Paramasivan also notes the use of ‘taali’ beyond marital traditions as a number of variations of the thread are said to have been used to ward off evil, as a symbol of bravery, and even to differentiate between different sects within a caste.

While it is customary in Tamil villages to tie together five tiny metal replicas of a dog, a key, a talisman, a coin and a peepul leaf in a child’s waist cord, ‘aimbadaittaali’, to ward off evil, Sangam-era works talk of men wearing ‘pulippal taali’ – the teeth of a tiger hunted and killed by them as a symbol of bravery.

The writer also remarked that social activist and politician Periyar was the first Indian thinker to speak and write against the institution of ‘taali’ ceremony as part of the ‘Self-Respect Movement’.

The Tamil leader believed “the ‘taali’ branded a woman as an object to be possessed; it was a reminder of the subservience of the woman who is ‘gifted’ to the man in ‘kanya danam’.

The book dwells upon the matters of festivals, gods and their relation with the different castes of the region. It also wades through the subjects of traditional Tamil games, cultural dynamics, languages, their aberrations and developments through time, and introduction of different religions into the Tamil culture.

The book is translated into English under an initiative of the Tamil Nadu government with an aim to enhance the reach of “Tamil antiquity, tradition and contemporaneity”. PTI MAH SHD SHD

This report is auto-generated from PTI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

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