Ool (karma) in Thirukkural

September 14, 2011

After translating 370 couplets from Thirukkural, I ran into a translator’s dilemma, when I encountered the chapter on Ool (ஊழ்). Should I translate this chapter, when I dont believe in it (after a superficial skimming), or shall I skip this chapter and move on to the next one? After a lot of deliberation, I decided to give it a deeper reading before coming to a conclusion. And, I am glad I did that. Instead of posting the kurals one by one of Facebook and Twitter, like I’ve done before, I am giving the entire chapter here on my blog;  since, there is a lot of scope of misinterpreting individual kurals, in this chapter, without a holistic perspective.

I am refraining from using the word fate or destiny, since there is a significant difference between ool and fate. [I am writing ool instead of oozh, since I belief zh doesnt serve the purpose for non-Tamils anyway.)  Fate, as per OED, is the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. Ool or karma, in an Indian context as per Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, and as rightly put in OED, is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future.

This belief was at the core of Gandhi’s thoughts.  “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.”

Swami Vivekananda, also, put it eloquently : “Men generally lay all the blame of life on their fellowmen, or failing that, on God, or they conjure up a ghost, and say it is fate. Where is fate and who is fate? We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise.”

The way Thiruvalluvar has dealt with Ool  is very interesting. As in most other kurals, it is more poetic than spiritual. The rationality is probably too rational that it almost sounds irrational for self-professed rationalists like me. While, I definitely still dont subscribe to the idea of previous and future births, I am viewing this as a poet’s liberty to exaggerate, and make his point.

Ool is almost a character in my other favourite Tamil classic, Chilapathikaaram.

So, here is the Chapter 38 from Thirukkural : Ool

Constructive ool causes tireless endeavor leading to prosperity;
destructive ool causes indolence. [371]

Malign ool blunts one’s intelligence;
in its turn, benign ool sharpens it. [372]

Even if knowledge comes through profound books,
one’s innate wisdom remains dominant. [373]

The world is stratified based on two factors:
wealth and wisdom; and, they are not correlated. [374]

While seeking wealth, positive aspects can turn harmful;
and negative aspects beneficial. [375]

Strive hard, we may; but what we don’t deserve doesn’t stay,
and what we deserve, we can’t dispose. [376]

One may amass wealth worth crores, but can consume
only as ordained by the Ordainer (based on ool). [377]

Even those who possess nothing to enjoy will ‘renounce’,
if only one can escape the misery that is to be suffered. [378]

Why bemoan the misery caused by ool,
when one enjoys the good without complaint. [379]

Is there anything mightier than ool? It remains dominant
despite all plans devised to counter it. [380]

It is interesting to note that Valluvar doesn’t say constructive ool causes prosperity; it causes effort. Throughout these 10 kurals, Thiruvalluvar is building up Ool as a very potent character, like in the best works of fiction,  and then deals ool a deadly blow (and answers the question he asked in kural 380), when he says later on,

“Even if god has given up, perseverance will yield positive results. ” [619]

“Those who persevere without ever giving up, will defeat even ool”. [620]

The original couplets in Tamil :

அதிகாரம் 38 : ஊழ்

ஆகூழாற் றோன்று மசைவின்மை கைப்பொருள்
போகூழாற் றோன்று மடி.  [371]

பேதைப் படுக்கு மிழவூ ழறிவகற்று
மாகலூ ழுற்றக் கடை. [372]

நுண்ணிய நூல்பல கற்பினு மற்றுந்தன்
னுண்மை யறிவே மிகும். [373]

இருவே றுலகத் தியற்கை திருவேறு
தெள்ளிய ராதலும் வேறு. [374]

நல்லவை யெல்லாஅந் தீயவாந் தீயவு
நல்லவாஞ் செல்லவஞ் செயற்கு. [375]

பரியினு மாகாவாம் பாலல்ல வுய்த்துச்
சொரியினும் போகா தம. [376]

வகுத்தான் வகுத்த வகையல்லாற் கோடி
தொகுத்தார்க்குந் துய்த்த லரிது. [377]

துறப்பார்மற் றுப்புர வில்லா ருறற்பால
வூட்டா கழியு மெனின். [378]

நன்றாங்கா னல்லவாக் காண்பவ ரன்றாங்கால்
அல்லற் படுவ தெவன். [379]

ஊழிற் பெருவலி யாவுள மற்றொன்று
சூழினுந் தான்முந் துறும். [380]

Yadugiri’s biography of Bharathi

September 11, 2011

I came across this wonderful biography of Bharathi by Yadugiri Ammal. Yadugiri knew Bharathi, when she was a child. And, this biography sketches the portrait of the great poet from a child’s perspective. While this book was written much later in her life, Yadugiri has showed remarkable restraint in narrating only incidents that she had seen on her own. She had kept the child, who adored Bharathi, alive in her 40-year old mind, giving us also a glimpse into the life of the reformer, revolutionary, swadheshi, and, above all, poet.

The translation by Arasi is quite good.

Part I

Part II


The Politics of grief : Granta article

September 11, 2011

V.V.Ganeshananthan has written a moving article on dealing with grief on Granta magazine. As an Indian Tamil, who has helplessly watched an unbearable human tragedy unfold to his brethren in Srilanka, I am still struggling to come to terms with what my grief means and whether I am even eligible to grieve.

Ganeshananthan leaves us heavier with unmourned and unshared grief.

You may never have heard of these deaths before, and you may never hear of them again, but in the spring of 2009, tens of thousands of civilians who were ethnically Tamil, as I am ethnically Tamil, were killed in Sri Lanka, the country where my parents were born and I was not.


As I watched what was happening, it seemed to me unbelievable that I could stand knowing about such a large atrocity in such depth. It seemed unbelievable that I had not died from this – that this level of grief was perhaps only a first circle.


It is a way of humiliating people, to say that their dead are not dead, to say that people are not even allowed to mourn. There was little room for the legitimate expression of grief during the war, and after it was over, what little was there dwindled.


I do not want to be defined by disaster. I do not think this would help anyone, and it seems another way of letting disaster win. Still, it is important to me to keep the solidarity I feel not only for the living, but also for the dead, whose deaths were not necessary.


My grief will not destroy me. In some times and places, we are given the space to build our memorials. Perhaps in others, we must learn to become them, even as we go on.