Get subscribed to our newsletter
Get interesting updates to your email inbox.
Birbal, an intelligent and witty man, was a beloved courtier to Emperor Akbar. He was one of the youngest men of the court, who had the greatest influence on the ruler. Despite his Hindu background, he supported the Mughal ruler and even adopted Din-i-ilahi towards the end of his life. He died in a battle that he led against a rebel army. He belonged to the precious nine courtiers of Akbar's court known as the Navratnas (nine gems).
Born as Mahesh Das, Birbal was renamed in Akbar's court. He solved many petty issues with his wit and is known as a man of practical wisdom. He lives on today in the literature that shapes children's formative years, in application comedy for adults, and in folktales for everyone else. His wisdom is so unique and so practical that it does not take too much to understand it. At the same time, it is not something that can be easily emulated.
There are certain instances where Birbal's wit is not entirely useful, nonetheless, it provides for a good laugh. As a man who set out to make a change in the world, particularly in a king's court, he is a man who has left a rather impressive legacy for humility, loyalty, and unbounded talent. Although his position in the court was perhaps far more important than that of a jester, he is portrayed as one, and this remains for centuries.
He lives on in the tales of grandparents, in moral science textbooks for young children, and sometimes unconsciously in the decisions that we take daily. Many of the stories we have heard ourselves through various sources remain with us and reflect in the way we look at situations and understand their outcomes.
Birbal, as a character in a story, will not die away anytime soon. As a stalwart for common sense, and a symbol of exercising the innate ability to reason everyday phenomena, he will remain immortal in literature. Children of today and those of tomorrow will surely never tire of reading about him and his marvellous witticisms.
Keywords: Birbal Literature, Witticism, Navratna, Mughal rule in India, Akbar's nine gems, Indian literature
Like Konkani, Tulu is a language that is spoken in parts of Karnataka and Kerala. The people who speak this language are called Tuluvas, and in the southernmost region, they are known as Thigalayas. Among many dialects that Karnataka and Kerala are known for, Tulu makes up for a large part of the linguistic population, but still remains a linguistic minority because it has not been included in the Constitution's 8th schedule.
Tulu is believed to be one of the most linguistically developed languages among scholars. It does not have a script, like Konkani, as native speakers make do with Kannada and Malayalam scripts. The differences in sound and form are identifiable only to those who form what is known as Tulu Nadu.
An unofficial state within states, Tulu Nadu consists of Mangaluru, Udupi and parts of Kasargod. In these regions, the Tulu population is greater then surrounding areas where the language is spoken. When India was divided into states post partition, the Tuluvas asked for a separate state for themselves, but this was not granted keeping in mind the even greater Kannada speaking population who formed Karnataka.
Tulu is a language that borrows the script of Malayalam and Kannada Image credit: wikimedia commons
Tulu, as a language, remains a minority because it never received royal patronage. Krishnadevaraya, a renowned king of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, did not patronise this language even though it was his own mother tongue. He chose to laud poetry in Telugu instead, which affected the Tuluva community immensely in gaining prominence in their own land.
Even today, this community is working hard to be recognised as a population larger than they are considered to be. Many poets, authors, and literary figures from the community have contributed to Kannada literature, hoping to revive the knowledge and acknowledgement of Tulu.
Keywords: Tulu, Kannada, Karnataka, Tulu Nadu, Language
Amid resurgent questions over cultural identity and colonial legacies, the Nobel Prize for Literature 2021 has been awarded to the first writer since Sir V.S. Naipaul (2001) to deal with the vexed impact of colonialism and the dilemmas of travellers - forced or voluntary - among differing cultural milieus.
And new Nobel laureate - the Zanzibar-born, UK-based academician-cum-writer Abdulrazak Gurnah has, in his academic career, guided plenty of research on Sir Vidia, as well as Salman Rushdie, G.V. Desani, Anthony Burgess, and above all, Joseph Conrad, whose most powerful works dwelt on colonialism and its "civilising legacy" - in its very heyday.
Gurnah is known for a relatively small but significant oeuvre dealing with the 'clash' between home-grown tradition and colonialism in Africa and elsewhere, the disruptions in cross-culture encounters, especially for refugees, and construction of identity and memory, leavened with autobiographical elements. Awarded for his "uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents", he is the second writer after Japanese-born but UK-settled Kazuo Ishiguro (2017) to be conferred the Nobel for his work in English, despite it not being his "mother" tongue, and the first writer originating from out of the "West" since China's Mo Yan in 2012.
Gurnah, who came to the UK in the 1960s to study and eventually settled there as a refugee, obtained his PhD in 1982. After a stint at a Nigerian university, he has been teaching in the UK and his academic focus is postcolonial writing and colonial discourse, with focus on Africa, the Caribbean and India. This is reflected in his works - 10 novels in slightly over two decades, and a collection of short stories.
Set in an unnamed East African coastal town at the end of colonial rule, his literary debut "Memory of Departure" (1987) is a coming of age novel, in first person narration, picturesquely depicting the local culture and the role of its dynamics in moulding the persona of the protagonist, who finally decides to strike out for bigger prospects.The autobiographical elements recur in "Pilgrim's Way" (1988), a humorous but a bit dark account of a Muslim Tanzanian student Daud's fight for survival against marginalisation in an English provincial town, with his wit, imagination, mental mockery and letter-writing being his only weapons against the cultural philistines - unlike his Biblical namesake (David).
"Here I sit, making a meal out of asking you to dinner. I don't really know how to do it. To have cultural integrity, I would have to send my aunt to speak, discreetly, to your aunt, who would then speak to your mother, who would speak to my mother, who would speak to my father, who would speak to me and then approach your mother, who would then approach you," goes one letter by Daud to a prospective date.
But it was "Paradise" (1994), shortlisted for the Booker Prize and Whitebread Prize, that brought Gurnah into the centre stage. Enter twining myth, storytelling, and East African and European literary traditions, it is the rite of passage of Yusuf pawned by his father to a rich merchant he must accompany on dangerous trading expeditions from the East African coast into the interior as European rule looms. The contrasts with Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" are telling.
In "Admiring Silence" (1996), Gurnah deals with how distance affects the memory of a "perfect" homeland. The story of a Zanzibari man, who marries an English woman and writes romantic tales of the Africa he "remembers", it goes on to depict what ensues when he returns home.
"Desertion" (2005) lives up to its name. A combination of two stories - the account of a bunch of young siblings in the period of transition for colonialism, and a half-century old story of colonial contacts, cross-cultural romance and its impact, the story brings both strands into one in the unforgiving present.
But Gurnah doesn't always remain in the past. "Gravel Heart" (2017) is set in the Zanzibar of the 1970s, and while it reprises some elements of "Pilgrims' Way", it does so in a more unsentimental and harsher way.
His most recent work is "Afterlives" (2020), which deals with a different, shorter but more harsher colonial past, as the conflict in Europe spreads its shadow on Africa.
A welcome move by the Swedish Academy, which will help to dissipate its reputation for "Euro centrism", Gurnah's Nobel is a welcome step recognising voices dealing with one of the most vexing and patently ambiguous historical conundrums of present times. IANS/JB
Keywords: Noble Prize, Literature, Gurnah, Arts, Euro-centrism.
An integral part of Sangam Literature, Agam and Puram poetry constitute the primary cultural lens into the erstwhile Tamil kingdom. These poems are a central part of the Tolkapiyam, which is the most important text of the time, written by Thiruvalluvar.
Agam poems deal with love. They are an insight into the many different kinds of love that bordered on caste, kingdom, and religious differences. Some of the lost manuscripts which were stored in Oxford, UK, were translated by A.K. Ramanujan and rendered in the modernist style. What was originally a poem of 13-30 lines, was condensed to around 4-5 lines. These poems, however, keep the crux intact, and through them, cultural practices like illicit affairs, flora, fauna, and appearances of the people according to region are illustrated in detail.
Kurunji (mountains) and marutham (crops) Image source: wikimedia commons
The Puram poems deal with economy, state affairs, and kingship. These poems are longer and more diplomatic. They were probably read out in court, and had to be indirect in intent. Some of these poems talk about the religious influences on kingdoms, and draw heavily from regional epics.
Both the Agam and Puram poems are an important indicator of geography during the Sangam period. They are classified based on the type of landscape they feature. The five main landscapes mentioned are, kurunji (mountainous regions), mullai (forests), marutham (cropland), neithal (seashore), and palai (dry land). The use of words related to these landscapes signified either where the poet lived, or sought to live. Some of the flowers and animals referred to in the poems also indicate where the action is happening.
A map of Sangam landscapes (thinais) Image source: wikimedia commons
The Sangam period was a prosperous time in the history of South India, and the literature from this time reflects this. There are instances of war, but they are not large-scale. They were a people who had their own language, religion, epics, and literature, but only a few of these have survived to today's culture.
Keywords: Agam poems, Puram poems, Sangam literature, Tolkapiyam, Landscapes