Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kannadasan's gems

I grew up with the comforting, encouraging, optimistic, uplifting, inspirational, empathetic, humourous (among other adjectives) lyrics of Kannadasan, the genius poet of the Tamil silver screen. Nothing was perfect for a lift in the spirits like Mayakkama Kalakkama or Ninaipadhellam nadandhu vitaal emanating from a teakadai radio, especially when you are coming back from a low score in math. Or whatever was getting one down.
Many a night at dinner, my family members would sit around discussing the various aspects of his lyrics, long after the dinner was despatched, (with hands almost drying, you didn’t want to get up to something as pedestrian as washing hands lest you should miss out on something).
Here I’m attempting to translate some his songs that affected me deeply (and still do), because I think his songs should reach even those who don’t understand Tamil.
While I’m aware of the limitations of translation as an exercise, and the fact that it seldom does justice to the original, I hope to do the best I can in presenting some of my favourite songs and their meanings. To my limited knowledge, no body combined simplicity and profundity with such ease and beauty. Kaviarasu, (meaning King of Poets), will always be that. Period.
So here goes.

Yaarada manidhan ange

Yaarada manidhan ange
Kootivaa avanai inge
Iraivan padaippil kurangu thaan meedhi inge

Where is Man
Bring him here
All that remains in God’s creation is the monkey

Manidharil naaygal undu
Manadhinil narigal undu
Paarvaiyil puligal undu
Pazhakkathil paambu undu
Nayum, nariyum puliyum paambum
Ulavum ulagathile
Naanam panbuu …konda
Manidhanai thedugiren

In men, there are dogs,
In hearts, there are foxes
In eyes, there are tigers
In behaviour (relationships), there are snakes
In a world of dogs, fox, tigers and snakes, I’m searching for a man
With qualities such as manners, culture and love.

Sirippinil manidhanillai
Azhgayil manidhan illai
Ullathil mandihan illai
Urakkathil mandihan undu
Vaazhum mirugam thoongum dheivam
Idaie manidhanada
Engo avanum irundhal
Ulagam vanagumada

In laughter, Man isn’t
In tears, Man isn’t
In his heart, Man isn’t (surprise, you’d think otherwise here but that’s the twist)
In sleep, Man is.
Living beast sleeping Divinity,
In between is Man
If he is to be found to be anywhere
The world will worship him.

Vaazha ninaithaal – (I like the first stanza of this song, so I’m skipping the second stanza)

Vaazha ninaithaal vaazhalam
Vazhiya illai boomiyil
Aazha kadale pola yaavum
Aasai irundhal neendhi vaa

If you want to live, you can
Aren’t there ways on earth?
Everything is like the deep ocean
If you have the desire, swim and come.

Paarka therindhal paadhai theiryum
Paarthu nadandhal payanum thodarum
Payanam thodarndhaal kadhavu thirakkum
Kadhavu thirandhal kaatchi kidaikkum
Kaatchi kidaithaal kavalai theerum
Kavalai theerndhal vaazhalam

If you know how to see, the path will become clear
If you walk carefully, the journey will continue
If the journey continues, the door will open,
When the door opens, what you seek will be there,
When you find what you seek, worries will disappear
When worries disappear, you can live.

Yezhu swarangalukkul – a fantastic song, apparently done in five minutes, but rendered horribly by the ‘keechu kural’ Vani Jayaram. I’ll never understand why music directors, with their keen sense of hearing, can’t make out who can hit high pitch without sending listeners running for plugs and who cannot.

Yezhu swarangalukkul, ethanai paadal
Idhaya surangathul ethanai kelvi
Kaanum manidharukkul ethanai salanam
Verum karpanai sandoshathil avanadhu gavanam

(How many songs in seven notes
How many questions in the tunnel that’s one’s heart?
How many disturbances in the people you see?
In empty imaginary pleasures lies his attention

Aarambathil pirappum un kayil illai
Pinbu aduthaduthu nadakkum, un kayil illai
Paadhai vagutha pinbu bayanddhenna laabam
Adhil payanam nadhi vidu, maraindhidum paavam

In the beginning, birth isn’t in your hands
Then one thing happens after another, that’s not in your hands either
Once you’ve decided on a path, what’s the point in getting scared
Walk that path and the sins will disappear

Yenakkaga nee azhalam iyarkail nadakkum
Nee enakkaga unavu unna eppadi nadakkum?
Namakendru boomiyile kadamaigal undu
Adhai namakkaga nam kayyal seivadhu nandru

You can cry on my behalf, it’s possible (in nature)
How can you eat for me?
We all have our duties to perform
It is best if we do them ourselves

Naalai pozhudhondru undu adhu namakkena vaazhgha
Adhai nadatha oruvanundu koilil kanga
Velai pirakkum endru nambikkai kolga
Endha vedhanayummaarum megathai pole

There’s tomorrow, live in the belief that it’s for us,
There’s someone to guide it, find Him in the temple
Believe that your time will come
Because every sorrow is like the shifting clouds


Ninaippadhellam nadandhu vital
Deiyvam edhumillai
Nadandhadhaye ninaithirundhaal
Amaidhi engum illai
Mudindha kadhai Thodarvadhillai
Iraivan ettinile
Thodarndha kadhai mudivadhillai
Manidhan veetinile

If all your dreams come true, there’s no God
If you keep worrying about what’s happened, there’s no peace
A story that’s finished doesn’t continue in God’s books
A story that continues doesn’t end in Man’s house.

Aayiram vaaasal idhayam
Adhil aayiram ennangal udhayam
Idhil yaaro varuvar yaaro iruppar
Varuvadhum povadhum theriyadhu
Oruvar mattum kudi irundhal thunbam yedhumillai
Ondrirukkak ondru vandhaal endrum amaidhi illai

The thousand gated heart
In it there are thousands of thoughts arise
In it someone will come, someone will stay
No one knows who comes and who leaves
If only one stays, there is no sorrow,
If one comes in when someone is already there, there is no peace

Enge vaazhkai thodangum
Adhu enge evvidham mudiyum
Idhu dhaan paadhai idhu dhaan payanam
Enbadhu yaarukkumtheiryadhu
Paadhai ellam maarividum
Payanam mudindhu vidum
Maaruvadhai purindhu kondal
Mayakkam thelindhu vidum

Where does life start
Where does it end,
Is this the path? Is this the journey?
No one knows
The paths will change, the journey will end
If you understand the change, the confusion will be clarified


Mayakkama kalakkama
Manadhile kuzhappama
Vaazhkayil nadukkama?
(Confused? Stressed?
Indecisionin your heart?
Is there trembling in life? ( Meaning is there fear?)

Vaazhkai endral aayiram irukkum
Vaasal thorum vedhanai irukkum
Vandha thunbam edhuvendraalum
Vaadi nindral oduvadhillai
Edhayum thaangum idhayam irundhal
Irudhi varaikkum amaidhi nilakkum

There are thousands of things in life (that’s life)
At every door step there will be worries
Whatever problems that may come to you
They won’t go away of you sit there wilting (in hoplessness)
If you have a strong heart
There will be peace till the end

Ezhai manadhai maaligai aaki
Iravum pagalum kaaaviyam padi
Naalai pozhudhai iravanukku alithu
Nadakkum vaazhvil amadhiyai thedu
Unakkum keezhe ullavar kodi
Ninaithu paarhu nimmadhi naadu

Transform your poor heart
Into a huge mansion
Sing epic songs every day
Leave tomorrow to God
And seek peace in today’ life
There are millions of people worse off than you
Think about it and seek peace

Yaar sirithaal enna
Yaar sirithaal enna
Ingu yaar azhudhal enna
Theirvadhu endrum therindhu vidum
Maraivadhu endrum maraindhu vidum
Yaar sirinthal enna

How does it matter who laughs
And who cries here
Whatever has to be known will be known
Whatever has to disappear will disappear
So who cares who’s laughing?

Indru netru vandhadhellam
Naalai maaralam
Neeril thondrum nizhalgalai pole
Nilai illamal pogalam
Naan paarthu ondraga thondralam
Nee paarthu veraga maaralam
Varuvadhu ondru therivadhu ondru
Mei ondru poi endru thondrumpodhu
Yaar sirithaal enna?

Things that come today and yesterday may change tomorrow
Like shadows on water, temporary
It may seem like something to me
And quite another to you
When what’s confronting is one and what’s seen is something else
How does it matter who laughs…

Kan malarndha paarvai ellam kaatchi aagalam
Kaathciyaaga aanadhelam kai varamal pogalam
Poothendral puyalaga maaralam
Pon veiyil nilavaga kaayalam
Varuvadhu ondru therivadhu ondru
Mei ondru poi endru thondrumpodhu
Yaar sirithaal enna?

Whatever you descry when you open your eyes may become a scene
Whatever thus seen may escape your grasp
Soft breeze can turn into a violent storm
Golden sunshine may feel like cool moonlight
When what’s confronted is one and what’s seen is something else
How does it matter who laughs…

Yaarai nambi

Yaarai nambi naan pirandhen
Pongada ponga en kaalam vellum
Vendra pinne vaangada vaanga

Whom did I trust in when I was born?
So go away
My time will come when I’ll be victorious (successful)
Then you all will come to me

Nenjamirukku thunivaaga
Neramirukkku therlivaga
Ninathal mudippen sariyaaga
Nee yaar naan yaar poda po
Aadiyile kaathadicha aipasiyil mazhai varum
Thedi varum kaalam vandha sondham ellam odi varum

My heart is strong and brave
My time is clear
I’ll finish what I set out to do
Who are you and who am I? Get lost (Meaning we’ll see who wins in the end, sort of a challenge)
If the wind blows in the month of Adi it will rain in Aipasi (Natural course of events like, if winter is there can spring be far behind type sentiment)
When (good luck) comes looking for me
All the relatives will come to looking for me (Fair weather people)

Thennaiya petha ila neeru
Pillaiye petha kanneeru
Pethavanan maname pithamma
Pillayin maname kallamma
Paanayile sorirundha
Poonaigalum sonndhamada
Vedhanaye pangu vacha
Sondhamille bandhamille

If you plant coconut sapling, you get coconut water
If you plant seed for children, you get tears
Parents’ heart is mad (crazy for kids)
The children’s heart is stone
When there is food in the pot even cats are your relatives
When you want to share your sorrow no relative, no nothing


Buddhi ulla manidhnellam vetri nkanbadhillai
Vetri petra manidharellam buddhisali illai

Intelligent people don’t always become successful
All those who succeed are not necessarily intelligent

Panamirukkum manidharidam gumanamiruppadhillai
Gunamairukkum manidharidam panamiruppadhillai
Panamirukkum veetinela vandhadhellamsondham
Panamilladha veeetinile sondham ellam …

The rich are not generous
The generous are not rich
A rich man has many relatives
The poor, none

Kanavu kaanum manidhanuku
Kanbadhellam kanavu
Avan kaanuginra kanavinile
Varuvadhellam uravu
Avan kanavil aval varuval
Avanai paarthu sirppal
Aval kanavil yaar varuvar
Yaarai paarthu azhaippar?

For a day-dreamer
Everything he sees is a dream
In his dream all that comes is relationship (sexual fantasies I think)
In his dream, she will come
And smile at him
In her dream, who’ll come
And call whom?

Yaar andha nilavu – A favourite of mine. This song is about a guy who marries someone but is interested in someone else because he gets forced into a marriage to a mentally ill woman)

Yaar andha nilavu
En indha kanavu?
Yaaro solla yaaro endru
Yaaro vandha uravu
Kaalam seiydha kolam
Ingu naan vandha varavu

Who’s that moon
Why this dream?
What was thought was different from what turned out
In this relationship
It‘s the design of Time and its result
My being here.

Maalayum manjalum maariyadhe oru vedhanai
Manjam nenjam maaruvadhe oru sodhnai
Deiyvame yaaridam yaarai
Nee koduthayo?
Un koil deepam maaruvadhai
Nee ariyayo?

The way the garland and turmeric changed was testing (turmeric is an auspicious thing applied during weddings)
The change in the bed and the heart was a pain
Oh God, who did you gibe to whom?
Do you know the lamps at your temple are changing?

Aadiya naadagam mudiyavillai
Oru naalile
Angum ingum saanthi illai
Silar vaazhvile
Deiyvame, yaaridam maedail nee nindrayo
Indru yaarai yaarai nerinile nee kandayo

The play (we took part in) didn’t end in a day
There’s no peace anywhere for some
Oh God, whom did you stand next to on the stage (at the wedding?)
Now who are you seeing in place of whom?

Manidhan ninaipadhundu (The first two stanzas are more appealing)

Manidhan ninaipadhundu
Vaazhvu nilaikkum endr
Iraivan ninaipadhundu
Paavam manidhan endru

Man might think
Life will go on forever
God might think
Poor Man

Thandhai tahavaru seidhaan
Thaayum idam koduthaal
Vandhu pirandhu vittom
Verum bandham valarthu vittom
Manadhu thudikindradhu
Mayakkam varugindradhu
Azhudhu laabam enna
Avan aatchi nadakindradhu

Father made a mistake
Mother allowed it
We came as a result
And let (meaningless) bonds grow
Heart is beating fast
Feel faint
What’s the point of crying
His rule is reigning


Maalai pozhudhin mayakkathile
Naan kanavu kanden thozhi
Manadhil irundhum vaarthaigalillai
Kaaranam en thozhi?
Inbam sila naal thunbam sila naal
Endradhu yaar thozhi
Inbam kanavil thunbam edhiril
Kanbadhum en ehozhi

In the woozy time of evening
I had a dream friend
No words issued from my heart
Why is it friend?
Who said pain is for a short time and pleasure is for a short time friend?
Pain in facing me and pleasure is only in dreams
Why friend?

Manamudithavar pol arugunile ore vadivu kanden thozhi
Mangay en kayil kungumam thandhaar maalyittar thozhi
Vazhi marandheno vandhavar nenjil saayndhu vitten thozhi
Avar maraven maraven endrar udane marandhu vittar thozhi
Parandhuvittar thozhi

I saw someone next to me who liked like he was married to me
He put kumkum (vermillion) in my hand and garlanded me
Did I forget my way?
I rested on the chest of the man who came
He said he will never forget but immediately forgot
And flew away

Kanavinil vandhavar yaarena keeten
Kanavar endrar thozhi
Kanavar endral avar kanavu mudindhadhum
Pirindhadhu En thozhi?
Ilamai ellam verum kanavu mayam adhil maraindhadhu sila kaalam
Thelivum ariyadhu mudivum theriyadhu mayangadhu edhir kaalam

I asked the person in my dream
Who he was, friend
He said he was my husband
If he was then why did he get separated after the dream, friend?
Youth is just an empty dreamy state, in which some time disappears
Without clarity and without knowing the end stutters the future.

Vandha naal mudhal

Vandha naal mudhal indha naal varaai
Vaanam maaravilai
Vaan madhiyum meenum kadal kaatrum
Malarum mannum kodiyum solayum nadhyium maaravillai
Mandihan maari vittan
Madhathil eri vittan

From the day we came here
Till today
The sky hasn’t changed
The moon in the sky, the stars, the fish, the oceans, the wind
The flowers, the earth, the creepers, the orchids, the rivers haven’t changed
But man has changed
He has climbed on religion

Nilai maarinaal gunammaaruvan
Dhinamjaadhiyum bedhamum kooruvan
Adhu vedham vidhi endrodhuvan
Manidhan maari vittan
Madhathil eri vittan

When his status changes, he will change his character
Every day he will preach about caste and the differences
He will say it’s in the scriptures and call it fate
Man has changed
He has climbed on religion

Inbamum kaadhalaum iyarkayin niyadhi
Etra thaazhvugal manidhanin jaadhi
Paaril iyarkai padaithadhai ellam
Paavi manidhan pirithu vaithane

Pleasure and love are the way of life
Ups and downs are the caste of Man
All that was created on the earth
The sinner, Man, has separated

Paravayai kandaan vimaanam padaithaaan
Paayum meenil padaginai kandan
Edhiroli kettan vaanoli padaithaan
Edhanai kandan madham thanai padaithan
Edhani kandaan panam thanai padaithaan?
Manidhan maari vittan

He saw the bird and invented the plane
He saw the fish and invented the ship
The echo he heard and he invented radio
What did he see that made him invent religion?
What did he see that made him invent money?
Man has changed

Veedu varai uravu – Classic. It’s based on a local custom according to which, when the man of the house dies, the relatives can only come till the entrance of the house, the wife can only come till the end of the street and only sons are allowed till the grave)

Aadiya aattam enna pesiya vaarthai enna
Thediya selvam enna thirandodhor sutram enna
Koodu vittu aavi ponal koodave varuvadhenna?

What dance we danced*
What all we said
What wealth we accumulated
How many relatives surrounded us
When the soul leaves the body
What comes along?

(*here dance mean the way we behave when we are drunk with power and money and prestige)

Veedu varai uravu
Veedhi varai manaivi
Kaadu varai pillai
Kadaisi varaai yaaro?

Till the house, the relatives
Till the street end, the wife
Till the grave, the son
Till the end, who?

Aadum varai aattam
Aayirathil naattam
Koodi varum kootum
Kolli varai varuma?

We play till we can
Being interested in thousand things
The crowd that’s with us
Will it come till the grave?

Thotilukku annai
Kattilukku kanni
Pattinukku theeni
Ketta pinbu gnani

For the cradle, mother
For the bed, woman
For hunger, food
After everything’s gone bad, wise man.

Sendravanai kettal vandhu vidu enban
Vandhavani kettal sendru vidu enban

If you ask the departed he will say come with me
If you ask the newborn he will say go back

Nilavai paarthu

Nilavai paarthu sonnadhu
Ennai thodadhe
Nizhalai paarthu boomi sonnadhu
Nadhiyai paarthu naanalsonnadhu
Ennai thodadhe
Naalai paarthu iravu sonnadhu
Ennai thoadadhe

The sky tells the moon, ‘Don’t touch me’
The ground tells the shadow, ‘Don’t touch me’
Grass on the banks tells the river, ‘Don’t touch me’
Night tells day, ‘Don’t touch me’

Pudhiyadhallave theendamai enbadhu
Pudhumaiallave adhai neeyum solvadhu
Sonna varthaiyum iraval thaanadhu
Thiruneelakandarin manaivi sonnadhu

Untouchability is nothing new
Neither the fact that it’s coming from you
Even those words are not new
They were uttered by Shiva’s wife

Thaalathai raagam thodadha podhile
Geedhathai nenjam thodamal pogume
Thandhai thannaye thai thodavidil
Naanum illaye neyumillaye

If the beat doesn’t touch the raga (tune)
The song will go without touching the heart
If mother ddiddn’t touch father
I won’t be here neither will you be

Thangam edutha kai adhu thangam parthadha
Dharmam seiydha kai sama dharmam kandadha
Aalayam seiyvom ange anumadhi illai
Nee andha kootame idhil ahisayam illai

The hand that touches gold doesn’t see it
The hand that gives generously, did it know about socialism
We make temples but cannot enter
You belong to that crowd, nothing unusual about it

Ponaal pogattum

Ponaal pogattum poda
Indha boomiyil nilayai
Vaazndhavar yaarada

If it’s gone
Let it be gone
Who has lived forever on this earth?

Vandhadhu theriyumpovadhu enge
Vazhkai namakke theriyadhu
Vandhavar ellam thangi vittaal
indha mannil namakke idamadhu?

We know where we came from
We know not where we go
If everyone who came here
Stayed back where’s the space for us?
Life is business
Life is income
Death is expense

Iraval thandhavan ketkindraan
Adhai illai yendral avan viduvaana
Uravail solli azhuvadhanale
Uyorai meendum tharuvana
Kookuralale kidaikkadhu
Idhu courtukku ponaal jaikaadhu
Andha kottayil nuzhaindhal thirumbaadhu

The lender asks for it back
Will he take no for an answer?
If you cry citing your relationship
Will he give the life back?
Hollering won’t bring it back
Neither can you win it in a court of law
When it enters that fortress, it won’t come back.

Elumbukkum sadhaikkum maruthuvam kanden
Idharkoru marundhai kandena
Irundhal avalai thannandhaniye eriyum neruppil viduvena?
Namakkum mele oruvanada
Avan naalum therindha kalaignanda
Dhinam naadagam aadum thalavanada

I found cure for bones and flesh
But did I find a cure for this (death)?
If I had, would I leave her all alone on the burning pyre?
There’s someone above us all
He knows everything
And plays this game every day