Memoriam: Poet Pulamaipithan

A die-hard Eelam supporter dies at 86

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 12, 2021

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Pulavar Pulamaipithan

Renowned die-hard Eelam supporters in Tamilnadu, who could courageously express their views in public platforms, are not that many now. In these days of political sycophancy to rulers in power at the New Delhi for personal gains, it is not so easy to carry the Eelam issue on one’s shoulders. Even the mighty Tamil agitator M. Karunanidhi (1924-2018), five time Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, found it a big burden in the last three decades of his life.

But poet Pulamaipithan, born 11 years junior to Karunanidhi, had no concern in openly espousing the Eelam issue in Tamilnadu platforms, for the last four decades since 1980 till his death on Sept. 9th. His geriatric face is easily identified with the left and right blocks of white thick moustache accentuating his white scalp hair.

Pulamaithan was born on Oct. 6, 1935 at the Pallapalayam village, near Coimbatore. His birth name was Ramasamy. Only recently, in my tribute to actor—singer K.R. Ramasamy, I had written that five different Ramasamys had gained recognition as actors in the Tamil cinema world. [https://sangam.org/reflections-on-k-r-ramasamy-1914-1971/]. Factually, I was wrong on that point, because we need to add lyricist Pulamaipithan as well, in this list. Technically, I may right, because Pulamipithan did NOT use his birth name in the public platforms. He was identified only by his pseudonym ‘Pulamaipithan’.

Depending on usage, the ancient Tamil word ‘pithan’ [literally, crazy or crank or madman] has auspicious as well as derisive connotations. As a mythological anecdote goes, 8th century Saint Sundaramurthy Nayanar (aka Sundarar) had once scolded Lord Shiva as ‘pithaa’ (crazy guy). And the Lord himself had commanded Sundarar to compose a hymn for him, using the same word ‘Pitha’; thus was the origin of one of the popular devaram hymns of Saint Sundarar, ‘Pitha – pirai soodi’. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarar]

In the first half of the 20th century, an influential Tamil fiction writer C. Viruthachalam (1906-1948), became popular by his pseudonym Puthumaipithan (i.e., novelty crazy-nut). One of 1950s MGR movie title also carried this name ‘Puthumaipithan’, and it was scripted by Karunanidhi! Could it be, that Pulamaipithan’s choice of his pseudonym was a play on Puthumaipithan? Translated into English, Pulamaipithan vaguely means ‘Knowledge crazy nut’! Or could it be that, he wanted to deviate from the practice of having the popular pseudonym suffix ‘dasan’ (literally, lover or slave) prevalent among Tamil movie lyricists – Bharatidasan, Kambadasan, Kannadasan, Suppurathnadasan (Su-ra-tha) and Ramaiahdas.

Pulamaipithan’s undisputed claim to Eelam fame was the fact that he was the one who influenced MGR’s (then holding the Chief Minister position of Tamil Nadu) mind to lend support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the first half of 1980s. By this deed, he brought about the meeting of LTTE leader Prabhakaran with MGR. As he had served as the Deputy Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council between 1980 and 1983, he had access to MGR’s ears. Following poet Kannadasan’s death in October 1981, MGR had offered the poet laureate position to Pulamaipithan as well.

A long interview of Pulamaipithan to the Tamilnet, recorded in 2008, when the poet visited Oslo is one of the valuable records in Tamil Eelam digital archives. The link is,

https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=39956&fbclid=IwAR2LYaN79Lp4LYfdMD0XgHuf17idIi8ZyVeNVk7wlJMfn4Fl0tKJ1s3FWdw

In this interview, Pulamaipithan had recorded his impressions on the Tamilnadu politics, MGR’s affinity to Prabhakaran’s LTTE and Karunanidhi’s lack of interest in Eelam affairs in preference to his personal politics. One item which impressed me in this interview was Prabhakaran’s response to the perennial question of why he had failed to incorporate other Eelam Tamil militant groups, to build up a more powerful Tamil Eelam army. Even Pulamaipithan acknowledges that this particular response by Prabhakaran bowled him over. What was Prabhakaran’s candid response then? ‘We are not in the game of playing politics for a victory in the next election. We are in the midst of fighting a war with the Sinhalese government. Those who are willing fight this war with us, are always welcome in our team. Only those who are reluctant to engage in this fight, stay in the side to engage in politics.’

It was also revealed by Pulamaipithan in this interview, that his personal relationship with MGR did have rough edges as well, partly due to the tale-carriers in MGR’s immediate circle. Pulamaipithan, informed about one particular incident in early 1980s, when MGR was making a valiant attempt to woo Indira Gandhi to his side. At a poet’s colloquium, Pulamaipithan had strongly attacked Indira in stage, for her inactivity relating to the Eelam Tamil’s issue. This was not to MGR’s liking, and both were not in talking terms for months. Then, Pulamaipithan had written a letter to MGR, criticizing his deed using a second person singular word ‘Nee’ in Tamil. In Tamil culture, using this second person singular word to an elder is a big insult. And MGR was older to him by 18 years! But, MGR took that letter missile sportingly with age-assured maturity, and had laughed it off, by showing to his Cabinet colleagues and quipping, ‘Look, how a poet gets angry like this’? Maybe, being a qualified poet saved Pulamaipithan, as MGR would have taken poet’s anger as an expression of poetic license!

I had noticed that a few young obituarists and political commentators in India had noted that Pulamaipithan played a role in MGR’s image build up, especially after his departure from the DMK party in 1972. I hesitate to buy this line because, this is an exaggeration of facts and an insult to the ‘MGR persona’ builders of 1950s and 1960s; namely, lyricists Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, Kannadasan and Vaali, playback singers

Chidambaram S. Jayaraman, T.M. Soundararajan and Sirkazhi Govindarajan, as well as directors P. Neelakantan, T.R. Ramanna, K. Shankar and M.A.Thirumugam. These folks had provided the essential firm foundation for the MGR platform, and what lyricists

Pulamaipithan and Muthulingam did in the first half of 1970s has to be considered as ‘an icing in the cake’.

Pulamaipithan’s first lyric to MGR was in the ‘Kudiyiruntha Kovil’(The Family Abode at a Temple, 1968) movie, Naan Yaar – Nee Yaar, sung by T.M. Soundararajan. For the song sequence, MGR plays the role of a psychiatric patient, with verve. MGR himself had selected this movie as the 10th among the 14 movies which influenced his career, because he received the State award for the first time, for playing double roles.

The Youtube link for this song is,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QvcL3BOFz

One of the extremely popular Pulamaipithan songs for MGR, was in the 1975

‘Ninaithathai Mudipavan’ [One who completes what he wishes] movie, sung with gusto by T.M. Soundararajan. Though MGR appears for this song sequence in a gaudy green colored costume, it was considered as an auspicious song for Tamil weddings and played to bless the newlyweds. The Youtube link for this song is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqCHSvHYURM

The popularity of the particular lyric indicated that Pulamaipithan had come top with his competition. MGR had judiciously used one song from each of his designated lyricists, Maruthakasi, Kannadasan and Vaali, for this movie, and Pulamaipithan did shine in rivalry.

It’s to his talent that even in the post-MGR world of Tamil cinema, Pulamaipithan had a prolific career as a lyricist. Compared to his contemporary lyricists in the Tamil movie world, Pulamaipithan was also blessed with a long life. This attested to the fact that he was free from the vices (liquor) and ill health that plagued his contemporaries. It was a worthy life indeed.

 

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