The pitiful Tears of Tamiḻttāy
Finally, I turn to the tears of Tamiḻttāy, which, of all her bodily parts and substances, most clearly indexed her current state of utter distress. Especially from around the 1930s on, discourses of tamiḻppaṟṟu abounded with allusions to the weeping Tamiḻttāy, to the tearful Tamiḻttāy appealing to her children to help her, to Tamiḻttāy sitting in a corner, wailing away, and so on. Soon after the self-immolation of Chinnasami, Aranganathan, and Sivalingam in 1964-65, a DMK newsmagazine, Muttāram, carried a striking cover with the faces of these youths in the foreground. The backdrop is the close up of the face of a woman—most likely, Tamiḻttāy—with large drops of blood-red tears flowing down her cheeks (fig. 7). That Tamiḻttāy’s tears are meant to not just create affect, but also to incite and mobilize is clear from the following passage from Karunanidhi’s memoirs in which he describes the first large-scale political protest spearheaded by the DMK against the Congress and its Hindi policy. In 1953, the DMK called upon the Congress government to change the name of a town called Dalmiapuram in Tiruchi district (named after a North Indian cement magnate) to its Tamil original, Kallakudi. So, on 15 July, Karunanidhi and a group of his DMK followers reached the railway station of Dalmiapuram, erased the Hindi name on the station board, and painted the Tamil name of Kallakudi in its stead. They then proceeded to lie down on the railway tracks; in the resulting altercation between the police and the protesters, two men lost their lives, and many were severely wounded. Consider how Karunanidhi represents this event to his readers:
Having set the stage thus, Karunanidhi turns to describe the death of the first young man, Natarajan:
We have reached the battlefield. We have reached the place where our glorious Tamiḻttāy stands insulted. We have reached the place where our once magnificent mother now stands, shedding tears. Our wonderful mother who nurtured and raised us on glorious Tamil…huddles wearily, her limbs fettered in the enemy’s chains. They have put up a railing of guns around her shackles which we came to destroy. Our mother stands shaking and weeping! “Look at her from afar. Do not touch her. Savor her suffering form,” so says the government.
O mother! O Tamiḻttāy! Look at your son Natarajan to whom you gave birth. You used to be adorned with gold and jewels once upon a time! Today, you are adorned by the corpses of your martyred sons. Is this fair? Look at his corpse which soaks your lap with blood. You gave birth to millions of children. Now you have the fate of lighting their young bodies on their funeral pyres.…O mother! Weep! Cry out! It is only if you cry, it is only if you shed your tears that we can gather together an army that will bring down the reign of cowards.…Weep, mother, weep. O glorious Tamiḻttāy, you once upon a time wore a smile; now you shed tears of blood.…But your tears will not be in vain.
“Your tears will not be in vain”: in the logic of Tamil devotion, especially Dravidianism, on reading (or hearing) statements like these which were circulated through street poetry and political speeches at anti-Hindi rallies, her “children” would rush to the rescue of their mother, wipe away her tears, and restore her, and the language she embodied, to well-being. The tears of Tamiḻttāy came to somatically index the sad state of the body politic in Tamil devotion. Indeed, in neighboring Sri Lanka, where Tamil nationalism has been driven by a rather different set of imperatives, a 1977 pamphlet on the suffering of Tamil speakers on the island under Sinhala domination is entitled The Tears of Tamiḻttāy (Tamiḻttāyiṉ Kaṇṇīr). Nowhere does the work mention Tamiḻttāy, yet it is clear that for its author, her tears were enough to recall for his readers the state of utter desolation of Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka (Puttoli 1977).