Profiling the Filial Devotee
More than the modality of pietistics, the modality of somatics has a conscious mobilizing agenda—not surprisingly, since it was the mode most favored by Dravidianism with its militant stance on tamiḻppaṟṟu. So, images of the distressed, diseased, and violated mother were circulated not just for rhetorical effect but also to incite her “children” to take up arms and come to her rescue. Tamiḻttāy herself implored thus in 1965:
O Tamilian, my dear son to whom I gave birth! ...... Where have you gone, leaving to suffer your mother who bathed you, fed you, sang lullabies, nurtured you, showered you with love? ...... Your mother has been cast into prison! Will you not rescue her from there? Your mother has been shackled! Will you not break her chains? Did I not feed you fine food? Was not the milk that you drank heroic milk? O son who has forsaken me! O Tamil son who has gone off to sleep! ...... Your mother is calling out to you! Can you not hear her whimpers and see her tears? Are your ears deaf? Are your eyes blind? Where are you, my son! Where are you?
Those Tamil speakers who refused to respond to such an impassioned plea laid themselves open to charges of betraying their own mother, even matricide (E. M. Subramania Pillai 1951-52: 161-63). During the anti-Hindi protests of 1938, Suddhananda Bharati declared: “The Tamilian who rejects Tamil rejects his own mother. The Tamilian who does not reverence Tamil has forgotten his own mother. Can you ever forget the mother who gave birth to you? Our ancient mother stands in dishonor among the languages of the world, and sheds tears. Will not her sons come forth and wipe away their mother’s tears?” (Suddhananda Bharati 1938: 110). Equally dramatically, the poet Pulavar Kulanthai insisted that “the murder of Tamil is like the murder of one’s mother” (Pulavar Kulanthai 1972: 35). In this modality, it was not enough for Tamil speakers to put their literary and scholarly talents at Tamiḻttāy’s disposal; they had to be prepared to surrender their bodies as well. In its economy of devotion, along with the sharing of the mother’s womb and milk, the shedding of the son’s blood has a great deal of currency. So, Perunchitran was willing to declare in 1965 in a poem he wrote in a Kadalur prison:
Similarly, an essay published in the Āṉantapōtiṉi, a literary journal that was largely Indianist in sentiment, asked, “O youthful Tamilian! Does not your mother’s Tamil blood run in your heart? Do you not love your mother?…Wake up.…Let your Tamil blood boil over and rouse you” (Mutthu 1938: 336).
When they tell me This body, and all the blood and sinews and feelings that it contains, belongs to Tamiḻttāy and to the Tamil people, I lose all my fatigue! (Perunchitranar 1979: 66)
Such statements, of which there are innumerable examples, graphically illustrate the extent to which the somatics of devotion operated, discursively and symbolically, at a gut level. Seeing Tamiḻttāy in tears, the Tamil son is reminded of the mother whose womb had borne him, whose milk had nourished him, and whose blood runs in his veins. This memory leads him to shed his own blood to prove his tamiḻppaṟṟu:
I will push back the hostility of other languages beyond the oceans “May the Tamilians stand loftily! Long live Tamil!” I will thus beat my drum. ...... Even as I am being cut down, and as the blood spurts out from my fierce wounds, I will fall down on my Tamil soil, crying out “Tamil!” “Tamil!” (Pulavar Kulanthai 1972: 11-12)
Her impassioned devotee is of course ready to shed not just his own blood but also that of the numerous enemies of his Tamiḻttāy. So declared a twenty-three-year-old youth at an anti-Hindi rally in Madras city in 1938: “If the Tamilians have any heroism, the blood of several thousands of members of the Aryan race must be shed. The blood of the Aryans must be shed and a river of blood should flow in this country. The leaders may not have faith in violence, but we have faith in violence.…[T]housands of youths will arise for planting our red flag, and giving up their lives for the sake of Tamil.”
Tamil devotion has certainly contributed to literary and linguistic efflorescence in Tamilnadu and undoubtedly helped the political empowerment of the disenfranchised and the colonized. All the same, it has also underwritten an economy of violence and death, an economy in which dying for Tamil and Tamiḻttāy is superior to living without her. That such an economy did not exist merely in the discursive spaces of devotional narratives but actually came to touch the lives of Tamilians, especially in the 1960s, is apparent from the stories of Chinnasami and numerous others who sacrificed themselves in the battle for Tamil. Further, in its somatic mode, tamiḻppaṟṟu relied heavily on regimes of violence directed against the female body in order to elicit the allegiance and loyalty of the Tamil speaker to Tamiḻttāy. Indeed, Tamil devotion in this mode appears to need such images of the violated female body for the particular strategies of persuasion and incitement that it employed to whip up the passions of the “sleeping” Tamilian. Figures of the violated mother are deployed again and again, not so much to draw attention to acts of violence against women as to highlight the plight of the language and the dishonor wreaked upon the community of its speakers.