Who Said Our Ancestors Had It Easy?


By K. S. Venkataraman

Living has its stresses. Without them, we can as well be dead. But these days, with total self-absorption and self-pity, we attribute our difficulty to “modern” times, fast-paced life, technology, and careers. In saying this, we subliminally imply that the lives of our agrarian ancestors were placid. However, contrary to our belief, their agrarian lives had their own overwhelming demands making their life miserable.

How do I know? Well, I was reading an Tamil anthology of small literary works. The authors of these works are not known. From the vocabulary and imagery used and the construction of the verses, scholars deduce this work cannot be earlier than a two or three centuries earlier to our times. You need to remember that Tamil has a well-documented literary history dating back to at least more than2300 years. Here a verse by an unknown farmer-cum-poet describing his helplessness: 

Tamizh Pattu

(Source: Viveka Chintamani, commentary by Padmadevan, Karpagam Puttaga-alayam, Tyagaraya Nagar, Chennai, 2006, 200 pp).

If you can read Tamil, you may enjoy the wry, cynical humor. If you do not know Tamil, here is my attempt to render the general contents and thrust of the verse in English:

Cattle in my barn groan in labor pain,
My roof is leaking badly in the pouring rain.
As I hurry to my wet fields with seeds for sowing,
My darling wife is indisposed, my good farm-hand lies dying,
Creditors for unpaid bills, far away I view;
And the king’s men are with me to collect the taxes due.
The pandit comes for his teaching fee making matters worse*,
While folk singers are praising me to get their usual purse.
The pile of problems on my head is making me to gasp,
It’s something impossible for outsiders to grasp.

So, do not for a moment think our ancestors had it easy, and do not wallow in self-pity that only you and your generation are having a stressful life. Agrarian life was not easy either. If rich landlords had it easy then, people today living off their parents’ wealth also have it easy.

*Seeing a Brahmin when you leave on a mission is considered a bad omen. 

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