Indian Poets: Cynical, Sarcastic, Humorous All at the Same Time

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Many short verses in Indian languages deal with honor, dharma, compassion, beauty, obligations and responsibilities, romance, love, devotion and bhakti — in high-brow and uplifting tones.  But many are also known for their dripping sarcasm, cynicism, and hard realities of life.

Here are two 4-line alliterating and rhyming Tamil verses in the latter category. Nothing is known about the authors of these verses. (Source: Viveka Chintamani, editor Gna.  Manikkavasagam, Uma Pathippagam, Chennai, 600 001, Year 2001). However, on the basis of the words and phrases in them, one can say that these verses cannot be earlier than 1700 AD.  With Tamil having at least 2500 years of literary history, these verses are, therefore, relatively recent, only 300 years old.  Here is the original of the first Tamil verse:

Here is a nonliterary translation:

Once they become adults, sons won’t listen to their fathers’ advice;

After middle age, wives wearing fragrant flowers won’t 

              care for their husbands;

After learning from teachers, shishyas (students) don’t go 

              looking for their gurus, and

Once cured of their diseases, people don’t seek their doctors.

In the above translation, if we replace “sons” with “children” to indicate both sons and daughters, and “fathers” with “parents,” It will be a lot closer to the reality of contemporary family life.

The next verse is on a topic that we all are familiar with — unsolicited advice. As parents, friends, and employees we recognize that unsolicited advice — even suggestions — is not welcome. This is the case whether we give suggestions to others, or we receive advice from others. Often, such advice breeds resentment, if not hostility, among the people involved, whether friends, colleagues, or relatives.

Such behavior in human interactions is nothing new. Here an anonymous poet explains this axiom using great wit, sarcasm, and cynicism. First the original in Tamil:

Here again is a nonliterary translation since I don’t have the skills for translating the poem into verse form:


A weaver bird, sitting in its cozy nest in rains, saw a monkey                      

       getting drenched, and said,

“Why don’t you build a place for yourself against the rain?”

Irritated at the advice, the monkey got mad, went wild, and 

      shredded the weaver bird’s nest to smithereens.

Such is the fate of those giving unsolicited advice

      to the undeserved.      ♣


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