நான் படிக்கும் காலத்தில் கோனார் நோட்ஸ் ரொம்ப பிரபலம். மாணவர்கள் தமிழ் புத்தகம் வாங்குகிறார்களோ இல்லையோ, கோனார் நோட்ஸ் தவறாமல் வாங்கிவிடுவார்கள். (ஆனால் நான் வாங்கியதே இல்லை, நோட்ஸ், ட்யூஷன் எல்லாம் கூடவே கூடாது என்று உறுதியாக இருந்தேன். அபூர்வமாக தேவைப்பட்டால் ஓசி வாங்கிக் கொள்வேன். கோனாரே நோட்ஸை படித்துவிட்டு ஒரிஜினல் செய்யுளைப் படிக்காமல் இருக்கக் கூடாது என்பாராம்.) அவ்வப்போது நண்பர்கள் வட்டத்தில் கேட்டுக் கொள்வோம் – யார்ரா இந்த கோனார், இப்படி நோட்ஸ் போட்டே பெரிய பணக்காரர் ஆயிருப்பார் போலிருக்கே என்று. பல வருஷக் கேள்விக்கு ஏழெட்டு வருஷங்கள் முன்னால் விகடனில் விடை கிடைத்தது.
கோனார் 1969-இல் இறந்திருக்கிறார். எத்தனை வருஷம் தன் கையாலேயே நோட்ஸ் எழுதி வெளியிட்டாரோ தெரியவில்லை.
கோனார் நோட்ஸ் பற்றிய ஒரிஜினல் பதிவில் பலரும் கோனாரை நன்றியோடு நினைவு கூர்ந்தார்கள். கோனாரின் பேரனான சின்னு என்பவரும் பதில் எழுதி இருந்தார். இரண்டு மாணவர்களின் நினைவுகள் கீழே.
That was the year when I first set my eyes on Thiru. Thiru Ayan Perumal Konar.
That was also the year when I first checked into St. Joseph’s College, Trichy as a first year graduate student.
Wait! If you think I have made a typographical error in repeating ‘Thiru’ twice while mentioning his name, then let me clarify. His full name was Thiru Ayan Perumal Konar. (‘திரு’ என்பது அவரது தந்தையின் பெயராகிய திருச்சிராப்பள்ளி திருவேங்கடக் கோனாரைக் குறிக்கும்) People always added another ‘Thiru’ as an honorific to his name. This is how his name was printed those days in his Konar Notes.
One afternoon I was seated in a classroom when Konar slowly walked in.
We have already been told that Konar will be our Tamil teacher for the next two years. We were therefore waiting for him with some expectation. Konar was a celebrity teacher not only at St. Joseph’s but also among academia and student community throughout Tamil Nadu thanks to his immensely popular Konar Notes.
Konar had humble beginnings. He started off as a Tamil vidwan in St. Joseph’s High School before getting into its college next door. Like many of the vidwans of his era he had a large family. He was the father of six sons and three daughters. In his early years he must have really struggled to maintain his large family with his meagre income. But then he wrote his famous notes and got them published by S.M. Palaniappa Chettiar. The rest, as they say, is history. A Google search tells me that during the year 1961-62 they recorded an annual turnover of ₹.4.17 lacs – a princely sum in those days. He must have earned a fairly substantial fortune because when he passed away on the New Year day in 1969, he was stated to have owned several buildings in Trichy.
Konar was a towering personality. He was a near six footer and well built. He always wore a jibba (ஜிப்பா) with a dhoti to go with it. On occasions he also wore an angavastram (அங்கவஸ்திரம்). A linear Vermilion mark (tilak) adorned his large forehead. You could always find him with a clutch of books (which he seldom referred to – more of it later) in one hand and a ubiquitous umbrella in the other. His gait was always slow and dignified, with one measured step after another. He acknowledged salutations with a smile and a slight nod of his head.
As Konar entered the classroom we all stood up to receive him. He smiled, nodded his head, hung his umbrella on the door and mounted the podium. He did not tell us his name. But he briefly introduced himself beginning with his humble origin tracing his life thus far. He then concluded saying…
‘நீங்க தலையணையா உபயோகப்படுத்தறீங்களே அதை எழுதினது நான்தான்! கோனான்! அது என் ஆசானின் ஆசி’.
He then asked us to introduce ourselves. When my turn came, I got up and told him my name. The moment he heard my name, especially the later part of it, he stopped me and asked me…
‘இல்லை சார், சேலம்.’ I replied truthfully as I was born and brought up in Salem. It was only after my college days that I shifted my base, regretfully, to Chennai. Konar’s face lit up when he heard ‘Salem’. He knew instantly he had found so early a punching bag among this set of students.
‘ஓ! எங்க இதை சொல்லு.’ He asked me with a trace of glee on his face.
‘வெள்ளிக்கிழமை தள்ளாத கிழவன் வாழைப்பழத்தை மெல்ல மெல்ல விழுங்கினான்.’
As I repeated him, there were peals of laughter all around.
Konar took one hard look at me and with a wry smile said…
‘சேலம்காரன்னுக்கு நாக்குல சூடு போட்டாலூம் ‘ழ’,’ள’ வராது. அதனாலதான் அவங்க ஊர் பெயரிலும் ‘ல’ வைதான் வச்சி இருக்காங்க!’
Thus began a cat and mouse game between him and me.
Konar was teacher extraordinaire. He had a prodigious memory. Even though he always came to the classroom with a clutch of books, he seldom opened and referred any of them. From modern prose to ancient poetry everything came from his memory.
Despite being a scholar in Tamil, he never showed it off. Being a very practical person he had his feet firmly planted on the ground. He knew that what the students wanted was not a scholarly discourse in Tamil but a pass in the examinations and accordingly structured his sessions. May be this is what made him to write his notes. He also had an enviable record of not one of his students failing in Tamil in the university examinations. When I came under his tutelage, in me he perceived a real threat to his continued success. So he used me as a punching bag for two reasons. One to keep the class entertained and two to ensure that somehow or other I get through the examination. To this end he used to repeatedly tell me to learn Tamil grammar well and attempt the questions on grammar first in the examination. ‘This way you will not only impress the person who evaluates your paper but also can obtain full marks’ he used to say. Despite his exhortations, to me grammar continued to be like saree to Sunny Leone.
Often he used to come down from the podium, stand in the middle of the aisle and pick and choose students to ask questions. On questions relating to grammar, I was his natural choice. One day he did just that. Standing among the students, he searched for me and asked ‘எங்க நம்ம சேலம்காரர்?’ Even though it is very difficult to hide from his bird’s eye view of students, I instantly ducked behind the shoulders of my neighbour. The fellow refused to play ball. He must have become a police informant in his later years! He leaned back fully exposing me and said ‘சார், இங்க!’
Konar turned around, looked at me and said ‘எழுந்திரி’.
I got up gingerly.
He then asked me ‘வினைத்தொகைக்கு ஒரு உதாரணம் சொல்லு…’
‘ஊறுகாய்’ I shot back even before he could complete his question.
The loud clapping of hands made me to realise that my answer was, for once, correct.
For a split second Konar fell silent but recovered instantly and said ‘சபாஷ்…. உட்கார்.’
Neither did he lose his equanimity. After all he had seen thousands of students like me including, unlike me, some eminent ones like A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. He then half turned and delivered the punch line.
‘சேலம்காரன் சாப்பாட்டுலேயே குறியா இருக்கான்!’
His sessions were always lively full of witticism, anecdotes, comments on topical subjects and singing. In fact where many a professor would shun an afternoon class in the oppressive climate of Trichy, Konar always preferred and excelled in them. He never bothered to take the mandatory roll call. He would contemptuously sign the register as ‘all present’ and set it aside saying ‘If you think things outside are better than Konar’s classes, you are welcome to go. I will not bother you.’ Rarely anyone bunked his classes.
One hot afternoon when he found the entire class was struggling to keep awake, he said ‘என்ன உறக்கமா? சரி, கம்பன் உறக்கத்தை பற்றி என்ன சொல்கிறான் பார்போம்’ and asked us to close the books. He then sat on the table cross legged and summoned me. He picked up a copy of இராமாவதாரம் better known as Kambaramayanam (கம்பராமாயணம்), opened a page and pointing to a verse asked me ‘எங்கே இதை படி.’
This is the verse that he asked me to read.
‘உறங்குகின்ற கும்பகன்ன! உங்கள் மாய வாழ்வு எலாம்
இறங்குகின்றது! இன்று காண்; எழுந்திராய்! எழுந்திராய்!
கறங்கு போல வில்பிடித்த கால தூதர் கையிலே,
உறங்குவாய், உறங்குவாய்! இனிக் கிடந்து உறங்குவாய்!’
(யுத்த காண்டம் 16. கும்பகருணன் வதைப் படலம், கிங்கரர் கூற்றும் இராவணன் செயலும் –Verse 45)
When I finished reading it, he said ‘ம்ம்ம்… என்ன படிக்கிற … போய் உட்கார்.’
He then asked us to visualise the background. With the war drums beating in the distance, people were trying to wake up a sleeping Kumbhakarna so as to take him to war. But he would not wake up easily. Among other things they even hit him with long handled wooden pestles (உலக்கை) that people normally use with stone mortars to pound grains. ‘What would be the resultant sound? Pestle hitting human flesh?’ Konar asked and replied ’Dhum…Dhum…’
He then sang the same verse but in an entirely different way. What he did was to use a bass voice while reading some of the letters or combination of letters which I have indicated in brackets (I hope I got them right). For the rest he used his normal voice. You can get the hang of it after one or two try.
உ(றங்)கு(கின்)ற (கும்)ப(கன்)ன! (உங்)(கள்) மாய வாழ்வு எலாம்
இ(றங்)கு(கின்)றது! (இன்)று (காண்); எ(ழுந்)திராய்! எ(ழுந்)திராய்!
கற(ங்கு) போல (வில்)பி(டித்)த (கா)ல தூ(தர்) கையிலே,
உ(றங்)குவாய், உ(றங்)குவாய்! இனிக் கி(டந்து) உ(றங்)குவாய்!
Suddenly the mood became electrifying. The class was vibrating to a thumping ‘dhum..dhum..’ The rhythm was so pulsating I started to pound the table with my palms to accompany Konar. Seeing me, three or four others joined me and formed an impromptu orchestra. But then Konar did the unthinkable. He stopped singing without a prior notice.
While the others stopped their act with alacrity, I continued my (by now) solo performance with an enthusiasm of a Sivamani before I too realised what was happening. But then it was too late.
Konar looked at me hard and said ‘எழுந்திரி.’ He also picked up the other members of the merry orchestra one by one saying…’நீ எழுந்திரி…நீ எழுந்திரி’
When we all stood up sheepishly, he asked us ‘என்ன தாளமா?’ Then he said something very profound. ‘இன்று பரீட்சைக்கு தாளம்; நாளை வேலைக்கு தாளம்; பின்பு பெண்டாட்டிக்கு தாளம்! வாழ்கையே தாளம்தான்!’ He then broke into laughter and added ‘உங்களை தாளம் போட வைத்தது கோனான் இல்லை… கம்பன்!’
‘உட்கார்!’ I resumed my seat in double quick time before he could change his mind.
Talking of இராமாவதாரம், the 12th century Tamil epic written by Kamban, Konar was an exponent of it. Konar often spoke about Kamban and his virtuosity in glowing terms. He would tell us how this epic was divided into six chapters (காண்டம்) which in turn were divided into 123 sections (படலம்) containing nearly 12,000 verses. He also used to repeatedly tell us how Kamban’s use of Virutham (விருத்தம்; Tempo) and Santham (சந்தம்; Tune) in various verses was effective in bringing out the emotion and mood for storytelling. Konar used to recite most of these verses with ease from his memory.
I was told he also used to conduct discourses on Thirupavai (திருப்பாவை) in recognition of which Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham honoured him with the title ‘திருப்பாவை ஆராய்ச்சி மணி’ and presented him with a gold pendent which he used to wear on a chain around his neck.
Despite the tremendous success of his notes, Konar never missed a chance to tell us to read the text books first. ‘That’s where life is’ he used to say adding ‘mine is a bloodless substitute.’
Konar was highly critical of Bharathidasan (பாரதிதாசன்). He would quote his verse ‘சீரங்க நாதனையும் தில்லை நடராசனையும் பீரங்கி வைத்துப் பிளப்பதுவும் எக்காலம்?’ and then add ‘சீ…. இவன் பாரதியாருக்கு தாசனாம், கேவலம்!’
Another ‘poet’ whom Konar lampooned was Kannadasan ( கண்ணதாசன்). After singing his song ‘அத்தான் என்னத்தான் அவர் என்னை தான் …’ which was very popular at that time and sarcastically adding ‘அத்தான்… உங்கள் பொத்தான்…!’, he would say with a sneer ‘எலந்த பழம், எலந்த பழம் …சீ… இவனும் ஒரு கவிஞன்! இவன் உங்களுக்கு ஒரு கவியரசு!!’
Often times Konar would recite the following verse to showcase Kamban’s command over language and meticulous choice
of words to achieve விருத்தம் and சந்தம் appropriate to the narration.
விழுதல், விம்முதல், மெய்உற வெதும்புதல், வெருவல்,
எழுதல், ஏங்குதல், இரங்குதல், இராமனை எண்ணித்
தொழுதல், சோருதல், துளங்குதல், துயர் உழந்து உயிர்த்தல்,
அழுதல், அன்றி மற்று அயல் ஒன்றும் செய்குவது அறியாள்.
(கம்பராமாயணம்/சுந்தர காண்டம்/காட்சிப் படலம்/சீதையின் துயர நிலை/Verse 5)
After the recital he would rhetorically ask ‘எலந்த பழம் உங்களுக்கு ஒரு கவியரசு என்றால் கம்பன் என்ன?!’
It is better Konar is not alive today. Imagine him listening to deeply meaningful and soul stirring songs like ‘IR 8 பல்லுக்காரி…’, ‘ஊதா கலரு ரிப்பன்… உனக்கு யாரு அப்பன்?’, ‘என்னம்மா இப்படி பண்றீங்களேம்மா?!’ Or to see a university named after his bête noir!
After completing my graduation, I continued to stay in the college for another two years to finish my post graduation. When I was in the final year, one day I saw in the notice board a notice informing that on that day a farewell meeting was scheduled to be held at the Lawley Hall for Konar who was retiring from service. I decided to attend the meeting not only as a mark of respect to Konar but also because, heart of hearts, I knew that but for him I would have certainly failed in my Tamil examination.
When I reached the hall after finishing some work in the lab, I found it fully packed with many standing in the rear. The principal paid encomiums to Konar and presented him a casket containing ₹25000/-, may be his terminal benefits. In those days it was not a small amount. Konar received it reverentially, kept it on a table and gave his farewell speech replete with emotion and quotes from ancient scriptures and literature. At the end of his speech he paused, looked at the casket, picked it up and gave it back to the principal saying ‘Let this be with our college. Please use this for promotion of Tamil in whichever form you may deem it right.’
There was thunderous ovation.
Now when I see in Puthiya Thalaimurai news channel that chit of a girl, Divya Nathan, anchoring the news bulletin effortlessly in free flowing, faultless Tamil with crystal clear pronunciation handling ‘ல‘, ‘ழ‘ and ‘ள’ with such ease, I realise how atrocious my pronunciation of Tamil is.
And the anguish Konar must have felt when I said… ‘வெல்லிக்கிலமை தல்லாத கிலவன் வாலைப்பலத்தை மெல்ல மெல்ல விலுங்கினான்.’
~N. Paul Jeyatilak