Rote Memorization Fail: Thiruvilayadal vs. Konar Tamil Urai

Recently we were watching the movie Thiruvilayadal at a friend’s place. Without going into too much of the plot (since that does not add anything to the subject of this post), there is a segment in it where Nakkeeran, the court poet, finds fault with a poetic piece composed by none other than god Shiva himself. Here is the piece, cued to start at 55 minutes so you get a flavor for the ongoing debate before getting to the actual poetry recitation at 57 minute mark:

(yes, that is the whole Thiruvilayadal movie available on YouTube; you may thank me later)

That very same piece was one of our compulsory memorization poems in class VIII or IX (sorry, old age :-)). And guess what was used to teach that poem? No, not Thiruvilayadal. Konar Tamil Urai (Konar is THE classroom learning guide for Tamil literature, somewhat like Cliff Notes.)

To give you an idea of what it would contain, here is a blog post by Ponniyin Selvan, Song from Tamil sangam – Kongu ther vaazhkai, that explains the same poetry we are talking about here. If you re-read that post without that context setting first paragraph, that would be Konar Tamil Urai.

Imagine that! Here is a poetry piece with an interesting story behind it. A story that found place in a popular movie of the day. A movie in which one of the famous heroes of that time histrionically recites the said poem on big screen (ok, maybe a bit too much histrionics, but still). Any one of these would be enough to hook flighty teenagers sitting in that classroom. But did we hear or experience any of this? No, we were too busy memorizing the blasted poem. For if we even missed or misplaced so much as a single comma in that piece when we regurgitated it in our exams, we would be penalized. So, of course we are busy memorizing. And in that, the poetry? Lost!

Here was a chance to get teenagers to love our own language, feel its poetry, form an interest in its literature, and enjoy its learning. Instead, our education system beat it out of our heads. With Konar Tamil Urai.

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