A Scholar Non-pareil

Prema Nandkumar

C.T. Indra
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Year 2017, pp.142, Rs.495


Years ago, I had seen Indira Parthasarathy when he joined our family in Srirangam on a day the Lord comes out of the temple in procession. He was looking intensely at the gorgeous presence of the Lord: was he wondering how Sri Ramanuja would have felt walking in the streets of this temple city and watching the Lord during the days of special procession? It was an unforgettable moment for me as I realized that Indira Parthasarathy has been more than a Professor of Tamil and an outstanding scholar. I realized that he was seeking the secret which moves a teacher and a scholar non-pareil like Sri Ramanuja to turn away from it all and see the sad state of affairs in the body politic. Such a deep, spiritual exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds must needs give the common reader a classic that re-reads social history and becomes a dependable lamp for future generations. The substance of Indira Parthasarathy’s play is easily told. Deeply read in biographical texts which are part of Srivaishnava literature, he culls the scenes which bring out the humanism of the great teacher. Indeed, how can one be hailed as a great Acharya, if he has not taught his people the values of civilized living? Four Acts divided into brief scenes. Obviously the presence and gestures of the characters make up the needed time, while the dramatist leads us with appropriate recitations from Tamil hymns providing the emotive substance for the dialogues which avoid linguistic flourishes. The prologue opens with Poykai Alwar’s hymn, ‘The Earth is My Lamp’ considered the opening chord of the Alwar phenomenon that ultimately created a personality like Sri Ramanuja who would try to integrate a society divided and weakened by caste, but avoid suicidal confrontation. Such an approach has helped the dramatist remain focussed on the social reformer. He is charmed by the daring of Sri Ramanuja in taking up controversial social issues, while remaining at the centre of orthodoxy. His brief, pointed foreword to the Tamil play is about the contemporaneity of the Acharya who remains relevant a thousand years after he was born. Well, man cannot live without god and bhakti is the necessary bridge between the two. But why does he live with the curse of caste? If the Divine is all pervading, how can a particular group of human beings be cast ...

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