Today is National Poetry Day and the theme is STARS. Perhaps I was no different from a small child growing up in England. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was one of my first English poems – although I did grow up with folk songs and poems in Tamil.
We weren’t really taught poetry or taught to like it. I remember we memorized “I Remember” by Thomas Hood. Ironic. I don’t remember the lines – but I remember that I learnt the poem by heart at that time.
But my real love for poetry that has lasted so long and still makes me yearn for words, language and rhythm, came from a great poet in Tamil – Poet Suratha.
His real name I am told is Rajagopalan. I had never heard of him until I was in a Tamil Class that was too young for me. In India you had to learn a minimum of two languages other than English. So I studied Hindi at school and in a special course. But I also had to enroll for Tamil. I learnt Tamil at home, I was reading ever since I was four or five and the Tamil class was literally a way to pass the grade. I could have taken French – but then I had to study and learn. So I decided school was hard already, at least in Tamil, I can pass without trying.
In one such class, where kids who couldn’t read Tamil were struggling to read, they discussed a poem by Poet Suratha. The teacher said Suratha is a famous poet, he wrote for adults and kids. He wrote lyrics for pop songs too. And he lived not far from the school.
I loved the poem – although I can’t remember which one was it now. I loved the rhyme in it and the usage of words. I wanted to write just like him. So after school, without telling anyone, I went looking for his house. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to him when I found him. But I wanted to see the person who had written the poem.
I found the house eventually and knocked on the door. Ignorance and Brute Force, I reckon. A lady opened the door and said the poet was inside, would I like to come in. Wow! They didn’t turn me away. He was there in a chair in the living room. The room was dark. He was silhouetted against the light from the backyard.
I blurted out that I read his poem in class and I loved it and I want to write like him. He acknowledged me. He asked me to show the poem and he said there is so much more to read. And then I should write.
I was inspired beyond imagination. The lady was not amused that a kid was visiting her famous husband. They didn’t live in a big house. I guess poets in ant age and any country didn’t make a lot of money.
I wrote every day. I filled a notebook full of Tamil poems. I still have them. My Tamil teacher was impressed. She read it and critiqued it and there I was the first poet in my family.
I am grateful to that man who didn’t turn away a shy, gawky insecure teenager who turned up at his doorstep. I am grateful that I attended the simple Tamil class and got to read his poem.
Here is to poetry day. Reach for the stars.