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We have seen how poet and freedom fighter Subramaniya Bharathi was a pioneer in English to Tamil translation. It may be timely to recall to recall how Bharathi reported and wrote about the cyclone that rocked Puducherry in November of 1916. The report was published in Swadesamitran newspaper on November 27, 1916. Bharathi had filed this report at a time when communication technology was still in its infancy.

This report was brought to light by P Thooran. It was published in the eighth volume of Bharathiar’s published works compiled by Seeni Viswanathan as well as in the book, Pudhuvai Puyalum Bharathiyum (Bharathi and the Puducherry storm), by Y Manikandan. This article has been published by Malan in the magazine Pudhiya Thalaimurai. There may be other such published works, too.

Seeni Viswanathan found the reports published on November 18 and 30, 1916 and Manikandan found the report published on December 11 of that year.

The reports are typical of a literary writer writing a journalistic report. In an example of early narrative writing, he uses the first person and talks about how the pouring rain invades his house as he opens the window of the house he is staying in the night.

Bharathi resorts to hyperbole in his opening sentence on what the storm was. Bharathi uses the Tamil world for the catastrophic flood destroying the world which has been described in scriptures of many religions. Not unlike today’s screaming headlines he uses onomatopoeias – words that imitate sounds. For instance, he repeats the word “pateel” three times for effect to describe the howl of the wind. He graphically describes houses falling apart, trees uprooting and electrical wires of streetlamps breaking. He describes the next morning scene, too. He says the Puducherry that he saw the previous day was not to be seen. He then goes on to describe the destruction that has upturned Puducherry.

He describes the next morning scene, too. He says the Puducherry that he saw the previous day was not to be seen. He then goes on to describe the destruction that has upturned Puducherry.

Some sentences are brief, declarative and matter of fact while in others he adopts rhetorical devices for effect.  He talks about lives being lost, houses of poor being destroyed, and cost estimate of damage being unknown.

He talks about extensive damage to weavers in Muthialpet. He concludes the report with a prayer asking for peace to return.

In another report, he calls the storm the dance of tree deities. Bharathi describes how the benches on the beach have been carried away by the wind. Some of the Tamil words he uses are quaint and no more in use. For instance, for holiday, he uses the word “raja” while describing how schools and colleges are closed. Bharathi recalls how a garden with well lined trees and plants is in shambles after the attack of the wind god. He says the uprooted trees look like sugarcane broken by hand.

Bharathi recalls how a garden with well lined trees and plants is in shambles after the attack of the wind god. He says the uprooted trees look like sugarcane broken by hand.

The eye-witness account he gives talks about a raised platform on which some half a dozen had taken refuge. He then describes how they were rescued by people in the morning. As an aside, he mentions how people who cut trees are doing brisk business since trees that seem to be in danger of falling down need to be cut so that they don’t fall on people by accident.

Bharathi signs off one report describing how feeding camps have been organized to provide food to poor people. He says this was not enough. He concludes that paragraph with a prayer to god that he should protect the people. 


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