Back to Issue - 23

Editorial – Confluence of the languages

January 1, 2023

Greetings to you all,

From children to adults alike, we have always grown up sharing our stories through the help of Ilavenil magazines. Ilavenil has brought us numerous literatures such as youth works, youth essays, poems and elder experiences. As an example of which is the text we present to you today. 

‘Everywhere is home, everyone is our kin’

‘You only reap what you sow’

A Tamil litterateur called ‘Kaniyan Pungundranar’ wrote these lines more than two thousand years ago. This poem reflects that every place to exist is our home and that every person to exist is our family. Furthermore, the good and the bad are not given to us by others but are instead given to us by ourselves, as a result of our own actions. We must be proud of our ancestors for having such profound and progressive viewpoints. However, it is vital that we also analyse the reasoning behind why a poet of that time produced a poetry with these contentions, to get a further understanding and important context. 

Due to societal changes, humans were travelling all around the world and settling down in different countries and continents. Historically, this has given way to the rise and existence of many communities and cultures in every part of the world. Moreover, from the beginning of time humans have been disputing over land, ethnicity and differences. This must’ve exacerbated into wars and conflicts that we see occurring to this day. As a result of the losses incurred to society, our ancestors and in particular litterateurs such as Kaniyan Pungundranar, had transcended others in society to establish teachings that are relevant to this day. They were truly remarkable in their progressiveness and artistry to teach those that were fighting over such differences to treat each as family, whilst teaching those experiencing a loss due to this, that it is in fact a result of their own actions. The need for these teachings is required to this current day, due to the continued disputes over human differences and hatred. Hence, their extensive work to instill self awareness and compassion can only be perpetuated and educated to societies to come through established and funded literary associations, a wishful luxury which poet Kaniyan could afford during his time. In fact, the era of 300 BC to 200 AD was the golden era of Tamil Literature, called ‘Sangam Period’.  

The reason for this anecdote is because we, the Australian Tamils, are all living in Australia as a newly congregated migrant community. This includes the first, second and third generation of Australian Tamils. First generation typically consists of individuals born in a different country, trying to integrate themselves into the Australian culture and community. On the other hand, the second generation consists of their children, who live a separate life at home and out of home, to balance the two cultures they were brought up in. Whilst the third generation consists of Australian Tamils who share a Tamil heritage but are only familiar with the Australian culture and language. Hence, there are many differences in the lives lived by each of these generations. They may experience issues of varying differences and in different ways. A key example is identity crises, which vary from an individual to another. There are vast differences of opinion and values between each generation. This is often due to the difference in religious beliefs, community expectations and perception of others amongst each subset. Furthermore, there’s often also a communication gap between these generations due to the language differences caused by the varying degrees of fluency in Tamil or English. This is because the first generation tend to speak fluently in their mother tongue of Tamil within their homes but struggle to communicate in English. The second generation tend to speak in Tamil with their parents and in English with their friends. Whilst the third generation attempt to converse with all in English. While there may be exceptions in these, this is usually the case. In addition, the lack of fluency in a language is just the beginning here. Tamil cultural practices, values, celebrations, relationships, friendships, family and connection with the elderly are all areas where these generations differ. Therefore, this prevents each generation from being able to thoroughly communicate themselves or procure a complete understanding of ‘other’ and creating an evident divide. Furthermore, there are of course some shared qualities and connections between these generations, it is undeniable that there are also vast differences. 

Then the question becomes what still truly continues to bind us together, despite these differences?

Answering this question has been the focal point of this issue of the Ilavenil magazine. It cannot be disputed that Tamil is a useful tool to help bring us together, so it is essential that we continue to teach the Tamil language to our future generations. Furthermore, for the Tamil language to thrive in the diaspora, two things must continue to happen. One is continuous migration from Tamil Nadu, Eelam and other Tamil speaking countries to Australia. Another is that the people here should continue to be aware of Tamil and its cultural elements. There is no doubt that we have been successfully and consistently doing both things well up until now. On the other hand, unfortunately due to our over emphasis on Tamil as a language and its importance, we had only exacerbated the divide between the three generations of Australian Tamils. By making familiarity with Tamil a mandatory requirement, we are losing the opportunity to engage ideologically with the second and third generation. This is because due to how they were brought up and the education they procured; it is undisputed that they do most of their critical thinking in English rather than Tamil. Therefore, the only avenue for them to share their deep social views and internal problems with us is through English. Their voices are silenced and their integration to the community is severed when the rule is set that they can communicate in Tamil only. Due to social norms in many household environments elders elect to converse in Tamil, whilst young in English. However, we forbid this in public Tamil forums. Hence, these issues have collectively resulted in widening the gap between each generation of Australian Tamils and caused the reduction of participation and insightful input from the younger generation in Tamil cultural events and features of the magazine.

In the very same poetry quoted above, the poet Kaniyan Pungundranar goes on to present further ideas and teachings. Like a raft drifting along in the rapids of a great river, dashing over the rocks after a downpour (from skies resounding with thunder and lightning), our life, no matter how dear, follows its own course (nature). We know this from the vision of wise seers/elders who can see. So, we are neither awestruck by the great nor do we belittle the ‘not so great’.  

Kaniyan’s words are also relevant in this case as Tamil language, being one of the oldest languages, would’ve started as a basic way of communication between our tribal ancestors. With their journey, it also grew and flourished and today it stands as a river of life. Tamil now consists of language, culture, various elements of worship, virtue, science, art, literature, and human life. Tamil has evolved with the times and the development of various scientific endeavours, whilst absorbing other languages. This is the reason why Tamil is not just a language but a way of life. Just like a river, it has now begun to spread across the world, in various continents. Furthermore, it also takes on the qualities of the land it flows through and spreads it to wherever it flows. Moreover, it will continue to integrate with other cultures and languages to grow into a stronger and flourishing river.

That is why we Tamils ​​tend to make some compromises depending on the land we are in. We must also use English when necessary to communicate with our generations. This gives way to a positive and mutually beneficial integration of two languages. Each generation has unique stories and unique values relevant to their times and experiences. Furthermore, we all have internal and external problems. It is much more important to talk about these issues and develop mutual understanding than solely concentrating on a language. Whilst it is ideal to introduce Kaniyan Pungundranar and his work to our generations in Tamil itself, we should also introduce his teachings in English to our younger generations when that is not possible. It is much more important that they understand every aspect of the substance and its message rather than just its language component.

In this publication we have attempted to publish works from both languages to ensure that we have the input of our younger generations. The rationale behind this is that language should not be a barrier for us to convey our ideas. We firmly believe that we can move forward in this new era for Tamil in Australia where it is progressively and positively integrated with the culture and land we live. This will help Australian Tamils gain a new and clear identity, without divide amongst each generation.

We hope to have more discussions and engagements with our community in this effort. We would greatly appreciate your valuable comments and feedback.

Thank you,

Ilavenil Editorial Team

[email protected]

Originally written in Tamil, loosely translated to English by Yadu Balashanmugan