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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Verses from the soil

Tamil author Perumal Murugan and Carnatic classical vocalist TM Krishna come together to create a song in solidarity with the ongoing farmers' protest

Written by Suanshu Khurana | December 9, 2020 9:10:57 am
tm krishna, perumal murugan, farmers' protests, indianexpress, tm krishna tribute, farmers' protests,TM Krishna (right) had suggested Perumal Murugan to write a song for farmers. (Source: T M Krishna/YouTube)

…Is this forever, we worry,

Scorched lands are all what we get?

We, poor, beg and beseech

Is this our fate?

When will the rain come with the scent of the earth

The lines were written by Tamil author Perumal Murugan about two years ago. Born into a family of farmers in Kootapalli, a village in Nammakal district in Tamil Nadu, the verse was originally written in the Tamil dialect spoken in the region. The lines are set in his rural world of farmlands, which so often makes it to his writings. The poetry, unlike his prose writing, is intensely personal and thus poignant and from the point of view of someone who is “deeply entrenched in the culture of an agriculturist”. It’s the sorrow and the sensitivity of the lines that moved his friend and Carnatic classical vocalist TM Krishna when they were written. Krishna had suggested Murugan to write a song for the farmer and these lines described the struggle with powerful imagery. The struggle of waiting for rain, “the metaphor for hope”. A couple of days ago, Krishna decided to set the piece to a tune and present it as a music video online, with Hindi and English subtitles. A lament about the farmers and their plight, it was released on social media on December 8.

What shocked Krishna the most during the protests was “how we’ve completely taken away the agency of the farmer”. “Diminishing the mind, the body and the work of farmers is a problem. We’ve done this for generations and the song, in a very subtle manner, expresses that. It’s only when farmers have died or when farmers are asking that we talk about them. So I called Murugan and said that the song should come out now. This is the right time,” said TM Krishna in a conversation with The Indian Express. “The conversation goes something like, they don’t know, they are being misled. You have a bunch of people sitting in Delhi who believe that they can make decisions for farmers, will that ever happen in the corporate world? If Ambanis and Adanis had an objection, you would have them at the Finance Ministry. It’s like men making laws for women, without having women at the table,” he added.

Set in raag Dhanyasi, a Carnatic classical raga used to portray bhakti and devotional pieces, the song is in a traditional kirtana format. Murugan opens the piece with a short couplet from Tirukkural — Thiruvalluvar’s famous writings. ‘He who toils to raise his food can be said to live by right, he who doesn’t is a cringing parasite’, recites Murugan in Tamil. He adds how the life of a farmer is full of sorrow and how rain devastates both by abundance and absence. Krishna opens the song with the word metangaad, a local word which is from the dialect of Tamil that Muragan writes in and not common to urban spoken Tamil in the state. “It literally means drylands and the word comes from the dialect of the farmer, of the common man, which is why when people hear it, it will be readily understood,” says Krishna.

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‘The drylands are parched’, writes Murugan, ‘They have become like barren rocks, the seeds that were sowed did not sprout, and few that did, did not flourish/With no rain, no water, we perish in this drought’. “Drylands, the word, is a metaphor for the condition of the farmers, and the rain is that hope which one sees,” says Krishna, adding that the song in Tamil somewhat helps since South India hasn’t spoken as much about the issue of the current farmer protests.

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