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A poetess all the way

She has words ringing in her mind all the time, waiting to find expression as sensitive poetry. Meet Sampoornam Ammal, the 90-year-old poetess.


The Scene: An auditorium in Chennai.

Time: An evening during the `season' of 2001.

A young girl was presenting a few contemporary Tamil poems through the medium of Bharatanatyam. Reciting the lines of a short poem on `Rain', she brought out the beauty and simplicity of the work through mime. The poem was penned by 90-year old Sampoornam Ammal under the pseudonym of Poorani.

Sampoornam Ammal has words ringing in her mind all the time, waiting to find expression as sensitive poetry. Age sits lightly on her, and that, perhaps, is the reason why her thinking has kept up with the times and her poems are as modern as those of the present day writer. Her youthful exuberance tinged with shades of impishness and naivety and her enthusiasm to share her life's experiences make her endearing.

Hailing from an orthodox family, Sampoornam had a passion for reading, which was kindled by her father, a Tamil pandit. In the absence of formal education for girls in those days, books and reading became part of her childhood. Married into a family where the priority was business, she missed her books and began to content herself with giving expression to her thoughts in the form of songs, poems and stories. Soon, her husband understood her passion for books and arranged for a continuous supply of magazines and fictions from the local circulating library.

Her trips to her parents' home meant approbation for her writings. Her songs, especially, charmed her audience and she was always on demand to write songs for school plays, weddings and other festive occasions. That her works could appear in print never occurred to her and she was happy filling up notebook after notebook with her poems and songs. But an occasional reader would be impressed with them and five of her stories did get published in the magazines of the time.

Sampoornam was also caught in the sweep of nationalism but her orthodox family ruled out any active participation by her in the National Movement. The songs composed by her during that period bristled with patriotism. She learnt Hindi on her own, using books of her brothers, and got through the Pravesika examination conducted by the Dakshin Bharath Hindi Prachar Sabha. She then helped students prepare for those examinations. She recalls with pride that the late Saraswati Ramnath, a translator (from Hindi to Tamil) of repute, had her initial training in Hindi under her.

Circumstances brought her to Chennai where the literary pursuits of her children opened up the world of writers and poets to her. She gratefully remembers Na. Si. Varadarajan, Krishnan Srinivas, Vikraman of Amuda Surabhi and many other literary figures who saw the worth of her poetry and helped her to bring them out for public reading.

She recalls how writer Nakulan, on a Chennai visit to attend a poets' meet, was amazed at the beauty of her poems. So much so, he insisted on reading out her poems instead of his own at the poets' convention. In 1969, she won a prize in a poetry competition. Present day literary magazines have begun to acknowledge her as a poet to reckon with and most modern anthologies of poetry include her poems.

Nurtured by Gandhian ideals, Sampoornam Ammal likes to take the `middle path' while fighting for causes. While she strongly feels that the modern woman has to stand up for her rights, she does not advocate a violent approach. "I did not write to express my anguish, frustration or sorrows; nor was I interested in creating devotional poetry. My mind was always filled with social concerns, different emotions, and beautiful words. They emerged as songs, traditional and modern poetry. I do not think knowledge of grammar is a `must' for writing poetry. At least to me, the words intuitively come out in various arrangements of alliteration, simile and rhyme. I strongly feel the need to write, so I write," she says.

It will be only apt to sum up with a free translation of a few lines from one of her poems, "The Swing".

"Impelled by destiny moving, not missing a beat, over years and generations on and on this sway."

PADMA NARAYANAN AND PREMA SEETHARAM

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