This new year, a Jai Bhim Vanakkam!

உப்பமைந் தற்றால் புலவி அதுசிறிது
மிக்கற்றால் நீள விடல்

𑀉𑀧𑁆𑀧𑀫𑁃𑀦𑁆 𑀢𑀶𑁆𑀶𑀸𑀮𑁆 𑀧𑀼𑀮𑀯𑀺 𑀅𑀢𑀼𑀘𑀺𑀶𑀺𑀢𑀼
𑀫𑀺𑀓𑁆𑀓𑀶𑁆𑀶𑀸𑀮𑁆 𑀦𑀻𑀴 𑀯𑀺𑀝𑀮𑁆 (𑁥𑁔𑁤𑁓)

uppamain thatraal pulavi adhusiridhu
mikkatraal neela vidal

The right salt brings out love’s sweetness
It kills the taste when less or in excess


Beat the drums! Blow the nagaswaram! Jai Bhim, high five and vanakkam! Have karuppatti! Learn a kural! Get a taste of Tamil! The Sweet Salt of Tamil, a book like no other about the oldest living language of the world, is here! Move along! Make way!

Season’s greetings from the world’s ugliest democracy: a land where inequality flows like sewage and pride in the motherland ferments like deadly battery-brewed liquor. This is also a land where as many languages flourish as there are rivers. And there is no way to forcibly interlink rivers or languages in the name of ‘one nation, one religion, one language’. Here’s a clear soundbite of resistance to such tyrannies of one-sidedness and oneness.

The earliest Tamil is traced to the Brahmi script of fifth century BCE, found in potsherds and inscriptions. Today, Tamil is spoken by 90 million people. Many Tamils can remember, recite and sing poetry that is often two millennia old, like the poem numbered 1302 from the Thirukkural that prefaces this English love letter to Tamil.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra is a poet and translator who is foreign to Tamil. When we shared this book with him, and wanted to know if it spoke to him, he said:

At times this book reads like an adventure story, at times like  an encyclopaedia put together by a man with his ear to the ground and his nose in an inscription, at yet others it’s like a magic show where, in a couple of paragraphs, a bottle of sesame oil is turned into groundnut oil, a cloth over the shoulder into a tailored shirt. If there were more such books we’d know ourselves, whether Tamil or not, better. The self-absorbed Indian would do well to read ThoPa, if only to remind herself how multiple this nation is.

The book, befitting Tamil’s majesty and grace, arrives into the world wearing a colourful garland of praise from Amit Chaudhuri, Manu S. Pillai, Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Anirudh Kanisetti and Perumal Murugan. On receiving his copy of the beautifully produced book, with a cover designed by Akila Seshasayee, Arvind heaped further praise:

It really is a book that can be opened on any page and read with wonder and sometimes astonishment. You marvel at the people about whom the book is—and at the man who wrote it.

The man is Tho Paramasivan, ThoPa to the world. Alas, he died in 2020 after writing a dozen books. In the aftermath, the Tamil Nadu government nationalised the works of this genius professor whose appeal spilled outside the stifling confines of academia. Published twenty-five years ago as Ariyappadaatha Tamizhagam and having sold over 50,000 copies, ThoPa’s classic charts the unknown and untold aspects of the Tamil country. The book reads like notes and entries in a ledger. It has a Borgesian flair, giving off the mixed scent of logic and lunacy. The text, translated by V. Ramnarayan, is dense with sights and insights. ThoPa writes like he is talking to a gathering of intimates with half a wink. One needs to look in the direction of the wink, follow its trail. The Navayana edition, with annotations to ThoPa’s cryptic notations, helps the reader navigate the Tamil country better. ThoPa’s Tamizhagam is more the conceptual space of the premodern Tamil country (unlike the modern state indicated by the term Tamil Nadu). The book opens with a bona fide non-Tamil, Anurag Jadhav, drawing for us a wondrous map of this state-of-mind. Here, stare at it, and share it.

In a season of tasteless Kashi Tamil Sangamams, come savour The Sweet Salt of Tamil and come to terms with the Things We [even Tamils] Do Not Know about Tamil Country. In a single sitting, this book will take you across time and space.

Welcome to Tamizhagam!