This is the first part of this exclusive interview with "Kaviyarasu" Vairamuthu, conducted by our Chennai correspondent, Mr. D. Tamizhselvan.

Tell us about your days as a youth and your passion for poetry?

I had the same opportunities the Tamil youth of the second part of this century have had. The society around me, the nature I loved and enjoyed, growing Tamil movements of the time, the sweet Tamil of Anna, thoughts of Periyar, the poetic Tamil of Karunanidhi, the influence of great poets like Bharathi and Bharathidasan encouraged me to write poems even when I was just ten. I was brought up in a lower middle class Tamil family with the usual poverty, hopes and frustrations peculiar to a Tamil youth. One thing I would like to mention about my younger days. I had a conviction that I was born to serve the Tamil language and it would come within my spell. An unknown voice urged me to go wherever my love for Tamil takes me.

Did anyone in your home or in the village encourage you?

No. Nobody normally would advise one to take to poetry. It was a common belief that writing poetry would not feed a person. In the face of economic backwardness of a writer, painter or sculptor or one skilled in fine arts, prevalent at that time, no one would recommend them for a living. Only the artist would be earnest and the people around him would not encourage him.

How did you sustain your interest?
My faith helped me pursue my interest.

What is your first poem and the one that first saw print?

I cannot recollect the first one. Perhaps it was born in a green field, grew and got buried there. The one that was first published was the poem that the Editor of the Pachaippan College Students Journal, Then Mazhai, sought from me. Then I was twenty. It was a viruththam type of poem titled iLa nenjin Ekkam (the yearning of a young heart), published in 1970.

What was your inspiration for writing poems?

All the people I mentioned in answer to your first question offered me the necessary inspiration. Four things are needed for a seed to sprout: sunlight, moisture, air and soil. Imagine how many are there to nurture poetic furor in a person? The credit goes to the people who provided me valuable thoughts.

Your poems contain many scientific facts, for example: Thaneer Desam (The Water Country). Why did the previous poems not follow this pattern?

Poems are molded by times. A poet of Sangam period had no scientific material to present. He had the opportunity to write on nature. VairamuthuKamban centered his poems on Bhakthi or devotion to God. It was the basis for that period. The struggle for independence provided the material for Bharathi. His works were molded by that period. Poets after Sangam literature, Kamban, Bharathi and Bharathidasan and after the ascendancy of the movement to hold the Tamil flag aloft, you cannot ignore the impact of contemporary education and knowledge, and science in his works. This is the age of science. Hence the poets of the period have necessarily to sound the voice of science. As the air fills a vacuum, I strive to fill my poems appropriately.

I think this is your first interview for an Internet magazine. You have mentioned in a recent poem published in ‘Dinamani Kadhir’ that the computer has gradually been turning into a machine.

Yes…

Do you think so? Do you think a situation similar to that may happen in the future?

No. Young people like you should not misunderstand the poems. The object of a good poem and the poet is to understand him rightly. It is a fulfillment for him. For example, in Bharathi’s poem, the lines, Senthamizh naadenum podhinile, inba thEn vandhu paaiyudhu kaadhinile (When you mention Tamilnadu, sweet honey enters your ears), should not be taken literally as to question whether honey would taste sweet when poured into the ears. I am afraid you have misunderstood my poem.

I meant and expressed my concern that as machines turn into man, the man should not become a machine. I never said he would certainly become one. The world needs the computer. As electricity is indispensable, so are computers. The man of the future will learn to perform intellectual tasks beyond the intelligence of computers. The computers will take care of the work performed by average men.

The love leading to your marriage, I think, was the effect of a poem you wrote, a letter of appreciation?

I have given the details in my work, Ithu Varai Naan, (Me, so far). You may obtain and read it.

What are the movie songs that you have written that you have liked most?

Hundreds of them. If you like a person, you may have been attracted by the manner of his speaking, or his personality or you may like his sincerity, refined manners or his kind of nature. Some may admire his skills. Likewise each verse has a facet. One may be nice because of the use of appropriate words, some for their musical tone, some for the way they were sung in the movie, some due to picturization, some for its compatibility with the screenplay, some outlining the play. So there is a verse for each facet. If I mention a particular song, it would not be true.

There is a widespread criticism that today's verses contain many English words. Sometimes, they are not comprehensible. What do you think about this?

For whom are you interviewing me now?

For Internet.

You say Internet. You don't know its Tamil equivalent, Inayam, or perhaps you prefer the popular term. But I think you have no intention to reject Tamil words as a whole. Since the word ‘Internet’ is in common usage, and the need for a bridge of communication between you and me, it is the word you employed. Admixture of English words in movie verses is not directed against Tamil. Suppose two college students sing a duet. They are the children of this scientific age, with the influence of the English language. They express their love for each other in words of common usage.

In a song in the movie, Iruvar, the lovers of the Sangam period use the words appropriate for that period. The movie, Mudhal Mariyadhai, is concerned with the lovers of a village. In it, I used the words spoken in the countryside. In Sindhu Bhairavi, when the lovers who are accomplished singers met, my emphasis was on the musical aspect. College students belong to a generation profoundly influenced by the English language. They need English words while conversing among themselves. I wouldn’t say such a state is desirable or not. The fact is it is the language of the characters in the movie. You never asked me why I used words of the countryside or those of the musical fraternity in respective situations. However you question the mixing of English words. Everything depends on its understandability. English admixture is not new or peculiar to me. It has been there even in the time of M.G.R. or Sivaji Ganesan. Since very few English words were there in common usage, only so much of them were used in movie song verses. Today, the use of English has increased.

Every tamilian operating a computer should know English. English is the link language. The character in a movie is cast bearing the influence of English on the society. Characters make a movie. But a movie song verse portrays what it really is. You have to accept that the large English admixture in movie song verses only reflects its common usage in society.

Wordsworth said, "poems are spontaneous overflow of emotions." What is your definition of a poem?

(Smiles) As Pudhumai Piththan said, poetry is a God not caught by logic. It would not conform to any limitation or rule. Basically a poem is a lovely feeling. That lovely feeling enters a poet’s heart and subtly comes out. That is all. A good feeling is a good feeling irrespective of its form. Whether it is melancholy, love or sexual desire, it is a good feeling. When words give an expression to these feelings, it is a poem. I feel there should be no dos and don'ts for writing a poem. There are no rules for a poem. To look for them seems to be anachronistic. Poems evolve with time. If you can find the meaning for life you can find the same for poetry.

You have been composing many verses for movies. Apart from them, have you had any intention of writing something like an epic.

I am writing (The story of the King of poets) Kavirajan Kadhai in Tamil. I had the opportunity to write the biography of Bharathi in New Verse commemorating his birth centenary. After that, I wrote Sigarangalai Nokki (Towards Peaks). You can say it is a Free Verse or a sort of short epic. You mentioned that Thaneer Desam was different from the others. I think my efforts so far offer me the training necessary for creating a masterpiece. I have so produced thirty works.

Have you any idea of creating something great?

Yes. For instance, Bharathi ended his Paanjaali Sabadham with the Paanjaali taking the vow. My ambition is to continue the legend further till she redeems her vow. My ambition should not end with that. I aspire to create new verses with the demands of the time. I have something in my mind. I cannot say them now. After some years, I will seek and then tell you.

Why are there not many women poets writing lyrics for cinema?

Yes. There are not many. It is mainly due to the dearth of women lyricists in Tamil in general.  After Sangam literature, the list is not long.  Our emotions are generally suppressed nowadays.  Emotions are not let out.  In a movie song, emotions are let out.  Women may be a little shy of freely expressing the feelings in a movie lyric. Vairamuthu with Sushma, Ambika and others during the poojai for 'Uyirodu Uyiraaga' They may have a conviction that such a letting out is improper or they may think movie lyrics are dissimilar to a work of literature.  They might have shunned the movies thinking that movie lyrics cannot rise to the level of literature.  In short stories, it is possible.  We have such a tradition.   Women poets are mere links of this chain of tradition.  Those who have taken to the form of short stories have broken the tradition.  Our women poets are not yet prepared to do this.