Solomon Pappaiah: Tamil ‘pattimandrams’ will take a different dimension



Tamil scholar and speaker Solomon Pappaiah on his latest literary work and the future of talk shows

Tamil scholar and speaker Solomon Pappaiah on his latest literary work and the future of talk shows

Pattimandram as an artform has a glorious history in Tamil culture. Names like Saw Ganesan of Karaikudi and Kundrakudi Adigal propagated this form to encourage healthy debates and exchange of ideas.

Mention the word pattimandram today and the first name that pops up is Solomon Pappaiah, a household name thanks to his talk shows on TV. Pappaiah, awarded the Padmashri last year, is now 86 and may not be as active as he used to be, but is still as enthusiastic and full of life as he was in his television days.

His latest book is a modern version of classic Tamil poetic work  Agananooru. “Lockdown presented me with the opportunity to work on this project. If I sit to write, I am usually very fast. I am very passionate about writing. Though I am popular for my talk shows, I believe that my books will be beneficial to help future generations understand the richness of the Tamil language,” says the Madurai-based scholar, who was recently in Chennai on a personal visit.

He believes that this is a significant step in making “Tamil classics more accessible to the masses.” “Thiruvalluvar first made an effort to do that. Kamban did that too when he narrated the story of  Ramayana in a simple manner. Once Bharathiyar arrived on the scene, he communicated directly to the masses in a language they understood. Today, we are at a place where Tamil classics such as  Agananooru are not even read by professors teaching the language! As I am a huge admirer of Bharathiyar, I took his path and have attempted to simplify the work so that it reaches all,” he says, “I hope this drives away the fear that readers have while taking up such classics, and that they will make an effort to understand it.”

Among other steps, Pappiah’s book tells readers how to read the classic and in which order. In a bid to reach more people, Chennai-based Carnatic musician Saketharaman has also come up with a music composition of the  Agananooru. Next up for Pappaiah is a book on Madurai, a city that is very dear to him. “I thought I should do something on Meenakshi [referring to the Amman of Madurai],” he smiles.

Tamil Scholar Solomon Pappaiah
| Photo Credit: RAGU R

While writing books remains a favourite creative pursuit, it is the pattimandrams that made him famous.  “Though we have had such debates in front of a live audience for a long time, it reached everyone after it was televised. ‘Thaaya Thaarama?’ (Mother or wife) remains my favourite topic,” he smiles, “It was a subject about women, who are both mothers and wives. This took the concept of Tamil debates to every nook and corner of the State.”

Such talk shows remain a hot favourite in television, especially during festival seasons, but the future will see change, he feels. “The format might be the same, but it will get a different shape. Today, the concept of pattimandram is seeped into families. However, we are not able to speak about a topic like, say, NEET, because there is politics involved. The next stage will be pattimandrams on topics related to science because there, you cannot just pass off with the gift of the gab alone.”

Pappaiah has appeared in Tamil films as well, most famously in Rajinikanth-starrer  Sivaji (2007). Why haven’t we seen him on the big screen after that? “I harboured that desire [to act] and did some projects. I was treated with utmost respect in the film industry. I got more than 200 film offers after that, but I do not see myself there, but rather in literary and academic circles.”


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