தேதி: 19 Feb 2018
I deem it as an honour and privilege to be a part of this Post-Centenary Diamond Jubilee International Conference and deliver the Felicitation address. The Madras University is the proud mother of almost all the old universities of South India and I am proud to say that it is my alma mater. I have had my doctorate degree from this prestigious University and I am much obliged to the Centre for Australia Studies since my area of Research is the Tamil Diaspora settled in Austrlia. I make use of this opportunity to thank the Australia - India Council - which encourages Southeast Asian scholars to explore their shores with enviable Fellowships i was a Australia - India Council Fellow, 2004, Which has helped me immensely - in fact geared up my research in the right direction and I completed my Ph.D on time. I congratulate the Department of English, University of Madras for having introduced core course in Australian & Canadian studies way back in 1998 in (CBCS). Such courses have enabled the students to perceive Australian History and Culture in an entirely different and comparative light. Further, it has opened up new areas of research for younger scholars, both in the University Department and the affiliated colleges. The center has a modest collection of materials in the Australian Resources unit which has immensely helped me to kick start - my Research in 2002 - introducing me well to the Australian history, society Culture and Politics. I am sure scholars from South India are thoroughly benefitted by it’s Data Base. The Asia Link Residency Porgramme hosted by the Department of English, has provided wonderful opportunity to all of us, scholars to, listen to eminent professors, diplomats, artists and writers of Australia & Canada enriching our knowledge and understanding. Apart from the academic front, as a translator I am immensely benefitted by listening to Susan Basnet, as well the translation of various poems from Australian Literature into Tamil by the students of the English Department. As I mentioned earlier, I have worked in the area of Tamil Diaspora in Australia, exploring the theme of Identity and Hybridity especially Dilemmas of the new post-colonial diaspora explored through ‘subversion’ of power relations. Around 12% of all migrants to Australia come from India, making it Australia’s third largest source of migrants and its second largest source of overseas students. “The historic ties between Australia and India have expanded rapidly in the 21st Century to encompass a wide range of complementing ties; from education to biotechnology, food processing and ICT; from clean coal and mining technology to an expanding large of environmental industries. A genuine two-way exchange in all these areas between our two countries has led to increased prosperity and wealth generation across both nations. They are very strong ties that in the coming years we can expect this partnership to continue to grow, thereby delivering a broad range of tangible benefits to Indians and Australians alike” – observed the then minister of Commerce & Industry, the Hon’ Kamal Nath, Govt of India. Also, “India and Australia have several features in common: we are both vibrant democracies, with highly dynamic economies, Our countries have free press, an independent judiciary, and multilingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies”, proudly opinied Sujatha Singh, the then Indian High Commissioner to Australia. In this context, this international conference Resisting Hegemony and Centre: Narratives of Australia, Canada and New Zealand organized by the Department of English, University of Madras, is one of the most telling signs of the growing awareness and interest to promote mutual dialogues in these spaces in the Academic arena also. I congratulate Professor Dr.Armstrong, Head of the Department, and his fellow Associate Professors for having initiated it at the right juncture. It’s hightime we need to Challenge the centers in the native culture and the thrust should be on creating alternative discourses by de-stabilishing the Center and the Hegemony. As descendants of the Dravidian Language Family, with a distinct native root in Classical Tamil Language as my mother tongue, I take pride to identify myself with the Aboriginals of Australia rather than the White Australians, since we have common myths, rituals, Dreams and the proud Label as the sons of the soil. Though I have had the benefits of the Macaulay Education, my heart always follow Chinua Achebe, who asks, “Why should a Nigerian learn about Daffodil flowers, inside a class-room, about which he doesnot have any idea? Instead flowers of their own terrain will make sense”. As a post-colonial subject, subversion of power relations between the colonizer and the colonized is crucial to me and my insatiable native pride never gets quenched when I indulge in exploring texts which carry various tropes of language against the hegemony of English Language. Two main features of post-colonial writing that have been widely accepted among critics are the use of language as a tool of power and a concern with ‘home’ and displacement. The concern with place is closely related to a sense of self and identity. A valid sense of self is often dismantled by an experience of dislocation, either by voluntary migration or through forced migration. This is further accentuated by the sense of alienation one experience in the new environment, of an alien culture and language. This whole phenomenon of migration (forced or voluntary), and feeling alienated in the context of dislocated culture is historically associated with colonial expansion and, in particular, with the expansion of the British Empire. Hence the concern of post-colonial writing with language, confronting the dominance of the Standard British English. Engaging with this Standard British English requires two different strategies according to varying contexts. To quote the words of the authors of The Empire Writes Back (2000): The crucial function of language as a medium of power demands that post-colonial writing defines itself by seizing the language of the centre and re-placing it in a discourse fully adapted to the colonized place. There are two distinct processes by which it does this. The first, the abrogation or denial of the privilege of ‘English’ involves a rejection of the metropolitan power over the means of communication. The second, the appropriation and reconstitution of the language of the centre, the process of capturing and remoulding the language to new usages, marks a separation from the site of colonial privilege. (37) Here I would like to mention about a character, by name Hector, who comes in one of the plays written by a playwright from Srilankan Tamil Diaspora settled in Australia. Hector strikes out at the nostalgic, heroic image of the bush man and the Australian landscape at one stroke, commenting sarcastically that it is simply bush wherever one turns up in Australia and to compensate their lack of green pastures the Australians have transplanted English trees, euphemistically attacking their lack of an authentic cultural heritage: “Oh yes, Killara. They have transplanted a lot of imported English trees there. Gives a very civilized feeling, to the bush” (19). Even the landscape is not spared: “Not like her, where if you drive this way it’s bush, if you drive that way, its bush, if you drive any way its still bush!” (81). The Australian English, too, is simply snubbed off as Counterfeit English. This obviously is a direct negation of the privilege accorded to the English, in particular here, of the pride of the Australian, in other words, the process of abrogation. Tamil poetry has an important history of more than two thousand years – from the age of Sangam to the post-modern poetry. Tamil poetry of this post-modern era is characteristically different in its form, structure, content and musicality. “Three important developments mark the New Poetry field during the nineties and beyond; a) patronage for New poetry amongst mass circulation journals, b) the emergence and visibility of a number of significant women poets, c) and the voice of the dalits reverberating in the portals of poetry” I am just one among them – who comes from the Margin, writes in the native dialect - thus ‘minority literature’ throwing up a challenge to the established style in writing! I am not just a millennium woman – basking in the glory of post globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation and mono-culturalisation - but a third world woman from Tamilnadu, a rural woman, who is proud of my rationalist path paved by those brave women of “Self-Respect Movement, who is conscious of the existing hurdles still prevalent – caste, creed and class – who is little empowered with education, but not willing to bait my agrarian landscape, vegetation, birds, rivers and my language in the name of “development”, who is prepared for challenges ahead! I stand before you as a rural indigenous poet of Southern Tamil Nadu. I belong to a landscape of dry black soil, which we term as “Karisal” in chaste Tamil. Hot summer is the most prevalent season and I hail from an agrarian community – in which failure of monsoon and rains is fatal to farmers. My soil, landscape, vegetation, birds, poultry, cattle-stock and above all, the native talkative, intruding, nosy, yet humane and affectionate people with their worldly wisdom – form the crux of my poems. I breath my village, though I am a bonsai plant in a metropolitan city / My alienation, diasporic longing, my inability to adapt to a pretentious culture – my oxymoronic being between living and existence – are the key themes of my poems / I evolve neither as a woman, nor as a man, but as a human being with strong roots in my soil through my poems. It is just a voice – neither revolutionary nor reformative and declaring, but a firm, true voice – robust village voice, uncontaminated by any isms, or genres, but deeply immersed in the natural odour of my earth and soil – with all its sweat, untidiness, barbaric but commune life. I declare myself as philistine poet, who hears the inner voice of my people, registers it in my soul and walks with it – uncorrupt by the artificially air-conditioned seasoning. “........ The British might boast that they had the first empire in history on which the sun never set; to which an Indian would reply: Yes, because god can not trust an Englishman in the dark”- China Achabe says in his home and Exile. To survive, the third world countries are limping back to learn English. As an indigenous poet I agree with Achebe – but as an academician and as a citizen of this post – modern era – I always rise up to meet the challenges of that fascinating language. That is why this conference is of immense interest to me. Organising such a worthy conference which is Contemporaneous in its theme - cutting across multiple disciplines extending to cover history, critical arena, creative arts, theatre, comparative literature and so on, is the need of the hour. It provides wonderful opportunity for the students, scholars and fellow faculty members to share their views and thereby to hone their pedagogic skills. I hope all of us will make the best out of this. Thank you!