Packiyanathan Ahilan

A Sleepless Poet

Asok Chattopadhyay

William Wordsworth found out no essential difference between the languages of prose and poetry. Packiyanathan Ahilan, the Tamil poet of Sri Lanka, not unlikely finds out any line of essential difference between the imagery of poetry and that of an art work. His poetry appears to be a harbinger of poetic scenario and at the same time of a pictorial art that speaks much more that one can hear and imagine. His poems at times explore an ‘intimate relationship’ in, and not without visible arena, a language of violence causing to war, so inflicted, between his language of poetry and that of his artistic pullout.

P Ahilan was born in 1970 and has seen the world since fifty years. But what he witnessed in his motherland, the devastating war on the people of Sri Lanka and the dreadful resultant, has made him much senior to his contemporaries in the wide space of undergoing toughest experiences others haven’t. He witnessed the truculent civil war, occurred between August 2008 and May 2009, causing seventy thousand people killed and more than three lakhs being ‘internally displaced’. And this experience he shared in his languages of poetry and that of artistic view.

He unhesitatingly choices characters either from Indian mythology or that from Greek to depict his narratable narrative through which he endeavours to enter into his readers’ feeling, heart and sensation and to get them attacked. If anything he is somehow succeeded in reaching to his goal. In his ‘Manto’s women’ he depicts a narrative:

As I approached,
she mechanically removed
her underwear?
In the bloody trench
a thousand penises swarmed.
I bathed her in water
and from her brain,
plucked each penis.

In his ‘Landscape of Iranaipalai’ he writes:

Amid the raining rockets
as I ran for life
a dying voice
rose from the ground.
A woman’s torso, naked,
a void, with nothing below;
two protruding bones,
Nothing else.

His poetic voices mourn for the gone ones for they haunt him all through the times. He teaches at the University of Jaffna and an archivist too and is involved in ‘archiving Jaffna’s heritage’ for more than two decades. He is one of the co-founder of Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art and Design (SLACAD) in Jaffna relating to the contemporary art of Sri Lanka.

He admitted that all the foreign literature he read through Tamil. Once he was so much influenced with the poems of Anna Akhmatova and the stories of Chingiz Aitmatov, both the Russian literateurs. His poems speak for his knowledge of Indian and Greek mythologies also. Moreover he got through the Chinese poetry and the poems of Pablo Neruda and Gunter Grass.

He said: Those who spent the ‘past four decades’ in Sri Lanka cannot forget all that happened ‘in our own different ways’. It has somehow got ‘profoundly rooted’ in him. He cannot escape it. Moreover the poet lost her ‘little sister’ in her childhood that had dug him the print of ‘permanent loneliness’.

The poems of Ahilan, as Geetha Sukumaran, a poet and translator, feels gathering under Mithunam ‘are important registers of the interior space’. She has written:

The term mithunam, which derives from mithuna in Sanskrit, refers to sexual union on both physical and spiritual level, drawing multiple interpretations from Hindu religion and philosophy. This group of poems explores an intimate relationship within the language of violence, a language of the exterior in the surreal landscape of war. The morbid internal landscape of these poems is unusual in Tamil poetics; readers are forced to leave this poetic oeuvre struggling to maintain any sense of reassurance.

In this poem Ahilan writes:

On the bed
of fiery words
we sleep,
two corpses
on either side,
after frigid sex.
Under the sheet
of thorns,
strangers bound
by fate,
wear a dream
with worms squirming,
a parched future
with two pairs
of tearing eyes.

The poems of Packiyanathan Ahilan is no doubt horrible in portrait, loneliness in love, sleepless in war field all the night under the starlit sky having no light to read the lines of the dead left.

RW/ May 28, 2023

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Vol 56, No. 4, Jul 23 - 29, 2023