புதன், செப்டம்பர் 28, 2022

Greetings to Prof. George Hart on his 80th birthday during JNU Celebrations

Birthday Greetings to Prof. George Hart on his 80th birthday during JNU Celebrations

It was a pleasure to participate in the George Hart 80 Birthday celebrations organized by the Tamil Stream of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The following is a preliminary draft of my remarks:


Dear Professors Araventhan, Om Prakash Singh, Jeyadevan, Vasu Renganathan, and Chandrasegaran, Honorable Member of Parliament Dr. Ravikumar, other professors, scholars and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Greetings from California and thank you for inviting me to this celebration of Prof. George Hart’s 80th Birthday.

The JNU Tamil Stream deserves a Big Thank You from Tamil Americans, especially those from the San Francisco Bay Area and the University of California at Berkeley. We have lot more reasons to celebrate Prof. Hart and his contributions and these are often unknown outside our area. The obvious one is that Prof. Hart is the first occupant of the first Tamil Chair established in a north American University, U.C. Berkeley and it was setup by Tamil Americans. That was in 1996. But Prof. Hart has been a member of the Bay Area Tamil Community since before 1980. He along with his Tamil wife Kausalya were among the co-founders of the San Francisco Bay Area Tamil Manram in 1980 and contributed to the early literary discussions organized by the Tamil Manram.

The Harts have been part of the bay area Tamil community for long, contributing to the Concord Murugan Temple, Tamil Manram cultural events, the Tamil schools, helping the California Tamil Academy get accreditation for its Tamil classes, among other things. The Harts were great patrons of Tamil American community not only in the Bay Area but also throughout North America. When we celebrate Prof. George Hart’s contributions we also celebrate Mrs. Kausalya Hart for her role in all of these as well. சக்தி இல்லையேல் சிவம் இல்லை.

When the Tamil Chair was established in 1996, UC Berkeley started to bring visiting scholars from Tamil Nadu not only to teach their students but also to interact with the Tamil American community and help promote Tamil culture in the bay area. In the late 1990s, when Prof. Ilakkuvanar Maraimalai came to U.C.Berkeley, Mr. Kumar Kumarappan, the chairman of the Tamil Chair committee and I organized a series of “fireside chat” programs in the residences of Tamil Americans around the bay area to discuss ancient and modern Tamil literature.

Prof. Hart was often a speaker at the annual முத்தமிழ் விழா a literary program organized by Tamil Manram. And his talks introduced ancient Tamil literature to young Tamil Americans who were born in the U.S. The UCB Tamil Chair was not just an academic institution. It was part of the Tamil American community. When we hosted the Tamil Internet conference in 2002 at Foster City, CA, UCB was a co-sponsor. Not many people know that Prof. Hart himself designed Tamil fonts for Apple Mac computers. In fact, the Unicode committees and Apple initially thought that Tamil was an archaic classical language of interest only to U.C. Berkeley researchers and were surprised that a large population spoke Tamil and was eager to use it in computers.

Prof. Hart was one of the pioneers in developing Tamil computing and took part in the internet discussion of standardizing 8-bit encoding for Tamil. And his contributions continue through the era of Unicode encoding.

However, practically everyone has heard of Prof. Hart first through the famous letter that he wrote to the Government of India recommending that Tamil be recognized as a Classical Language of India. When Prof. Maraimalai first requested Prof. Hart to write that letter, he was completely surprised. To Prof. Hart it seemed strange that he should have to write an essay claiming that Tamil is a classical language. Among western scholars, it was taken for granted that ancient Sangam literature was classical, especially so after the brilliant translations of Akam and puRam poems by Prof. A. K. Ramanujan. In fact, Prof. Hart got introduced to Tamil through Prof. Ramanujan and to a large extent Ramanujan’s translations set the standard by which all modern translations are judged.

Prof. Ramanujan himself was a great poet and when he wrote that “I do not translate out of love but out of envy, out of a kind of aggression towards these great poems”, a generation of poet-scholars were inspired to emulate him. Prof. Hart’s translations of Kamban, Akam and PuRam poems can be seen in this light. While Prof. Hart is not a poet, he collaborated with poet Hank Heifetz to produce near literal translations of the great Tamil classics.

In his preface to his translation of “The Forest book of the Ramayana of Kampan”, Prof. Hart wrote “Our purpose is introduce Kampan, who is perhaps India’s greatest poet, to a non-Tamil audience.” Understandably, this delighted the Tamil scholars while raising the eyebrows of Sanskrit aficionados. Prof. Hart’s letter to the Government of India recommending classical language status to Tamil elicited similar murmurs in the Indological community.

However, as Prof. Hart often remarks, scholars should recognize that Tamil civilization was not a blank slate until the arrival of Aryans. He wrote “Tamil constitutes the only literary tradition indigenous to India that is not derived from Sanskrit. Indeed, its literature arose before the influence of Sanskrit in the South became strong and so is qualitatively different from anything we have in Sanskrit or other Indian languages.”

On a personal note, I have known George for about 25 years. Since the time we felicitated him for his translation of the puRa nAnURu, in 1998, until now, it has been my honor to have interacted with George and discuss literature, politics both local and international, religion, Tamil language among other things. When we lived in Newark, CA, George and Kausalya, used to visit us often on the weekends. We used to walk around Lake Elizabeth in Fremont while intensely debating everything under the sun.

All those discussions were friendly no matter how serious our difference of opinion was. He enjoyed a good argument as much as I did. While neither of us changed our opinions after these discussions, we always developed a better understanding of the alternate point of view. I am thankful for those hours of discussion.

For this and his great many other contributions to Tamil language, culture and community, it is a great honor for me to join you in celebrating Prof. George Hart on his 80th birthday. Like the other pioneer, Prof. Emeneau, also of U.C. Berkeley, may he continue to research and write for a very long time.

Mani M. Manivannan
27 September 2022

"தமிழ் - சமஸ்கிருத இலக்கிய மரபுகள் நெருங்கிய தொடர்புள்ளவை" - நேர்காணல்: ஜோர்ஜ் எல். ஹார்ட், தீராநதி, ஏப்பிரல் 2006

"தமிழ் - சமஸ்கிருத இலக்கிய மரபுகள் நெருங்கிய தொடர்புள்ளவை"
- நேர்காணல்: ஜோர்ஜ் எல். ஹார்ட், சந்திப்பு: மணி மு. மணிவண்ணன் தீராநதி, ஏப்பிரல் 2006

இந்த நேர்காணலின் பதிவைத் தீராநதியின் பக்கங்களில் தேடிப்பார்த்தேன். இப்போது இது அங்கே இல்லை. முதலில் அது கீழ்க்கண்ட சுட்டிகளில் இருந்தது.
http://www.kumudam.com/magazine/Theranadi/2006-04-01/pg1.php http://www.kumudam.com/magazine/Theranadi/2006-03-01/pg1.php
எனவே என்னிடம் இருந்த பழைய படிகளை இத்துடன் பகிர்கிறேன். இது ஒரு முக்கியமான நேர்காணல். பலரும் மீண்டும் படிக்க வேண்டியது. பேரா. ஹார்ட் அவர்களின் 80 ஆவது பிறந்தநாள் அன்று இதைப் பதிவு செய்வதில் மகிழ்கிறேன்.