Thursday, November 8, 2012
Quite a few of the statues along the Marina were unveiled in January 1968, when the second World Tamizh Conference was held in the city. Among those are a couple of non-natives; missionaries who came to the land with religious fervour, but live on in current memory thanks to their contributions to the Tamizh language. George Uglow Pope was one of them, but he was following a precedent set by Constanzo Beschi, who was ahead of him by a couple of centuries.
Today is the 344th anniversary of Beschi's birth. He arrived in India when he was 31, starting off as a missionary near Tiruchirapalli. Fascinated by the land, its customs and most importantly the language, Beschi threw himself into becoming one with it. He adopted local clothes and customs; studied the language in depth, both classical as well as the argot. Out of that arose two books of Tamizh grammar, one classical and the other for the common man's dialect. Not stopping with that, he complied a சதுரகராதி - a four part lexicon, besides Tamizh-Latin-Portugese dictionaries.
His seminal work was the Thembavani (தேம்பாவணி - the 'Unfading Garland'); it was not merely a story of the apostle St Joseph's life, but the telling of it in a fashion that was influenced by Tamizh epic poetry. Beschi had to put up with a fair degree of persecution, but his open admiration of the culture and the language tempered the challenges he faced. This courage and his ascetic ways earned him the title of Veeramamunivar (வீரமாமுனிவர், the 'courageous hermit'), which is the name by which every schoolchild in Tamil Nadu knows him even today!