On 15 June, the Department organised the launch of the book The Banyan, which is a collection of Edwin Thumboo’s poetry in Tamil. Thumboo’s poems were translated into Tamil by our colleague A/P Chitra Sankaran. The event was graced by DPM Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. During the launch, second-year undergraduate Losheini Ravindran recited Thumboo’s poetry in both English and Tamil. Below Losheini recounts her experience at the event:
“I still remember the day I opened an email from A/P Chitra Sankaran; my joy knew no bounds! An opportunity to recite Professor Edwin Thumboo’s poetry! With a great feeling of elation, I went on to read, understand and practise the poem, “Gods Can Die”/”Devargal Marikkalaam.”
Finally, the day of the book launch arrived. After Professor John Richardson’s introductory speech on Professor Thumboo, A/P Sankaran went on to share about her experiences in playing a major role in the translation of The Banyan into Aalam (Tamil translation). As a bilingual Tamil speaking girl myself, I was able to relate to A/P Sankaran’s concerns in finding the most suitable words to render Thumboo’s poetry in Tamil without losing the essence of its poetic qualities. A/P Sankaran also shared about how Professor Thumboo had been her guru, guiding her in her new venture of accomplishing this challenging yet meaningful project.
Succeeding her speech came Professor Thumboo’s speech where, among other things, he shared how he witnessed the nation’s progress from the past to the present. “To find, to know, to unlock the radiance in compassion” was a line that captivated me during his recitation of his poem “The Banyan.” The poem was recited with such passion it would certainly have evoked and awakened a sense of unity and the desire for strong bonds among all Singaporeans seated in the auditorium. After being spellbound by Professor Thumboo’s magnificent rendition of his poem, our Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam went on to share how the strong sense of multiculturalism forms the crux of Thumboo’s poems. What amazed me was to see the poetic side of our Deputy Prime Minister as he shared his thoughts on the poem “Ulysses by the Merlion”; he said, “If Professor Thumboo is the unofficial Poet Laureate of Singapore, the ‘Ulysses by the Merlion’ is the epic poem.” Belonging to a younger generation, Mr Tharman’s speech and sharing made me realize how Professor Thumboo’s poem holds a significant meaning in reflecting upon how far our society has come in reaching the pinnacle of success by going against all odds as depicted by the allusion to the Greek legend.
Finally my turn to recite Professor Thumboo’s poem came. To be honest, my heart was filled with apprehension. I was extremely nervous about whether I would be able to recite the poem well in both English and Tamil. At that moment, I recalled Professor Thumboo’s recitation of “The Banyan” during his speech; I gained inspiration and took off from there. The experience was very fulfilling and it certainly marked one of the most significant and blessed events of my life.
To sum it up all, this has been an event that has taught me about the beauty of poetry in depicting and exploring the shaping of a nation. Being a woman of both Indian and Chinese origin, I was able to relate to and appreciate the importance of multiculturalism and strength derived from racial harmony through literature.”