Chennnai painter Pugazhendi persists with Eelam tears                                   17 May 2010

R.Bhagavan Singh
Deccan Chronicle 

        It’s a year now since the Tiger guns fell silent in north Sri Lanka. Amid all those angry speeches about war crimes and the despair over the delayed Tamil rehabilitation, a few worried men and women of letters are seeking to preserve the long story of blood and tears in bitter prose, sorrowful verse and even drawings.

        Oviyar Pugazhendi is one of them as his exhibitions over recent years have shown how deeply affected this teacher of painting at the Government College of fine   arts in Chennai has been due to the tragic events across the Palk strait.

        His latest exhibition (Faces of War)of 80 paintings some of them oil on canvas and the rest pen and ink- has a lot of battle portrayal of grit and valour on the stern faces of boys and girls in Tiger uniforms. But What holds the eye of the visitor is the tragedy of the civilian caught in the crossfire of what undoubtedly was the most brutal war in this part of the world,at this part of history.

        Mann ilanthu magan ilanthu virindha verum kayyil irudiyay vizhundadu attraatha kanneer, says the caption at the bottom of a heart wrenching black and white portrait of a Mother wailing, holding a picture of her slain son. ‘ Lost the land, lost the son, and all that she has now are the unending tears gathered in her empty hands,

        A few equally disturbing paintings away is an arresting pen and ink work showing a little kid behind the barbed fence of a Government Camp for war - displaced Tamils in Vanni. The boy’s left eye is hidden behind the fence while the right eye stares over the fence. Is it a look of fear, of defiance, or of defeat? The Caption, penned by a Tamil poet, provides the answer and it,s difficult not to interpret it as being ominous. Endrendrum naan kulandaiyaaga irukkamaatten,. It translates simply as, “I will not remain child forever.”

        Kaayam sumakkatha desam vaduthalai peraathu, says Pugazhendi in another pen and ink masterpiece showing a wounded militant getting bandaged. That caption claims that a nation cannot get liberation without getting hurt. Really? Even in this civilized new age, when not just mutual tolerance but creating space for all is the essence of societal living?

        President Mahindha Rajapaksha promised he would address the Tamil problem after the war and now he has won a huge political victory the that gives him an opportunity no other Sinhala leader got. Let’s hope he will keep his promise as then, there would be no more need for a nation to bleed and the oviyar might pickup his brush next time to paint a smile on that island.