The smell of soil and the fragrance of vines emanate from the earthy lyrics. They speak of ancient legacies and happy coexistence. ‘Nallapadi vaazhacholli indha manna koduthane poorvakudi…’ (our ancestors bequeathed us this land with their blessings) ‘Nayi nari poonaikundhan indha erikkolam kooda sondhammadi…’ (The dog, the fox, the cat they too own these lakes and ponds).
Within its vibrant frames and lyrics, ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ packs in a lot — the timeless attachment to land, environment issues, the pain of the landless labourers and the love of nature. And that gives this seemingly easy earworm of a song both its depth and its rich character.
“To me the lyrics are a personal tribute to two very important people in my life — Valliamma my grandmother, whose history is all about labour and exploitation; and Mukil Paranthaman, a scholar who collected folk songs all his life,” says Arivu, 27, basking in the phenomenal success of ‘Enjoy Enjaami’, which has garnered more than three million views in little more than a week of its release.
First from Maajja
Arivu has written the lyrics, performed in it, including doing an Oppari bit, along with singer Dhee of ‘Rowdy baby’ fame. ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ is the first album from Maajja, the record label founded by A.R. Rahman to support independent artistes and provide them an international platform. “I was at home in Arakkonam during the lockdown, when Maajja contacted me,” says Arivu. “They have plans to platform 30 artistes across the world. Dhee and I feature in the list.”
It took over 200 people and three months to produce ‘Enjoy Enjaami’. “Honestly, we didn’t expect this kind of response,” says Arivu. Santhosh Narayanan has produced the album, and his expert arrangement shows. It was Dhee who approached Arivu to write the lyrics. “We’ve known each other for three years and had been talking about collaborating. When this came up, we thought it was the right opportunity,” he says.
More important, however, is that Arivu was able to express his grandmother’s struggles in the song. “Our family went to Sri Lanka 200 years ago to work as labourers in the tea estates. They returned to India 60 years ago, after the Sirima-Shastri Pact. [When thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils were repatriated to India.] My grandmother couldn’t even take leave of her sisters. To this day, we don’t know if they are alive.”
Valliamma, who features in the song’s lyrics and visuals, took up odd jobs in Tamil Nadu, as railway construction labourer and domestic worker while her husband did menial jobs. The couple ensured that their daughter was educated. “My mother became a teacher, because of which I could become an artiste. I owe it to her,” says Arivu.
Sharing the history
Arivu’s family has constantly discouraged him from sharing their oppressive history. “Our history is not about valour or pride. But recently, I decided I should begin sharing it; our history wrought with exploitation and labour. How my grandparents toiled on land they could never have owned. I wanted to include bits of that history.” The song has lines that go: ‘Valliyamma perandi sangathiya koorandi (Valliyamma’s grandson is here to tell you something). And ‘Thottam sezhithalum en thonda nanaiyalaye’ (My garden flourishes but my throat stays dry).
Arivu has a deep connect with Oppari. “I believe Oppari is my root,” he says. The ‘Anju maram valarthen’ bit is from Mukil Paranthaman’s collection. Popularly called Paavalar Mukil and associated with Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, the late Paranthaman travelled from village to village collecting folk songs and publishing them as books. “This is my tribute to him,” says Arivu.
“I have an important task ahead: to speak about land, about migration. I have written a song for a documentary titled Soru (Food) for Poovulagin Nanbargal. It’s called ‘Enga nilam enga’ (Where is our land?) And for Vellai Yaanai (upcoming Tamil film by Subramaniam Siva), I’ve written a song titled ‘Vaazha vachone’ about a farmer forced to migrate. I am haunted by labour on land people can’t own, by their constant forced migrations.”
Arivu’s work with director Manikandan for the film Kadaisi Vivasayi (The Last Farmer) was important for him. “Manikandan spoke of an ancient society which lived in consonance with nature. I am deeply affected and hurt by caste violence today, but to know that we have lived differently at some point of time in history is a comforting thought. Sometimes our response need not be anger; it could just be the discovery of our roots and the realisation about how beautiful it has been.”
The writer is a Chennai-based independent journalist.