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Chapter 4 Living Loss at Land’s End Alas! What can we say about the suffering heaped upon the ancient Tamil land, which gave birth to the arts and to human civilization? 1 97 INTIMATE ELSEWHERES By the opening years of the twentieth century, far away from the metropolitan sites where it had hitherto largely circulated, Sclater’s Lemuria found a new and enthusiastic following in the Tamil-speaking region of colonial India in the context of the upsurge of language consciousness and mobilization that I have characterized as “Tamil devotion.”2 A complex network of praise, passion, and practice centered on the adoration of the Tamil language , Tamil devotion mobilizes metropolitan labors of loss over drowned continents and submerged landbridges toward a brand-new narrative of origins in which Lemuria is recast as the birthplace of the Tamil people, their ancestral homeland lost catastrophically to the ocean. As a consequence, Lemuria acquires a commemorative density in the Tamil country over the course of the twentieth century that it does not command anywhere else in the world.3 Indeed, for its Tamil place-makers, everything in the known world—be it (the Tamil) man or music, medicine or the martial arts—had its origins in Lemuria. Convinced as they are about the utter state of humiliation and neglect in which their beloved Tamil languishes in colonial and postcolonial India, its devotees have lived out their own lives in the shadow of decline and loss, as I have documented in my Passions of the Tongue.4 It is their everyday experience of despair and yearning that powerfully anchors their labors of loss as they fantasize about Lemuria as their former homeland , a place of promise, plenitude, and perfection that had once existed elsewhere but no more. Hence also their intense preoccupation with its catastrophic loss, which leads them to teach it in schools and colleges and has secured for Sclater’s lost world, for the Wrst time, anywhere in the world, the patronage of the modern state. Indeed, in January 1981, during the Fifth International Conference of Tamil Studies held in historic Madurai, a short documentary titled “Kumarikkantam ” was screened in Tamil and English. Produced with the Wnancial support of the Tamilnadu government and the personal backing of Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, the documentary recounts an ancient tale of origins in the paleo-scientiWc language of modernity. It traces the birth of Tamil and its literature to the very beginning of time on Lemuria, referred to also by its Tamil name Kumarikkantam. In the documentary’s recounting, the paleo-history of the earth turns around the Tamil land, language, and literature . In such a planetary vision, the history of Tamil and its modern speakers is both deeply temporalized and ambitiously spatialized: the entire world was Tamil’s domain, once upon a time, millions of years ago.5 With the making of this Wlm, and with the pedagogical circulation of Lemuria in schools and colleges, Sclater’s lost continent has been ofWcially installed in Tamil collective memory at the heart of a catastrophic narrative about the loss of the prelapsarian Tamil past and self. This is, of course, in striking contrast to its presence in Euro-America, where it has been largely conWned to the occasional scientiWc conjecture or to place-making on the occult fringe. In what follows, I document how and why Lemuria accumulates this density of commemorative meaning in the Tamil country by Wrst considering its transformation from the homogeneous paleo and occult place-worlds of Euro-America into an intimate Tamil home-place that is catastrophically lost to the ocean. Labors of loss accompany paleo-scientiWc and occult placemaking around Lemuria in Euro-America, as we have seen, but the loss experienced by its Tamil place-makers appears much more profound and personal precisely because it is not some remote paleo land or occult domain that vanishes, but the very birthplace of the Tamil language, literature , culture, indeed, the Tamil man—the Tamil prelapsarium. Thus, it is under the sign of the catastrophic disappearance of everything that belongs to Tamil, and the impossibility of their return, that labors of loss around Lemuria take place in Tamil-speaking India. Hence also the fascination with it among so many. COLONIAL LABORS OF LOSS As was so often the case in colonial India, but for a passing interest expressed by sundry British scholars and administrators in Sclater’s vanished continent, the transformation of Lemuria into an intimate Tamil place might...


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