By Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

I am empathetic with Schlemils because sometimes I was one.

June 7, 2016.

sunflower in the dawn and dusk

Even a sunflower turns dusky at sunset. There is hope tomorrow.

Here is a story told to illustrate a Tamil proverb about an Indian counterpart of Yiddish Shlemil.

Schlemiel: an awkward and unlucky person for whom things never turn out right. Yiddish shlemil

viṭiyā-mūñci: (விடியாமூஞ்சி in Tamil) = Unlucky person; One who never sees the end of one's troubles.

Thindi was a prosperous town, where the people held jobs in all walks of life. The adjacent villages were agricultural country, producing paddy, peanuts, fruits, sugarcane, and vegetables...  There was also a thriving fair, where goods and animals were bought and sold. There was no homelessness. Beggars were scarce. Unemployment was less than three percent. There were schools, colleges and technical institutes. No one went hungry.

There were temples, mosques, churches… People celebrated religious festivals regularly and attended each other’s festivals irrespective of religious affiliation.

Such a town had one soul named Kuberan. He stopped with elementary school education, while his siblings went on to colleges. The family had thin means and could not support Kuberan. He wore his dhoti (long loincloth) so long the white became brown. He shed the dhoti because it tore every which way it can from overuse.

There was a weekly fair in town. He wore a strip of cloth covering his genitals, buttocks and the loin. It looked like a tight-fitting flimsy itty bitty tiny weeny loin cloth commonly called Ilaṇkōtu (இலங்கோடு = laṅ- gōṭa = லங்கோட்ட = Strip of cloth fitted to the loin). He went from shop to shop in the bazaar asking for a job. After about ten stops, a donkey trader felt pity on him, gave him the shirt off his back and asked him to tend to the donkeys. His job was to walk the donkeys up and down the fairgrounds, when a prospective buyer checked the health of the animal.  He did well walking the first donkey with the rope around its neck. All donkeys had their hind legs tied at the ankle so they did not take off. Kuberan untied the legs of a robust donkey named Frisky with his face below its tail. The tail whipped his chest and the hind legs in unison delivered a hard blow on his chin and the donkey took off. Down went Kuberan with his face buried in the slush with donkey dung. How could that be possible? He did not fall on his back, as expected. The kick was so strong his body and face turned a full 180° before they hit the mire.  He was instructed beforehand to untie the legs from the front and to the side of the animal. He simply forgot the instructions.

Here is a Tamil proverb to illustrate the incident.

469. அறுத்துக்கொண்டதாம் கழுதை, எடுத்துக்கொண்டதாம் ஓட்டம்.

It seems that the donkey broke loose and took to its heels.

Said of a stupid and obstinate fellow who suddenly leaves his home or his work and runs away.

" Who drives an ass, and leads a whore, hath pain and sorrow evermore."  

Translation by Rev. Herman Jensen I897

galloping donkey, a cross between a donkey and zebra

 His borrowed shirt tore off and was stained with dung and mud.  Some good souls walking by tore off his shirt to look at the wound on the chest. There was a big bruise. Kuberan clutched his jaws in pain. The ambulance came and took him to the hospital. The doctors x-rayed his jaw and found a fracture of the lower jaw. The doctors applied pins, aligned the lower jaw and wired the pieces in place. He ate liquid diet through a straw. The hospital staff removed and threw away his loincloth. He sported hospital uniforms. That was the first day he wore clean clothes.

It took three months before Kuberan felt fit enough to look for a job. He was back in the fairgrounds. This time, he was not going near any animals.

He was wearing a Kōmaam (கோமணம் = Cod piece), which was skimpier than the Ilaṇkōtu.  Again a good soul came to the rescue. A peanut farmer was selling peanuts by bales. He had large baskets containing peanuts for the prospective buyers to sample the peanuts before they bought it for retailing roasted peanuts in their shops. Things were going well for a few hours.

komanam: a strip of cloth hiding the genitals

Suddenly a large troop of monkeys about a dozen in number came, attacked Kuberan, ate the shelled peanuts, filled their cheek pouches and took off. The baskets were empty and the dirt floor with spilt nuts was picked clean.  Luckily this time, he was not injured.

Monkey stores food in the pouch before eating.

Both times, Kuberan was not paid for his work. Kuberan was afraid to ask for his wages, since under his watch things did not go well and the merchants either did not make any money, lost clients or sustained a loss.

This was the basis for this Tamil Proverb.  

98. விடியாமூஞ்சி வேலைக்குப் போனாலும் வேலை அகப்படாது, வேலை அகப்பட்டாலும் கூலி அகப்படாது.

Though the unlucky seeks work, he will not find it, and even if he gets work he will get no pay for it. –Translation by Rev. Herman Jensen

விடியாமூஞ்சி viṭiyā-mūñci. Schlemiel. Unlucky person; one who never sees the end of one’s troubles.

கூலி = kūli = wages, pay. Commonly kūli means a daily wage earner and not a salaried employee. Coolie is derived from the Tamil word கூலி = kūli and refers to an unskilled laborer. Krishnaraj