PM Narendra Modi recently released the Translation of the Tamil classic Thirukkural in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) indigenous language Tok Pisin. Bharatiyas’ interest was already piqued by James Marape, the PM of PNG when he touched Modi’s feet in respect. But when they released the book the curiosity grew stronger as Papua New Guinea is a small island nation with little population.
It turns out that PNG not only has a Tamil man as the Governor of the West New Britain province but has a deeper connection with the Dravidian languages as well. The book was authored by Sasindran Muthuvel and his wife Subha. Muthuvel is the Governor of the province of West New Britain and the first Bharatiya-origin person to be elected to the parliament of PNG.
It was by luck that Muthuvel went to the island nation, established a chain of stores there and jumped into public life. A native of the Sivagangai district in Tamil Nadu, Muthuvel was looking for jobs and chanced upon an advertisement for a post of retail shop manager. He took that opportunity and arrived in PNG in 1997. As another turning point, the Singaporean national who ran the shop decided to wind up his business and Muthuvel started his own business to survive.
He established a chain of retail outlets named Hamammas, meaning ‘I am happy’ in the local language. He married Subha, a native of Tirunelveli in TN and they ran the business and did charity work together. “We started charity work and extended help to the needy. I do not know how I became popular but then I decided to jump into the electoral arena as I got my citizenship in May 2007. I floated a new party and contested the elections and won. Later I joined the ruling People’s National Party,” he told The Deccan Herald.
He became the first Bharatiya-origin person to be elected to the PNG parliament in 2012. The Bharatiya government felicitated him with the ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Award’. There seems to be a fascinating connection between Bharat and PNG that researchers haven’t delved into yet. It was brought to light by KVS Krishna, a plantation manager in the 1980s. Krishna, a Telugu by birth and went to school in Chennai, was familiar with Dravidian languages. He was astonished to find similar-sounding words in the indigenous language and many places named after Hindu deities and figures from itihas and in Sanskrit.
An Open Magazine article narrates Krishna’s experience of finding places named ‘Ashaloka’, ‘Ramu’ Valley, Linga Linga, etc. He also found that words which are meaningful in Tamil and Telugu like Wau (come here), Karimui (blackface) and Keveri Hills were also in use. Even the indigenous people of PNG, whose ancestors were converted to Christianity by colonisers, had Tamil-sounding surnames like John Kulala (short man), Tom Muliap (muli means radish or corner) and Nat Koleala (hen man).
“Almost 20 per cent of the towns and districts had a Dravidian connection (Tamil, Telugu or Sanskrit), even the telephone directory had about 50 Tamil surnames”, Krishna said. The most fascinating encounter was when Krishna came to know that the premier of Madang loved chewing areca nuts and offered him a paan as we do to guests in Bharat and the premier thought Krishna had gone native.
Perhaps the New Guinean PM touching PM Modi’s feet was not just a photo-op and an extension of the unexplained cultural connection between Bharat and Papua New Guinea.