Stories of another day
Ku Pa Ra dealt about the social practices and evils prevalent in a particular period. His writing transcends the barrier of time as it captures the fundamental human emotions and excels in creating harmony of form.
LIFE WAS extremely difficult when Ku Pa Ra (K.P. Rajagopalan) (1902-44), one of the pioneers of modern Tamil writing and whose birth centenary falls on Tuesday, decided to move to Chennai in early 1937 from his native place of Kumbakonam to seek a career in writing.
He had just ``got back'' his eyes, which were affected due to cataract. He did not have any steady source of income. It was due to the impaired vision that he earlier had to quit his Government job.
It must have been a very bold venture to attempt to live in the city, relying on one's writings in Tamil at a time when it was not a paying profession, especially for one who did not contribute to any popular magazine.
In fact, he wanted to go back to Government service and represented to the Madras Government after Rajaji became premier of the Madras Presidency. But, he had to face the reality that he should only bank on his writing for a living.
The situation was no different for Ku Pa Ra after settling down in Chennai.
The founder-editor of `Manikkodi', Va. Ra. (V.Ramaswamy) tried to get him a job in `Swadesamitran'. But, that attempt did not click. For a while, Ku Pa Ra worked in the daily `Tamil Nadu', but the financial resources of the journal were such that even its staff could not avail themselves of the public transport to and from the office. Thus, he along with his colleague, C.S.Chellappa (who has been posthumously awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for 2001), walked along the Marina from Triplicane to George Town, where the daily's office was located.
Despite all this, Ku. Pa.Ra had not given up writing short stories, which was his first love, recalls Chitti, veteran Tamil literary personality. Apart from penning the stories, he translated into Tamil Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and `Durgesh Nandini', one of Bankim Chandra's novels.
The late writer wrote totally 60 short stories. He could not complete his only novel, ``Verottam''. He became closely associated with the Manikkodi era of writers.
Two collections of his short stories were published in the early 1940s when Ku Pa Ra was alive. Twenty-five years after his death, Vasagar Vattam (Readers' Circle), a Chennai-based body, came out with another collection of selected works. Around that time, Chellappa brought out a one-act play written by Ku Pa Ra.
More than these details, Ku Pa Ra's works were characterised by his espousal of the cause of women, when the concept of women's emancipation itself had not caught the imagination of many leaders. Young Hindu widows were his major characters and their sufferings, even in their short-lived married life, and were portrayed strongly.
His advocacy of women's rights was not confined to writing alone. It was on his insistence that his sister, Ku Pa Sethuammal could study till 10th standard, even after her marriage. And this happened about 80 years ago. Sethuammal went on to become a prolific Tamil writer in her own right and her stories were published in several Tamil magazines including `Manikkodi', `Ananda Vikatan', `Kalki' and `Gandhi'. ``It is painful to know that even today, she lives with some amount of financial difficulty'', Chitti says.
Ku Pa Ra wrote about human sorrow but was free of self-pity and sentimentality. ``He was like his writings. He might be in the worst circumstances. Yet, he would not reveal them to anyone, including to his close friends'', Chitti recounts.
Ku Pa Ra dealt about the social practices and evils prevalent in a particular period. His writing transcends the barrier of time as it captures the fundamental human emotions and excels in creating harmony of form. He might sound like a campaigner for women's cause. Even then, he set the highest standards in contemporary expression of human emotions.
It was to his credit that he is now regarded as one of the finest writers of Tamil of the 20th century though his mother tongue was not Tamil but Telugu.
By T. Ramakrishnan
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