Ashokamitran goes down memory lane to recall how Karainda Nizhalgal was written.
The cover of my first novel, which also happens to be my first book, is a conventional one — a pretty face occupying most of the cover. The title appears in faint letters and the name of the author is fainter. But the book was a minor sensation in 1969, the year of its publication. Actually I was trying to publish a short story collection — I had more than 30 published stories at that time — but the publishers said short stories do not sell. After all, I hadn’t published a book yet.
Technically that first novel was not my first one. I had written half a novel in 1957 and a novella in 1959. My problem was the more popular magazines were not comfortable with my stories and the little magazines didn’t go beyond a few hundred readers. My first published novel also happened to be published in a little magazine, Deepam (light). The editor asked me for a serialised novel but kept insisting on a synopsis. Actually, I do not plan my stories and novels though I would not prescribe this to all aspiring writers. But I managed to give him a synopsis. He immediately said that he had planned to write a novel on that subject himself. But the announcement of my serial had been made and I was free from having to tell another synopsis.
That is how I managed to write Karainda Nizhalgal (dissolved images). The novel was a series of 10 vignettes and baffled my editor considerably. Even as it was being published, it drew the attention of the most vocal of political parties. The literary critics were, of course, ecstatic. Now they had material to discuss and offer any number of interpretations. By this time, the Communist Party of India had split. One group hailed my novel as a thundering voice for all that they stood for. The other found a number of instances of anti-people pronouncements in the novel and called me an enemy of the people.
It took quite a while for people to read the novel. Apart from the literary wings of political parties, my novel was one of the least read novels in the world. It didn’t get the much-coveted library order. But my publisher was a good soul and made a calculation of the royalty and paid me straightaway. Now, of course, the novel is always in demand though it is nearly 50 years old. It has been translated twice into English and one translation titled Star-Crossed was short-listed for Crossword Prize.
The novel consists of 10 chapters with different points of view seemingly telling a different story but readers will find it is the same human tragedy that has been written for hundreds of years. There are a couple of characters who appear to get wealthy but that is illusory. I have often said that Karainda Nizhalgal is not one of my favourites but, chronologically, it is my first published novel; so I have to talk about it. I was embarrassed when someone approached me with a proposal to make a film based on it. Like so of grandiose plans, nothing came of it. I write only to be read and, if that offers some stimulation to the reader’s imagination, I am most happy.
There are other memories of the novel. I like working in the open and I wrote most of the novel in a public park. I wrote at a particular bench and I usually went to the park at 6.00 a.m. If the bench was occupied, I felt relieved that I would not have to write that day. The park had very few trees and, by 7.00 a.m., the sun would become oppressive. So I had just half an hour to write.
It was at this park that I wrote many stories, two novels, translations, seminar papers and even a play. I had to abandon writing there when acquaintances began to sit by me and discuss a range of subjects. One astrologer would frequently ask if I wanted to know my future. I knew he was down and out and some money from me would get him a cup of coffee. Another friend came for a smoke but felt the experience was better if he interrupted my writing. Everyone has to work to make a living but it appears they cannot bear to see another work. Though all this delayed my writing, I was not upset. Those people probably derived greater happiness from preventing me from getting on with my writing. I have a secret feeling that they had read some piece of mine and felt strongly that I should not write. They were probably my best critics. For nearly 15 years, the park helped me write. Then it became crowded and noisy so I stopped going there. But it is mentioned whenever someone has to write about me. The evil that men do lives long after the event.