V. Gangadhar spoke of the simplicity and humour in Tamil novelist Devan’s writings.

V. Gangadhar, columnist, who was honoured with the Devan Medal ten years ago, was back in the city to speak at the Devan Centenary Ccelebrations, organised jointly by the Devan Endowments and the Madras Book Club.

Devan, to him, spells happiness, said Gangadhar, who first began reading Devan’s works when he was in school. At that time, he read Devan for sheer entertainment. But when he re-read Devan many years later, he discovered Devan’s stories often had an inner meaning too. Appala Kutcheri, for example, is funny, but through the conversations of the appalam-making maamis, Devan points to the social problems faced by women.

Devan’s appeal lies in the fact that his characters are like us, said Gangadhar. E.M. Forster, in his Aspects of the Novel, wrote that an author should write about something he was familiar with. Devan scores here, for he writes about the life of middle class Brahmins. The readers come to know about the little differences between the Iyer and Iyengar communities. And when Devan writes about these two communities, he writes with authority and command.

Devan’s villains were not in the super villain category. Chandru in Miss Janaki is a rowdy, and Venkat and Ram in Mr.Vedantham are cheats. But Devan never went beyond such petty villains. That is why we get the feeling we’ve met such villains in our lives.

Sambu was his masterpiece. No one had ever attempted a caricature of detectives, and Devan’s caricature was a magnificent creation, said Gangadhar. Devan must have enjoyed crime thrillers and also followed court cases. Otherwise a masterpiece such as Justice Jagannathan would not have been possible. The side stories in Justice Jagannathan are just interesting as the main story.

In Devan’s stories, even the minor characters are interesting, observed Gangadhar. In Rajathin Manoratham, the mason, carpenter and electrician all speak different versions of Tamil. Their accents vary; their cultures vary, and each one of them is a delight to read about. Gangadhar pointed to the similarity between Devan and Dickens in the portrayal of minor characters. In one story in Pickwick Papers, Pickwick goes to prison, where he makes many friends, who are more interesting than the main character.

It is the duty of a novelist to tell a good story, and Devan displays his story telling ability in all his stories and that puts him among the top Tamil authors. It is easier to make people cry than it is to make them laugh. Very few like Devan had this ability to make people laugh.

Gangadhar had a few suggestions on how to popularise Devan among the younger generation. First of all, we must get the authorities to prescribe Devan’s books as text books for students. We also must ensure that libraries are well stocked with Devan’s books, he said.

The morning session included a felicitation for cartoonist Gopulu and a vocal concert by Sanjay Subrahmanyam.