Cartoonist, playwright, traveller – Sridharan alias Bharanitharan alias Marina has many dimensions.

It is Paramacharya whom T.S. Sridharan alias Bharanitharan alias Marina repeatedly thanks during the conversation. Incidentally, not many are aware of Cheeli, the cartoonist, yet another hat that Marina donned and Sridhar, writer of political jokes. On the whole, it is time well-spent talking to this multifaceted personality, octogenarian, who has chosen to spend the evening of his life in spiritual activities. He is guiding the affairs of the Sri Kamakoti Seshadri Swamigal Mantap Committee.

Born on Christmas day in 1925, Marina had an eventful adolescence, the interesting phase neatly chronicled in his autobiographical book, ‘Chinna Vayadhinilae.' Graduating in Commerce in 1947, he found himself interested in freelancing and cartooning. Dailies such as Swadesamithran encouraged him in the endeavour. He preferred working in the editorial department of Ananda Vikatan to a job in the Reserve Bank of India. After about three decades of significant contribution, he retired in 1985 as the journal's joint editor.

Sridharan describes those three decades as the golden period. Coming close to Paramacharya was a great fortune that paved the way for successes on several fronts, according to him. Sridharan thanks S.S. Vasan, editor of Ananda Vikatan, who encouraged him and with equal reverence remembers his father, T.N. Seshachalam, mentor and a perennial source of inspiration.

Association with Ananda Vikatan proved enriching. He got opportunities to meet religious heads and political leaders such as Kamaraj and Rajagopalachari. Reviewing the films of Sivaji Ganesan, K. Balachander and Sridhar was an interesting experience.

Seshachalam, a scholar,was also associated with a Tamil literary journal of Kalanilayam, between 1928 and 1935. “My father had mastered Kamban and Shakespeare and firmly believed that it was life that got enacted on stage. He translated Othello and Julius Caesar and R.P. Sheldon's play Pissaro; the translated Tamil version was staged in 1937.

“During the numerous rehearsals at home (I was around 12 and memorised the entire dialogue), I used to do the prompting even for senior artists. Perhaps, the seeds were sown then,” says Sridharan.

What brought about the pilgrim series? Again Bharanitharan attributes it to the sage of Kanchi (while drawing his attention to a discussion on Chakkiyar Koothu, on an early morning exclusive customary talk with him). “And it was Paramacharya, who prompted me to document the experiences of my pilgrimages (1968-85). These were published in Aalaya Dharisanam and Ananda Vikatan. Later they were published as books. Writing plays became a pastime.”

Sridharan pauses to think aloud: “It was the divine grace of Paramacharya that made me travel along the length and breadth of the country. This brought me into contact with hundreds of people, all of whom became characters in my plays.”

Visit to pilgrim spots

In 1968, Sridharan joined a group of pilgrims to Golconda, Shirdi, Pandaripuram and a few other places and desired to share his experiences of visiting holy spots with the readers of Ananda Vikatan. On getting the editor's nod, the narratives were serialised as ‘Aalaya Darisanam.'

Trips to the Himalayas, Gomuk, Badrinath and Kedarnath, (‘Badri Kedar Yathirai'), Varanasi and Rameswaram (‘Kasi Rameswara Yathirai'), temples in Kerala, Karnataka, etc., were serialised one after the other. As many as 246 holy spots of Tamil Nadu were discussed elaborately. Thus was born ‘Arunachala Magimai.' Also he studied the lives of Seshadri Swamigal, Paadagacheri Swamigal and Muthuswamy Dikshitar.

A Tamil translation of Kalidasa's ‘Raghu Vamsam' is also to his credit. His other translations include R.K. Narayan's ‘Guide' and ‘Swami and friends.'

Among the many books he authored is ‘Six Mystics of India' in English.

From 1968 his plays were staged by the theatre group ‘Kalanilayam.' In 1969, his first full fledged play, ‘Thani-k-kudithanam' was enacted by Poornam Viswanathan and his team. Rasika Ranga was born in 1979 with a group of dedicated artists, ably aided by his friends such as Vittal Rao, Bobji Swaminathan, Pooram Seshadri and Vittal Padmanabhan setting immaculate standards from account keeping to maintaining discipline on and off the stage.

Steeped in humour, Marina's plays mostly depict real life situations of the middle class and was honoured with Kalaimamani (1993). Marina arranged to bring a real train coach to the stage, with the technical expertise of his school mate and co-stage artist R.S. Manohar, for ‘Kasturi Thilagam.' It was an adaptation of his book, ‘Mahatmavin Manaivi.'

Were his plays filmed? “Yes. But it was not a happy experience. I ended up learning a few lessons,” says Marina.

Anything to do with paper continues to interest him – such as penning jokes, novels, translations and reviews. Friends, young and old, flock to him seeking his opinion and advice on theatre. Choosing to remain a bachelor and shunning publicity, Sridharan is a contented man, considering himself lucky that his life was shaped by none other than the revered Paramacharya.

(Reach www.marinabharani.com for more details)