A documentary on R. Chudamani takes us on an intimate tour of her home where she spent most of her life writing and painting. Akila Kannadasan reports
There's something about that house in Kilpauk, Chennai. The old front garden, the empty verandah, the curtains with patterns of flowers…Inside, the tall wooden bookshelves with their books, the plaster-of-Paris Saraswathi perched high on a stool in the hall…It's here that writer and artist R. Chudamani spent most of her life.
These four walls have witnessed the birth of many, many stories and paintings. The documentary film Azhagin Elimai takes you on a tour of this house, trying in the process to give you a glimpse of the life of a writer who rarely stepped out of it.
Chudamani was a prolific writer — she has written over 500 short-stories and novels in Tamil and has also written in English.
Azhagin Elimai is made by artist Monikhaa who recently screened it at a monthly meet of Aruvi, a literary association.
The 27-minute documentary is interspersed with passages from Chudamani's writings. One of the passages is about a 70-year-old Nagalingam tree in front of her house. She writes, “Do you know something about this tree? It experiences autumn at least thrice a year. The wind blows the dead leaves off for over four or five days.” ad leaves keep falling off due to the wind for four-five days The tree kept her company almost all her life — she could see it from her room in the upper floor.
The camera dwells on the beautiful plaster-of-Paris statues that decorate the house. They were modelled at home by Chudamani's mother. It also lovingly focuses on the writer's collection of Tamil and English books on her bookshelves.
Chudamani's writing table by the window, the steep staircase that leads to her room, the peeling walls, the kind of books she read…it's these little details that add life to the documentary. Chudamani spent most of her life at home and her writing flowered here. Her home is a testimony to this.
The making of 'Azhagin Elimai'
Monikhaa was invited by K.Bharathi of Chudamani Ninaivu Arakattalai to appraise the writer's books on art in her house. An art-critic and artist herself, Monikhaa was amazed by Chudamani's interest in art at a time when there were very few women artists. “Most of her works were done in the 1950s. She even participated in an all-women's art exhibition in the 1960s. She maintained an album with the works of great masters such as Rabindranath Tagore and Roychowdhury. She cut them out from magazines and compiled them. I also learned that she had a private art tutor who came home to teach her. She read extensively — she had books on everything from Marxism to religion and art. She maintained notebooks with her opinions on every book she read. She has meticulously written them down in pencil.”
Chudamani never signed her paintings. She lived in utter simplicity — she left all her wealth, which amounted to crores, to needy students. After spending a week at her home for the documentary, Monikhaa went on to read Chudamani's works to understand her better. Monikhaa never got to meet the writer when she was alive. She says, “When I looked through her art materials, her cupboard full of books, the place where she painted as light fell inside from a window…that was when I wished I'd met her.”