The late Kamala Sadagopan changed hearts with her writing.
Can a single novel become the calling card of a writer, who churned out hundreds of short stories, wrote several novels and edited a magazine apart from assisting her film-writer-husband? Kamala Sadagopan donned all these hats with deceptive ease, surmounting hurdles and challenges.
Kamala’s ‘Kadhavu,’ a social novel serialised in Kalaimagal dealt with family relationships that a new bride inherits. Many spoke of changed hearts and salvaged marriages after reading the novel. Along with ‘Kadavu,’ her ‘Padigal’ and ‘Varisu’ were prescribed novels for university students, for the content of values and understanding of human psychology. Always taking up the cudgels for the underdog, her solutions were simple. Many student submitted theses on her novels.
Kamala started writing at the age of 16. She belonged to a conservative family that certainly would not approve of such ambitions in a girl, who had to be married off. Nevertheless, young Kamala just picked up a calendar sheet, wrote her first short story, rolled it up and sent it to Vijaya Vikatan, a popular weekly. To her surprise, the story got published. The elders were shocked and told her not to indulge in practices that might jeopardise her marriage prospects.
But destiny had other plans for Kamala. Appreciating her talent, the famous novelist and freedom fighter, V. M. Kothainaayaki, insisted that Kamala be allowed to write and thus her literary pursuit continued. Kamala’s stories appeared in Kalaimagal, V. M. Kothainaayaki’s Jaganmogini and Amudhasurabhi. She joined Jaganmogini as a sub-editor and with Kothainaayaki’s demise, her publisher-husband wanted Kamala to take over as its editor.
But it was a turning point. Along came the marriage proposal of Sadagopan, whom she learnt was a clerk in a shipping company. Shelving her promising career, Kamala got married, resigned to the much familiar role of the housewife.
But she was in for a sweet surprise. “Kamala, I’m not a clerk. I’m a film writer. I had to bluff because parents don’t think much of a career in cinema,” Sadagopan @ Chitralaya Gopu told her sheepishly. Kamala returned the compliment by telling him about her hidden writing skills and the two picked up the thread, eventually becoming a foil for each other. Gopu would later seek her help to tackle the sentiment portions of his film scripts.
Kamala’s first serial, ‘Kadhavu,’ also her masterpiece, appeared in Kalaimagal. The novel won the Narayanasami Iyer prize, and Rajam Krishnan, one of the three judges, revealed that the choice was unanimous.
‘Kadhavu’ created a sensation among college girls, including those addicted to Harold Robbins, Chase and Mills and Boon. Everyday, groups of girls made a beeline for Kamala’s Triplicane residence and sought to know how the plot was going to unfold. ‘Kadhavu’ became a favourite wedding gift while Kamala was already a household name.
The students of Stella Maris staged an adaptation of the novel and honoured Kamala. Her contemporaries Anuthama, Rajam Krishnan, R. Choodamani, Lakshmi and Kuyili Rajeshwari called her ‘Kadhavu Kamala.’ K.V. Jagannathan, Editor of Kalaimagal called her the magazine’s kadai kutti (youngest). Akilan mentioned at a function that she was Kalaimagal herself.
Kamala’s novel, ‘Padigal’ won the Tamil Valarchi Thurai’s best novel award in 1981 and she was honoured by then Chief Minister MGR. ‘Vaarisu,’ ‘En Uyir Thozhi,’ ‘Megalabaranam’ and ‘Vadakkil Oru Vazhikaati’ were well received and her works made a clean sweep of the various awards announced by Kalaimagal. Na. Parthasarathy responded by asking her to use her brilliant writing skills to reform society.
But, social issues had already grabbed Kamala’s attention and she played an active role in the Mahathmaji Seva Sangam, organising programmes, which were appreciated by social activist Saraswathy Bhai. Vai.Mu.Ko. actually influenced Kamala in more ways than one. Kamala wanted to emulate her Gandhian senior and remain single, because marriage, she thought, forced one to buy silk and gold. Vai.Mu.Ko. persuaded her to get married. Kamala, however, never bought gold in her life time. Concerned about the changing values, especially among the youth, she never stopped from laying stress on united family and marital harmony.
Her involvement in social affairs took Kamala to the AICC Avadi conference. An impressive orator, her address at the World Tamil Writers Conference held in Calcutta got a standing ovation. She returned to mainstream journalism in 1978 by becoming Assistant Editor of Mangaiyar Malar, a post she held till the magazine was taken over by Kalki.
She wrote scripts for TV and radio plays. Her novels, ‘Agalvilakkugal,’ ‘Gramathu Paravai’ (directed by Gopu) and ‘Kadhavu,’ were serialised by private channels.
Kamala remained a writer till the end. She had sent a short story for the Kalaimagal Deepavali Malar and two days later suffered a brain haemorrhage and was admitted to a private hospital in Alwarpet, Chennai. She drifted into a coma and after a month suddenly opened her eyes. She wanted to know if the Deepavali Malar story had been published. When she was told that the edition was yet to hit the stands, she smiled and closed her eyes, never to open them again. She passed away on November 14, a day after Deepavali. The remuneration for the Malar story reached her house the next day.