With his unkempt hair, simple dress and rustic Tamil, he could easily pass off as a farmer. But, in the world of modern Tamil literature, Kanmani Gunasekaran has won a place for himself with his naturalistic writing, delving deep into the psyche of ordinary men and women in the lower rungs of society, leading a vulnerable life.
“I meet my characters on day-to-day basis. Some of them have already found a place in my works, while others are waiting for their turn,” says the 39-year-old mechanic with the State Transport Corporation at Virudhachalam.
After completing his SSLC, he attended government Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and then joined the transport corporation. When he is not on duty at the depot, Gunasekaran can be seen in fields where he cultivates bitter gourd and groundnuts.
“I find time to write while I straddle the two occupations,” says Gunasekaran, who has already published four short story collections, three novels, three poetry collections and a dictionary of the dialects (Nadunattu sollakarathi) of Cuddalore and neighbouring districts.
The dictionary won the State Government's award.
“I became a writer by accident,” says this farmer-turned-mechanic-turned-writer, recalling his first poem about the notchi plant (medicinal) he noticed on the roadside while riding a bicycle. “My friends liked the poem and it provided the impetus,” says Gunasekaran stressing that his forte, however, lies in fiction.
The inspiration for writing, he says, came from Perumal Murugan, the Tamil writer, who had compiled a dictionary of dialect from the Kongu region.
Gunasekaran's writing technique involves a description of real life characters and the circumstances in a language heavily loaded with dialect without distracting the readers' attention.
“I am not used to typing stories. I use a pen and the blank side of film and other wall posters for writing,” he says. He has one advantage, though: he portrays real-life characters without even changing their names.
“But, being mostly illiterate, my characters seldom get a chance to read about themselves in my stories. A few, like the Ratnavelu in the short story ‘Mazhippu', know that I have written about them. Ratnavelu only wanted me to buy him two glasses of alcohol,” laughs Gunaskearan, winner of the Sundara Ramasamy Award for young writers.
“Some people call me and narrate their ordeals and want me to write,” says the creator of ‘Anjalai' (an eponymous novel), one of the most well-known characters of modern day Tamil fiction.
The dictionary has given him a new identity. “Dialects die with old people. It took me over seven years to complete the task,” he explains.
“I am compiling the folk songs, opparis (mourning songs) and other folk literature. No occasion in life will be complete without songs,” he says, launching into a high-pitched song normally heard in therukuuthu.