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The style is the man

`An evening with Asokamitran' provided interesting insights into the prolific writer's world

Sincere and sardonic: Ashokamitran. — Pic. by K.V.Srinvasan

"I'M SURPRISED that my story provoked so much mirth. It's a serious matter, a man is going to die," remarked the author, rather reprimandingly, after reading aloud from his "Man with a Diary".

`An Evening with Asokamitran', presented by Prakriti Foundation at Chamiers last week began with Amshan Kumar's film profiling the prolific Tamil writer whose debut radio play "Anbin Parisu" has been followed by novels, novellas, short stories and essays. The documentary has Asokamitran (J. Thiyagarajan) talking about his ordinary life and extraordinary creative existence. Born in 1931 to Tamil parents, he found in his childhood in Lancer Barracks in the twin cities, the matrix of much of his fiction. The film records him saying, "Two months ago I still found myself writing about Hyderabad and Secunderabad". Shifting to Chennai after his father's death, the young man became public relations officer in Gemini Studios. His encounters with the film industry supplied rich material, as did his travels abroad. A supportive family enabled him to opt for straitened circumstances as a fulltime writer. The documentary had unexpected moments — "I wrote in the park because I like natural rather than artificial light." Or, "I still have a lot to say. To write it all I have to live for another 100 years."

Sincere and sardonic

Some of what Asokamitran had said in writing was read aloud by the author, as also playwright Anushka Ravishankar ("Those Two"), and actor/artist A.V. Dhanushkodi who made brilliant drama out of "Morning Show for a Mentor". Despite the transference into English, the style held its characteristic tongue-in-cheek wryness, understatement, and the ability to convey much through terse, almost epigrammatic constructions. The question-answer session showed that the style is the man, absolutely. The answers had a blend of the sincere and the sardonic. Had Asokamitran experienced any writer's blocks? "Writers often romanticise this, make it into a mystery. In everyday life too you make slips, slow down. The thing is to go on... (Pause) I have filled quite a few pages with my writing. Sometimes those old sheets frighten me." Advice to young writers? "They should write," be disciplined enough to carry on through setbacks and disappointments.

Only Tamil writing

Asokamitran had written in English before deciding to stay entirely with Tamil — English had its own pace, very different from the rhythms of his personality and style. But was he taught Tamil in his Secunderabad school? "Not much. Some. Enough to write."

The writer also talked about real life incidents, as also dreams, which sparked his stories. A unique early novel "18th Parallel" has some autobiographical elements. "Though no work of literature is completely imaginary, imagination plays a part in every work of fiction". Interestingly, Asokamitran mentioned Rabindranath Tagore's "Kabuliwala" as a story that "can lead to a lot of imagination" in the reader. Isn't this what he strives to do in his own texts?

In the course of the evening the writer recommended several books of his as worth reading. So, does he read his old stories? "I dread that. Whichever page I open I see only misprints. Nothing like misprints to put down a writer!"


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