It was not easy to find Devan’s house Kumbakonam, with an arch in front. CHARUKESI

Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, has been home to many Tamil writers such as Ku.Pa.Ra., Na. Pichamurthy, Thi. Janakiraman, M.V. Venkatram, Karichankunju, Indira Parthasarathy, Ra.Ki. Rangarajan and artists such as Mali, Gopulu, Natanam, and a few others. ‘Devan,’ creator of ‘Thuppariyum Sambu’ ‘Justice Jagannathan,’ ‘Mr. Vedantham’ and a score of other novels and hundreds of short stories and travelogues hailed from Thirividaimarudur, a suburb of Kumbakonam.

Before leaving on a pilgrimage tour of Kumbakonam, Mayialdithurai and Thanjavur, last month, I met the well-known illustrator Gopulu and asked his help in identifying the house where ‘Devan’ lived in Tiruvidaimarudur. “You know, our family, too, lived in the same house!” recalled Gopulu and gave me the name of the street. He could not, however, remember the house number.

“It is in Mahadhana Theru on the way to Arasalaru” said Gopulu and added that it was a house with an arch in the front. “It was the only house in the whole street, with an arch in front. You can’t miss it, if it still exists!” he advised. “Opposite to this house, well known musician and Gottu Vadhyam exponent Sakharam Rao lived. He was the Guru of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer,” he said. “Bring a picture of the house if possible, so that I can have a look at it,” said Gopulu as I took leave.

Writers and admirers

A few writers and admirers of ‘Devan’ too wanted to visit the house. One of them was Mr. Pasupathy, a Mathematics Professor from Canada, and an ardent fan of ‘Devan.’ He had contributed to the page on ‘Devan’ in Wikipedia and requested me in a recent e-mail to give more information on the author’s early days in Kumbakonam.

On reaching Kumbakonam. we visited Tiruvidaimarudur and worshipped at the sprawling Mahalingaswami temple before proceeding to find the house of writer ‘Devan’. Mahadhana Theru was exactly opposite to the temple and our driver-cum-guide Venkatraman took us through the street. I remembered Gopulu’s another clue. There was a Veda Patasala near his house, he had told me.

People we came across could not tell us where the house was. “There is no Veda Patasala,” said an old man with a flowing beard. “But yes, this is the road leading to Arasalaru. Go further and inquire,” suggested a shopkeeper.

I was not sure that I would be able to locate the house of the author who lived more than half a century ago in that street. Generations have changed and nobody from the locality could guide us to the right place. It was a wild goose chase, I had decided and almost abandoned the search. I might as well visit the next temple before it closed for the morning darshan. But driver Venkatraman was not one to give up. It was a challenge to his experience and expertise as a driver.

Watching us from a distance, an old man, his forehead smeared with thick lines of the sacred ash, approached me and said, “See, there is a newspaper shop outside a house. They are the oldest residents of this locality. May be they’ll know something.”

House of Devan

Before I could pass the newspaper shop, I saw a tiled-roof house in a compound with an arch in the front. Ah! this must be the house of ‘Devan’, I thought and went inside the house of the newspaper shop owner. He offered me a seat and cool water. After consulting someone in the house, he confirmed that the house with the arch was indeed the one that belonged to the family of ‘Devan’ and somebody in the army had lived there, too. He said the opposite house was the one where Semmangudi’s guru lived long back.

I took a picture of the house in my camera. A nursery school was housed in a portion of the house and its board was visible.

A small crowd of curious onlookers had gathered outside the house. What was special about the house, they wanted to know. And I told them that it was where a well-known Tamil writer and author of several novels and short stories lived with his family, prior to coming to Chennai, as a young lad of barely twenty years. He began his contribution with a humour piece titled ‘Mr. Rajamani’, which Kalki R. Krishnamurthy, editor of Ananda Vikatan published it. Kalki asked him to come and join the magazine as one of his deputies and ‘Devan’ served the weekly till his death in May 1957 when he was just 44 years.

Soon after I reached Chennai, I showed the picture of the house to Gopulu who looked at it for a long moment and went into a reverie but not before confirming that it was the house where Devan had lived.