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Storehouse of knowledge

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CHATLINE It was their love for Tamil that brought litterateurs Nirmala and Era. Mohan together. S.S. KAVITHA on their contribution to the development of the language

Unquenchable Thirst for knowledge Photos (COVER AND CENTRESPREAD) : G. Moorthy
Unquenchable Thirst for knowledge Photos (COVER AND CENTRESPREAD) : G. Moorthy

T heir home is called ‘Arivagam' (house of knowledge). On entering, I understand why. Piles of books have to be rearranged to make space for me.

Nirmala and Era. Mohan are obviously alive to the current scenario in art, literature, music and cinema. Their intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge shine through in their conversation.

These two Tamil professors — retired from Madurai Kamaraj University and Senthamizh College — are busy as ever, writing books, delivering lectures, guiding M.Phil. and Ph.D. scholars, and moderating and participating in pattimandrams. During the five months since they retired, Mohan has written five books and Nirmala has delivered half-a-dozen lectures. “In fact, we have become busier now,” they laugh.

They share many interests. Both studied zoology as undergraduates to pursue medicine (because of parental pressure) but their love for Tamil drew them to Tamil literature for their post-graduation. Mohan traces that interest back to his school days in Karaikudi. “I owe much to my Tamil teacher Mudiarasan of SIMS School, Karaikudi,” he recalls. “It is because of his proficiency in the language that I developed a love for it.”

Mohan wrote his doctoral thesis on Ku.Pa. Rajagopal's short stories in 1976, though he was initially interested in researching the works of Mu. Varatharajanar (the second Vice-Chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University). “Life is a challenge one has to face,” he says. “I always try to turn failures and obstacles into stepping stones to success. I was unable to do my Ph.D. on Mu.Va's works, but I went on to publish five books on him.”

“As a student, I was impressed with Mu.Va's works and yearned to talk to him,” Mohan says. He wrote a letter to the author to introduce himself, and then he happened to meet him on a train.

His love for Mu.Va was so intense that he decided to marry a girl named either Nirmala or Ponni (the women protagonists of Mu.Va's novel ‘Karithundu')! His dream came true when he met Nirmala, a post-graduate from Fatima College, who used to regularly attend Viyala Vattam, a forum for Tamil students at the University.

Nirmala studied Tamil literature after completing her B.Sc at Fatima College. Hailing from a modest family and being the eldest among seven children, she had always worked toward gaining a secure government job. She took competitive exams that qualified her to work for various government organisations, including the Electricity Board and Central Bank. After a two-and-a-half-year stint with Central Bank, she gave up her job to complete an M.Phil. and then a Ph.D. in Tamil. Mohan wanted her to be in the same field as he was teaching.

“I am inspired by couples like Will and Ariel Durant and Marie and Pierre Curie,” says Mohan. “We too wanted to be known as a literary couple. It would help us to scale greater heights, complimenting one another.”

It all worked out as planned. Mohan became a lecturer in the then Institute of Correspondence Course (now the Directorate of Distance Education), MKU, and also became a general council member of the Sahitya Akademi, and a Syndicate member of MKU.

Nirmala, as a lecturer, became involved in various student activities. “Being among the youth and moulding them to become better citizens gives you the satisfaction of having contributed to society,” she says.

Expressing his concern over the attitude of today's youth towards Tamil literature, Mohan says they should not feel studying Tamil is inferior. It was his study of Tamil that had him lecturing in 11 different countries. “All you need is a positive and committed approach to learning,” he says. Tamil literature and grammar are unique and do not use negatives (refusal or denial). For example, for ‘bullfight' we say ‘yeru thazhuvudhal' and for ‘sleeping' we say ‘kan valarthal'.

The couple began to participate in pattimandrams, thanks to pattimandram icon Solomon Pappiah. Many people choose to specialise in subjects such as family and cinema; social awakening is the subject Mohan likes to debate. “People expect an amalgamation of spiritualism, self-confidence, and basic components of life from Tamil literature," he says, adding that he never leaves the smallest scrap of paper unread, as it might provide him with knowledge.

“We cull out points and ideas from films,” adds Nirmala. “We find it easier to get our ideas across to people as they relate to films easily. All you need is presence of mind to counter the opposition.”

Though literature is his forte, Mohan has written books on self-confidence, personality development and value systems. He advises young people to read the biographies and autobiographies of well-known figures because it helps shape their own personalities.

The literary duo expects their future to be even busier. Mohan plans to start a library, and Nirmala hopes to establish a home for senior citizens.

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