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Peppy and prolific

Ra. Ki. Rangarajan . Photo: S. Thanthoni

Ra. Ki. Rangarajan . Photo: S. Thanthoni  

Social, historical, detective…there is nothing that Ra.Ki. Rangarajan has not explored.

He wanted to be a writer, would not settle for anything else. He achieved it and how! Ra.Ki. Rangarajan's body of work is simply amazing. Novels, short stories, translations… there is nothing that his pen has not explored. Social, mystery, period, ghost – Ra.Ki. adopts a different approach for each genre.

“You know, I wrote under at least ten pseudonyms,” chuckles Ra.Ki., who served Kumudam for over 40 years. “Those were golden years. We -- Ra.Ki., Punidhan and Ja.Ra. Sundaresan -- formed a trio that churned out whatever the editor S.A.P. Annamalai wanted for the week,” recalls the octogenarian. He repeatedly thanks SAP for everything – for making him read high-end literature, for nurturing his talent and above all for the trust he had in his writer. “He had such faith that he didn't bother to read the script before it went to press. This continued until his demise,” observes Ra.Ki. A huge portrait of the Kumudam editor occupies a prominent place in Ra.Ki.'s room at home.

“It was a close-knit family,” supplies wife Kamala. “To them, Kumudam was everything. Even family didn't matter,” she adds not without pride. “The editor's wish was their command.” In a notebook, she maintains a list of his books and contributions.

“Any good book - fiction or non-fiction - that SAP found worthy, would be on my table. The benefit was immense,” says the veteran, whose journey began as early as his sixteenth year.

“My father, R.V. Krishnamachari, was a great Sanskrit scholar, whose students included such illustrious persons as Devan, K.P. Rajagopalan and T.S. Parthasarathy. The world of letters beckoned and I responded, too young to weigh the pros and cons. I had my way after initial resistance from the elders.

Ra.Ki. joined Sakti Kariyalayam (where the Music Academy stands today) as sub-editor. Vai. Govindan, the editor, was a voracious reader, who inculcated in him the habit of reading, a trend that happily continued when he moved to Coimbatore to join Kaala Chakkaram, thanks to owner Pollachi Mahalingam, who brought books in suitcases. This stood him in good stead when he joined Kumudam. He had written short stories for Ananda Vikatan and Kalaimagal before his four-decade association with Kumudam started. ‘Avan,' a biographical work written in third person, vividly describes this phase.

Born and raised in Kumbakonam, the agraharam and the people provided ample fodder for the writer. Themes emerged endlessly, treatment fluent like the Cauvery. In fact, the river, its banks and the groves it watered make the backdrop for many of his stories. The narration, subtle humour running as a silver thread, brings alive characters -- chauvinistic men, gentle women with steel in their heart, children with their dreams, etc. ‘Kudumba-k-Kadhaigal' is a study in human psychology, the stories captivating the reader with their effortlessness.

Did he ever sweat it out? “Yes. For ‘Naan, Krishna Devarayan.' It was Kamal Haasan's wish that I translate ‘I, Claudius.' Instead, I chose to write a historical in first person.” Why Krishna Deva Raya? “Because not much has been written about him or the Vijayanagar Empire. He was one of the greatest kings with many dimensions. It involved extensive research, visits to libraries, and discussions with historians and artists.”

Palace intrigue, adventure and romance make the novel racy. “I'm an admirer of Kalki and tried to emulate his style,” Ra.Ki explains.

How did translations happen? “Again it was SAP's brainwave. One day, he placed ‘Pappilon,' the English original, on my table and said, ‘This is first-rate literature. I want you to read it and translate it into Tamil. Let our readers get a taste of this marvellous account of adventure.' I was dumbstruck and my protests fell on deaf ears. Translate I did and it became a popular serial and was later published as a book.”

‘Pattampoochi' is absolutely riveting, the protagonist touching the reader with his innocence and air of intimacy. That Ra.Ki. went on to translate Sidney Sheldon and Jeffrey Archer is another story. He regrets that he did not get to translate ‘Agni Siragugal' of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

His occult stories? “It was SAP, who coaxed me to try the genre. I spent days at the Theosophical Society library, reading up on the subject. ‘Angumingum' is a collection of essays.

Writers who inspired him?

Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas and Jeffrey Archer in English. Kalki in Tamil. Ra.Ki. based his ‘Twist Kadhaigal' on Archer's famous short story collection.

What is this prolific writer doing at present? “Writing. But not stories. I lost that urge with the demise of SAP. Mention a theme and the story would be ready within hours. These days I contribute essays to Annanagar Times, the local weekly. And I watch cricket up to midnight.”

Recognition (even Kalaimamani has not come his way) for this prolific writer has not been commensurate with his talent or output. Ra.Ki. becomes serious. “What can I say? Sometimes I wonder whether it was a mistake to have written under so many pseudonyms. Perhaps that diluted the impact.”

In this context he has an anecdote to narrate. “Director Bhagyaraj visited me and just as he was leaving, expressed a desire to meet writer T. Duraiswamy. He was surprised when I said it was the name under which I wrote detective stories.”

The moment passes. “I enjoyed what I did. It was heady. The work was its reward, I guess,” he signs off cheerfully. A statement wife Kamala endorses with a warm smile and vigorous nod.

Pseudonyms

Surya, Hamsa, Duraiswamy, Krishnakumar, Malathi, Mulri, Vinodh… these are some of the names Ra.Ki. assumed.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 3:05:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/Peppy-and-prolific/article14943234.ece

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