At MGR Janaki College on Monday morning, there was no loud rendition of ‘happy birthday’ for writer Indira Parthasarathy. There was instead a dignified vanakkam to the acclaimed author entering 94 years by launching the different editions English translations of his works Ramanujar and Aurangzeb — based on two towering yet vastly dissimilar characters in Indian history.
This is not to say that the celebration for the Padma Shri award-winning writer was dim. Writers, translators, politicians, all admirers of the author’s work, had gathered at the event to speak not just on themes like existentialism and extreme individualism, which are dealt with in his books. They were also there to share their personal and heartening anecdotes of a man they consider to be among the sharpest Tamil literary minds of our time.
Take for instance Member of Parliament (MP) Thamizhachi Thangapandian, a Tamil scholar and dramatist herself, who dissected Ramanujar: The Life and Ideas of Ramanuja (published by Oxford University Press) written by Parthasarathy. Fondly calling him ‘Ee.Paa.’, the politician said that the author has the ability to seamlessly raise questions regarding the political discourse of today through the lens of two diametrically opposite characters — a saint who popularised Vaishnavite philosophy and a Mughal emperor who is said to have failed his illustrious ancestors.
“Aurangzeb introduced the ‘one nation, one language, one religion’. Today, we are watching it unfold with anxiety and fear. Ramanujar, on the other hand, is a voice of reason. How does his (Indira Parthasarathy’s) writing cover religion, power and politics? He is a non-conformist and a humanitarian,” she said.
When it was time for the Parthasarathy to speak, he began with his classic humour. “I’m confused about what language to speak in. Everyone here is a scholar in both Tamil and English,” he said. He thanked his translator T Sriraman, and CT Indra, wrote the critical introduction to the book, and subsequently discussed his characters. On Ramanujar, he was brief, speaking about editing scenes in his book and epilogue.
Parthasarathy then said that he never intended to write about Aurangzeb in the first place. He was instead interested in writing about his brother, Dara Shikoh, who translated the Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian. Soon, he discovered the several complexities of Aurangzeb which made him a compelling subject to write about in his book Aurangazeb - Monarch and Man published by Ratna Books.
Besides speeches about Parthasarathy’s contribution by other writers and scholars, PA Krishnan, writer and critic, spoke of forging years of friendship with him.
He recounted a time when the author travelled abroad and was invited to the house of people who said they were fans, for dinner. “When he arrived, there was an expansive meal. Midway through it, Ee.Paa asked the people there about which work of his they had read. The person answered that she liked Vidadha Karuppu, a novel by his contemporary Indra Soundar Rajan,” he joked, adding “Ee. Paa did not correct them because he knew there was payasam for dessert.”