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Author Chitti: He drew people with his wit and humour

Chitti’s charm as a conversationalist earned him friends, not all of whom were litterateurs

July 06, 2017 04:18 pm | Updated 05:54 pm IST

Sivapadasundaram and Chitti were like the legendary irattai pulavar of Tamil literature, each complementing the other. Literature provided them with solace when tragedy struck.

Sivapadasundaram and Chitti were like the legendary irattai pulavar of Tamil literature, each complementing the other. Literature provided them with solace when tragedy struck.

Recently friends and family of Chitti, who wrote for the journal Manikkodi , met to observe Chitti’s death anniversary. Journalist Subbu quoted Pudumai Pithan, who, defining Manikkodi’s contributions to Tami literature said, “ Ananda Vikatan reaches out to thousands of readers. Kalaimagal comes out with excellent essays. Manikkodi gives us a taste of modernity.” This modernity was both in terms of content and style, said Subbu, who also gave a brief speech on Tamil short stories. When Chitti lay in bed with a fracture, it was Subbu who kept him company.

The talk of Tiruppur Krishnan, main speaker, hovered on Chitti and his friends. A brilliant man may be unassuming, but that is no reason for us to underestimate his genius, Krishnan said. Behind Chitti’s simplicity lay receptivity to new ideas, retentive power at its best and quicksilver wit. When Chitti died, the assortment of people gathered at his house, showed that his charm as a conversationalist had drawn people to him, not all of whom were litterateurs.

Chennai: 01/07/2017, For City: Tiruppur Krishnan speech in Chitti memories at Youth Hostel Mini Hall, Indira Nagar, Adyar. Photo: M. Karunakaran

Chennai: 01/07/2017, For City: Tiruppur Krishnan speech in Chitti memories at Youth Hostel Mini Hall, Indira Nagar, Adyar. Photo: M. Karunakaran

Narrating his experiences

Most Tamil writers with socialistic ideas steered clear of religion, but not Chitti, who wrote a book on Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitam. He shared with Krishnan some of his experiences with the Acharya. For instance, not willing to disappoint a group of visually challenged children, Mahaswami broke his vow of silence to speak with them. “Paramacharya showed that being a good human being was more important than anything else,” Chitti observed.

Chitti admired Valli Kannan’s calmness. The writer had enough reasons to worry but never lost his sleep on that account. Na. Parthasarathy never minced words, a quality that appealed to Chitti. Chief Minister MGR once invited Na.Pa to speak about Tamil literature. The State Government had decided to buy only 200 copies of each Tamil book published that year, as against the earlier 600 copies. At the function, Na.Pa began his speech with the words, “Greetings to MGR, the Chief Minister, who has harmed the interests of Tamil literature…” He then lambasted the Government for having reduced the number of copies of Tamil books procured by the Government. MGR got up to say something, but Na. Pa said, “Please wait for your turn.” The crowd, that had come to hear MGR, roared its disapproval. MGR silenced them. Later when it was MGR’s turn to speak, he said, “My apologies to Na.Pa for interrupting him. I wanted to clarify that just before leaving for this function, I signed an order that 600 copies of each published book must be bought by the Government!” Chitti never failed to be amused by this incident.

Sivapadasundaram and Chitti were like the legendary irattai pulavar, each complementing the other. It was to literature they turned, when tragedy struck. Chitti’s wife Janaki died and Chitti chose to discuss Tamil literature with Krishnan to distract himself. When Sivapadasundaram’s daughter died, it was again literature that served as a painkiller.

Sense of humour

Chitti had a wicked sense of humour. Chitti would tease Thi. Janakiraman with a story about Kumbakonam, since Janakiraman was from that town. This is how the story goes — Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are walking through the forest. But Lakshmana suddenly leaves, and returns later. Rama’s explanation to Sita is that the path they had taken earlier was going to become Kumbakonam thousands of years later, and not wanting to pass through a place like Kumbakonam, Lakshmana had left! When Krishnan asked Chitti what his thoughts were when he finished writing his first story, Chitti replied, “I was thinking about how to reject the Nobel prize in case it was offered to me!”

Chitti was short tempered. But that was the anger of an idealist who discovers the harshness of reality. “He was blessed to have a family, which never complained about his temper,” concluded Krishnan.

As I leave, Chitti’s son Venugopal gives me Thazhai Poothadu, a book of short stories written by Chitti in the 1940s and 1950s. It is a fascinating anthology. In Masaru Karpinaal , there is a fantastic play with words — “the bitterness of contentment!” Can contentment be bitter, one wonders. And then one realises that it can be. Contentment and the resulting placidity come only when nothing happens to disturb one’s jog trot existence, and surely such a life can be boring and bitter! In Puriyaadha Kadhai , an author begins to love his wife, whom he once hated. But how did hate turn to love? Is it the “triumph of propinquity,” as Herman Wouk wrote in his book ‘The Winds of war’? Or is it because she has come to admire her husband’s talents, and this tickles his ego? Chitti leaves his story open-ended. The collection of stories captures elemental emotions and urges lust, suspicion, anger and passion in graceful narratives, which have their moments of epiphany.

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