Books

Stories no more!

Ra Ki Rangarajan. Photo: S. Thanthoni  

It is well known that the late Ra. Ki. Rangarajan wrote more than 50 novels and over a 1,000 short stories, but the lesser known fact about him is that he ran a one-man institute to train budding writers in Tamil. When he spoke about this to his editor S.A.P. Annamalai, the first student to join the ‘institute’ was none other than the editor himself!

I met Ra.Ki.Ra. a few years ago, when he began the classes he simply called ‘Eppadi Kadhai Ezhuthuvadhu?’ or EKAYE for short. Asked why he took this initiative, he replied, “Writing is a joy, especially fiction writing. To hook the reader in the opening paragraph on what is going to happen next or surprise him with a twist at the end… it is enthralling all the way!”

Ra.Ki.Ra. was a cricket enthusiast. “Have you seen Maninder Singh in action? My children call him ‘Punnagai Mannan’ as he always bowls with a smile. He enjoys his work. When you enjoy your work, half the battle is won,” he would say.

While emphasising on the elements of a short story, Ra.Ki.Ra. would use his own stories as examples. Reason? “As Bernard Shaw put it, ‘I quote myself because nobody can accuse me of misquoting’. I belong to the ‘Kalki’ school of writing. It may seem old-fashioned, but it provides the basic formula for fiction writing -- any story worth its name should have some story element, a beginning, a middle and an end.

“Take our epics and the Puranas… they have one thing in common: the story element. I agree, there must be a social purpose, a message like Kalki’s ‘Thyagabhoomi’ or Jayakanthan’s ‘Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal.’ But depth and entertainment can go hand in hand. I cannot understand why some of our young writers fail to realise this!”

To the query on whether short story writing can be taught, he said, “No art can be taught. One has to have the talent. You should have a fair sense of imagination, be able to see a situation and know that there is something to write about. I can guide a student on how to present an idea in a readable form. It is like learning music. Learning the basic aspects helps you blossom as a better writer. Otherwise, would there be hundreds of books in English on the craft of writing?”

His inspiration

Ra.Ki.Ra. cited a number of books that inspired him. “I learnt a lot from ‘Art of Dramatic Writing’ by Lejas Egri, ‘Pen and Paper’ by Pamela Frankan, ‘Confessions of a Story Writer’ by Paul Gallico, ‘Writing for Money’ by Jack Woodford and a score of others.

“P.G. Wodehouse and Stephen Leacock have written books on ‘how to write’. You will be surprised to know that even Aristotle wrote a book on the art of writing.”

Ra.Ki. Ra. explained how he taught students the art of story writing. “A few years ago, I joined a correspondence course at a renowned institute in Mumbai, just to understand how they go about it. I found out that they do it in a systematic manner and start with basic lessons on Grammar. But what I had in mind was something of a crash course. I therefore devised my own syllabus and divided the course into ten basic lessons -- Idea, Growth, Conflict, Character, Style, Dialogue, etc. The lessons were sent to students in stages. There were exercises too. I evaluated them and gave marks. A certificate was issued at the end of the course. In fact, many short stories re-written as suggested by me have been published in popular magazines."

When I asked him whether he had any assistance for correcting the lessons or suggesting ideas, he replied, “ No. I do it myself. I have to. Because it is something of a one-man show. I cannot expect others to view the papers the same way as I do.”

Finally, the golden rules for students. “Discipline is a must. Make it a habit to write at least one page a day. It need not necessarily be a short story. An anecdote, a joke, a letter to the editor – anything will do. And then there is the reading habit. One will benefit by reading the masters such as Dickens, Dumas, Scott, Steinbeck, Nevil Shute, O Henry and Margaret Mitchell. In Tamil, there are plenty of authors -- Kalki, Devan and Sujatha, to name a few. The correct usage of Tamil is also a must and one should equip oneself by reading articles on this subject.”

His wife Kamala Rangarajan says, “The EKAYE book of lessons is his biggest contribution in shaping young writers. I wish it reaches more budding writers.”


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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 11:52:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/stories-no-more/article3866010.ece

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