Friday Review

Down to earth, literally

Uyir Nilam

Uyir Nilam  

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Everything about my book is honest, says Melanmai Ponnusamy.

Author Melanmai Ponnusamy is an agriculturist, who does not boast high academic qualifications. But the awards won by him for his writings are many. ‘Minsara Poo’ got him the Sahitya Akademi award. His short stories won the first prize in Kalki and Ananda Vikatan twice, and once in Idhayam Pesugiradu. Seven of his Ananda Vikatan stories were selected as Muthirai Kadhaigal. His short stories have been a part of Ilakkiya Chintanai’s annual anthologies eight times.



Thirty two M.Phil theses and 26 Ph.D theses have been based on his works. Two of his novels and two short story collections are included in the Madras University’s syllabus. He is the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers’ Association. His book, ‘Uyir Nilam,’ was taken up for review by Tamizh Puthaga Nanbargal recently, and the reviewer was C. Sundararaman, a technocrat.

Paramasivam, an agriculturist, is the protagonist in the novel. His wife, Kamatchi, who also works in the fields, is a dedicated wife. His younger son Murugesan is the villain of the story. While the father believes in hard work, son Murugesan wants an easy life. The book has range and depth and can be analysed from many angles, observed Sundararaman.

It talks about how to rear goats, what fertilizers to use, how to drive a tractor, how to make ropes with fermented coconut fibres and so on, and in the end you get the feeling that you’ve been through a crash course in agriculture!

There is a liberal dose of descriptions of physical intimacies, the pre-marital affairs of Azhagesan and Murugesan providing the necessary setting for such descriptions. The author gives a detailed account in three pages of how Kamatchi pounds and cooks millets.

His style appeals to all the five senses, said Sundararaman. For instance, the words used to suggest the sound of pounding bring alive Kamatchi’s work, the description of how the meal is prepared tickles your taste buds, and the book takes you on a visual tour of the place.

The book is rich in similes (‘He entered stealthily, like a cat that has smelt fish.’ ‘Thoughts swirled round in his mind, like the swirling smoke from incense sticks’). It abounds in metaphors too (‘the flames of the fire of debt,’ ‘curled up, rat eared leaves’). There are many unusual phrases as well - ‘If you are wedded to a donkey, can you escape kicks?’ There are also regional colloquialisms -- ‘I am telling you I am thirsty, and you ask me to send a message to the clouds.’

Murugesan’s soliloquy at the end of the book is poignant, and the reviewer said his sympathies lay with Murugesan, and not with Paramasivam, although that might not have been the author’s intention. The message of the book is that if you put in hard work, your land will yield rich dividends. If you put in just money, your land will leave you deep in debt.

Responding to the review and also answering questions from the audience, Ponnusamy said the success and appeal of his works lay in the fact that they were not based on an internet search for themes, words or style. The stories came from his heart, from his experience. There was nothing second hand about his works. He has tilled his land, weeded it, ploughed it, waited for power to be restored and watered it after ten in the night, wondering if he will be one of those who die of snake bite each year. He has always believed in being true to himself and his land. That is why when Sivasankari suggested a change in the ending to one of his novels, he refused.

Sivasankari felt the ending portrayed women negatively. But Ponnusamy said that it was common for rich men in villages to ‘keep’ women. To them it was a status symbol. So he wasn’t writing anything untrue. When he wrote about different sections of the society, he had to capture their trademark qualities, he said.

When he sent in his story ‘Arumbu’ to Kalki, he was not sure if it would be understood by readers, because he had used a dialect spoken only in the Southern districts of Tamil Nadu. But the response was overwhelming and the story won him a prize. So long as you keep descriptive passages in a style everyone is accustomed to, and have only dialogue in the stylised local variations, then people will have no difficulty following the story, he observed.

Besides, if you write the truth, you will be read. The deep South of the State keeps alive old Tamil, he said. He sees the Green Revolution as a disaster. It has only pushed farmers to suicide. He wants to revive old grain varieties, and warns against hybrid varieties.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 11:34:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/on-melanmai-ponnusamys-book-uyir-nilam/article7507385.ece

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