The little boy spent most of his nights lying on a cot outside his house, staring at the skies, sometimes till 2 a.m. The sky and the stars were his company; he spent endless hours immersed in them. In the mornings, as he walked across the sandy landscape of Thoothukudi to go to school, he was drawn by the tall palm trees dancing in the wind. Nature did something to him. “I knew then that there was something different in me. Everybody saw the world with their eyes. But I wondered if each person was seeing it the same way as I was,” says poet Devadevan. “The vast expanse made me think deeply.”
With 20 poetry collections, a short-story compilation, a book of essays on poetry and a play to his credit, Devadevan was recently in town to receive the Vishnupuram Ilakkiya Vattam’s ‘Vishnupuram Award 2012’. Clad in a simple t-shirt with an old cloth-bag slung across his shoulder, the bearded 65-year-old talks in measured words.
But much like his poems, even a simple statement he makes has deep meaning.
The magic of books
The son of a mill worker, Devadevan’s fascination for words started when he was very young. His father didn’t know to read or write. But he would bring books from his mill’s welfare library and ask his daughter Sellakani to read them out for him. This was their evening routine. Sellakani would place a book on a wooden box with an oil lamp next to it and read out aloud.
Her words echoed through the household. Sellakani didn’t know then that there was another person in the room who hung on to every word she read out — her little brother Devadevan. “I couldn’t read a word then,” he says. But he had listened to so many wonderful books!
Words gradually changed Devadevan’s world. Without as much as stepping out of his home, he travelled to places far off.
“There is a lot of violence in this world,” says the soft-spoken poet. “Little acts of violence exist in our lives; there is violence amidst human relationships, where a person attempts to condition another.”
Devadevan says that he prefers to keep away from this kind of a world. “Complete freedom is most important. Which is why I worked with children. With them, there is no need to impress or exhibit one’s knowledge.” As a teacher in a corporation school for 24 years, Devadevan taught English to children. He would write the English words in Tamil on the blackboard. He brought Nature inside the school campus; he planted vengai, neem and manjal kondrai and tended to them.
What makes his poems so haunting is the way he perceives everyday observations. A tree and the cool shade under it in his well-known poem Oru Marathayum Kooda Kaana Mudiyavillai (There is no tree in sight) is much more than a description of inanimate objects. “You have to interpret the meaning yourself,” he suggests. Awards and recognitions mean little to Devadevan. “Each poem that forms inside my mind is a gift that I give away to someone else,” he smiles.
Devadevan’s words have touched the lives of many people. Lakshmana Raja Kannan is one of them. Lakshmanan spent six years in the IT industry. But his dream was to make it big in cinema. An assistant film director now, he says that Devadevan’s poem Amaidhi Enbadhu helped him overcome the fear he felt during the final stage of his life-changing decision. The poem, praised as a milestone in Tamil literature by writer Jeyamohan, gave Lakshmanan the ability to see life in its true sense. He says, “It helped me take life lightly.”
The Vishnupuram Ilakkiya Vattam, formed by fans of writer Jeyamohan in 2009, honoured Devadevan with the ‘Vishnupuram Award 2012’. The award was presented by music director Ilaiyaraaja. Writers Nanjil Nadan, Kalpetta Narayanan and Jeyamohan, director Suga and critics Raja Gopalan and Mohana Rangan spoke in praise of the poet and his works.