Cho. Dharman wins Sahitya Akademi Award

The novel Sool captures the destruction of a waterbody

December 19, 2019 01:28 am | Updated 01:52 am IST

Cho. Dharman

Cho. Dharman

Tamil writer Cho. Dharman has won the 2019 Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Sool , depicting the life of the ordinary people, traditional knowledge, agricultural practices and water management.

The story takes place in Urulaikkudi, the native village of Mr. Dharman, and he has captured the destruction of the waterbody ( kanmaai ) in the language of the Karisal bhoomi (rain-fed areas) of Kovilpatti. “I am really happy because the Central government has recognised my writing on vital subjects such as agriculture, waterbodies and the ordinary people,” Mr. Dharman told The Hindu .

Mr. Dharman, born S. Dharmaraj, worked at a spinning mill. He is the son of an Oyil Kummi koothu artiste, Solaiyappan, who donned the role of Rama and trained many in the art. Mr. Dharman had the exposure to Ramayana at a very young age, and this, he has said, kindled his interest in reading.

Writer Poomani, who also has won a Sahitya Akademi Award, is his maternal uncle, and he had the opportunity to read literary magazines like Deepam at his residence. “It was he who first gave me the books of Ki. Rajanarayanan and introduced me to serious literature,” said the 65-year-old Mr. Dharman, who quit his job in 1996, to pursue a full-time career in writing.

He published his first short story in 1992, followed by a novel, Dhoorvai . Mr. Dharman also wrote a monograph of noted villupaattu artiste Pitchaikutti. The novel Koogai received critical acclaim and it won him the Iyal Award of the Canada-based Tamil Literary Garden. Asked about his argument that he could be a Dalit by birth but need not be identified as a Dalit writer, Mr. Dharman said he had written about water and environment problems in the novel, and they could not be reduced to the problems of a particular community.

“Does it affect only Dalits? It is a global issue. Even though I write in the local language and dialects, I deal with subjects which are common to all. There is a kind of oppression in identifying as a Dalit writer, because I will be asked to concentrate only on issues concerning Dalits and not others,” he said.

‘No particular identity’

Mr. Dharman reiterated that he did not want any particular identity. “What is the need for reservation in literature,” he asked.

A. Jeganathan, a research student of the Madurai Kamaraj University, said in the novel, beginning in the 19th century, Mr. Dharman had treated traditional sciences as spiritual ideas and pitted them against rational interpretations. “He made a departure from oral narrative traditions of Dalit literature, and his naturalistic writing style is marked by aesthetics. But what surprised me in the novel is his refusal to accept the prevalence of the caste system, though he dealt with untouchability and casteism in Koogai ,” said Mr. Jeganathan.

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