After a gap of 25 years, the Sahitya Akademi has chosen a Tamil littérateur — Indira Parthasarathy, commonly known as Ee. Paa — for its highest honour of Fellowship.
In 1996, D. Jayakanthan, aged 62, was the youngest to become a Fellow of the Akademi. Before him, only two from the Tamil literary world — Rajaji or C. Rajagopalachari (1969) and T.P. Meenakshisundaram (1975) — were chosen. Though V. Raghavan (1979) and K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar (1985), both Tamils, were also given the Fellowship, they were recognised for their contributions to Sanskrit and the Indian writing in English.
In an interaction with The Hindu on Sunday, Prof. Parthasarathy, 91, who is, in the words of the Akademi, an “eminent Tamil writer, scholar and cultural historian”, said, “At my age, getting this honour, it beats me completely on how to react. I thank the Akademi for remembering me.”
Talking of the three previous recipients, he pointed out that Rajaji was known for his elegant Tamil prose. Meenakshisundaram was a “great Tamil scholar and proficient in many languages”. Jayakanthan was the “first full-fledged creative writer” who was made a Fellow.
Author of over 40 books, including 16 novels, 10 plays and six collections of short stories, Prof. Parthasarathy is noted for his works on political themes. He considers the play Ramanujar his magnum opus. His Kurithi Punal , written against the backdrop of the 1968 Keezhvenmani massacre of 42 poor farmers, fetched him the Sahitya Akademi award in 1977. He went on to win several prestigious awards, including the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Award and the Saraswati Samman. He is the only Tamil writer to be given awards by both the Sahitya and Sangeet Natak Akademis. In the 1990s, he rejected the Kalaimamani award for the Tamil Nadu government’s attitude of “taking the artiste for granted”.
The littérateur, who taught Tamil at Delhi University for 25 years, was deputed by the Union government to Warsaw University as a Visiting Professor of Indology from 1981 to 1986. He had a pleasant surprise when one of his Polish students sought his guidance in researching the uniqueness of participles in Tamil. Between 1988 and 1992, he was the Founder-Director of the Sankaradoss School of Performing Arts at Pondicherry Central University. He was also the Senior Fellow of the Union Ministry of Culture and served as a visiting scholar at various universities in Canada.
G. Thilagavathy, herself a winner of the Sahitya Akademi award, says Prof. Parthasarathy came out with many of his celebrated works while working at Delhi University. His innings at Pondicherry University was famous for introducing unconventional ways of accommodating diverse people for their core competence despite their having no or modest academic credentials.
Ravi Subramanian, poet and maker of several documentary films, including one on Prof. Parthasarathy, describes him as the Bheeshma of the Tamil literary field. “He is versatile, which is rare to see in Tamil. He is an academic, a short story writer, a novelist, a playwright and an essayist. He is the first Tamil playwright to be given the Fellowship,” he says, adding Prof. Parthasarathy has been a source of great support and strength to young play producers and directors.