Tamil Nadu

Prapanchan, the writer who captured Puducherry’s history, has died

A file photo of writer Prapanchan.

A file photo of writer Prapanchan.  

Tamil writer Prapanchan, born S. Vaithilingam, whose novels Vaanam Vasappadum and Maanudam Vellum captured the colonial history of Puducherry, died at a private hospital in the Union Territory on Friday after battling cancer. He was 73 and is survived by three sons.

Prapanchan’s first collection of short stories in Tamil was released in 1961. Since then, the prolific writer produced about 250 short stories, 14 Kurunavalgal (novellas), 10 novels and over 300 essays, most of which have been brought out in the form of 64 books. Several of his works have been translated into other Indian languages, besides English and French. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1995 for his novel Vanam Vasappadum (Beyond the Sky).

Both Vaanam Vasappadum and its predecessor Maanudam Vellum (Humanism Wins) were based on the private diaries of M.R.Ry. Anantarangam Pillai (1709-1761), the dubash — who knew two languages — of the French East India Company.

The book, which explored the imperial era of the 18th century, spanning the arrival, consolidation and eventual exit of the French colonial enterprise in the city, is acknowledged as a seminal contribution to the genre of the historical novel in Tamil literature. “After reading Anantarangam Pillai’s diaries, I was keen on writing a fiction based on the incidents that had found reference in the writings,” he had said in an interview.

Prapanchan was forthright in his portrayal of his characters, the palace coups and the social system that worked against those on the fringes. He put Puducherry in Tamil Literary landscape of Tamil Nadu after Bharathiar and Bharathidasan.

Devadasi system

His novels deal with, in detail, the exploitation of women by the Devadasi system. In Maanudam Vellum, the devadasi Kokilambal refuses to be a victim to the whims and fancies of the local bigwigs and leaves temple service. In the novel Mahanadhi, the character Govindu makes a strong case for the abolition of the Devadasi system, saying its continuation was untenable, especially after neighbouring Tamil Nadu had abolished it. Born in Vriddhachalam, he studied the Tamil vidwan course at the Tamil Sangam College in Thanjavur district. He worked as a teacher for some time and shifted his base to Chennai when he started working for magazines, including Kumudam, Ananda Vikatan and Kunkumam, and pursued a full-time career as a writer.

The Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artistes Association recalled the words of Prapanchan in its condolence message: “I would have penned more literary works if there was a guarantee for two meals a day.”

A critic of the family system since he believed that it suppressed women and deprived them of their freedom and rights, Prapanchan’s works favoured the ideas of feminism and freedom of individuals, particularly women.

(With inputs from M. Dinesh Varma)

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 2:13:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/prapanchan-the-writer-who-captured-puducherrys-history-has-died/article25797514.ece

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