The unforgettable Seeli

Writer Marina, who passed away recently

Writer Marina, who passed away recently   | Photo Credit: The Hindu


That was how writer Marina, who passed away recently, was known in his childhood

As one reads author Marina’s account of his childhood and school years, titled ‘Chinna vayadhinile,’ (with illustrations by Veena) it becomes clear that it was his early experiences that made it possible for him to people his stories and plays with a panoply of memorable characters. Marina did not even know his name until he was about seven! He was Seeli to everyone at home.

Seeli’s parents did not seem to be in a hurry to enrol him in school, and one day Marina took matters into his own hands, and walked into the Corporation school opposite his house on Vellala Street. And when the teacher said, “Seeli cannot be your name. Find out what your name is,” Marina realised that he did not know his name! When he found that his given name was T.S. Sridharan, he strutted about in pride, muttering the name to himself, as if it was an exalted title!

The atmosphere at home was culturally rich — Sridharan’s father Seshachalam edited a journal called Kalanilayam, staged plays and later ran a cinema production house. Rehearsals for Seshachalam’s Tamil translation of Sheridan’s Pizarro, took place in the Vellala Street house, and the children soon had the dialogue by heart. The inaugural was at Othai Vadai theatre. Marina recalls in Chinna vayadhinile, that his father was also a good artist, who, in a few minutes, drew a caricature of “Mysore athimber” (R.K. Narayan’s father). Seshachalam taught his children the names of four or five ragas. None of the children was musically inclined, but when visitors arrived, they would “show off” their “skill” in identifying ragas. Seshachalam would sing a raga, and give them a prearranged signal, which was their cue for “identifying” the raga.

The children would stage Bhima and Bakasura, Marina and his brother Sundarraman taking turns to play the two characters. Bhima was the favoured role, because their mother would make tasty sambar saadam for Bhima to eat. And then the wrestling between Bhima and Bakasura would begin, the two brothers egged on by their siblings. The Vellala street house would often be let out for weddings, at which time, the family would move out. The enterprising Marina would make friends with the bride’s family, pick up a bucket of sambar and serve the guests. His reward was access to sweets and savouries made for the wedding, which he would take to his brothers and sisters awaiting the treat.

One day, Marina saw a grand procession of camels, horses and elephants, followed by a sanyasin in a palanquin. “Do an anjali to him,” said Marina’s mother. “Who is he?” Marina asked. “Sankaracharya,” she answered. “Who is Sankaracharya?” he asked. “God,” she said. That was the first time Marina saw Mahaperiyava, whose ardent devotee he was to become later.

The last two chapters of ‘Chinna Vayadhinile’ are about Seshachalam’s death. As Seshachalam lay in hospital, Marina visited every temple in Purasawalkam with a prayer for his father. Seshachalam died at the age of forty-seven. Before he died, Seshacahalam sent for his nephew R.K. Narayan and told him that he must read Kamban’s Ramayana. Narayan did not take up the suggestion until 30 years later, in 1968, when he read Kamban’s verses and wrote The Ramayana - A Shortened Modern Prose. He dedicated the book to Seshachalam.

After Seshachalam’s death, the family moved out of the Vellala Street house, and eventually left Purasawalkam. Marina ends the book narrating how he visited the Vellala Street house after it had changed hands. Every corner, every pillar brought to his memory myriad incidents from the past. The final departure from Puraswalkam was the most heart-breaking moment in his life.

To someone like this writer, who grew up in Purasawalkam, the book has a special appeal. All the streets mentioned by Marina still go by the same name. Number 1, Vellala street, the house in which Marina and his cousin R.K. Narayan grew up, now houses Hotel Saravana Bhavan. Marina used to go to the Manickamudaliar Park reading room to read R.K. Narayan’s stories in The Hindu. The reading room has been demolished, but the park can still be seen in Lawder’s Gate.

Marina was the name Sridharan assumed when he wrote stories and plays. When he donned the role of an artist for Ananda Vikatan, he was Sridharan. When he wrote a spiritual travelogue, he was Bharanidharan. Although I enjoyed reading all his books, it was Seeli’s experiences recounted in Chinna Vayadhinile, which touched my heart.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 1:55:55 AM |

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