Milestones in Tamil literature

Sundara Ramaswamy has been chosen for this year's Katha Chudamani Award for his lifetime contribution to Tamil literature.

SUNDARA RAMASWAMY, though born in a Tamil family, began learning his mother tongue quite late. Only when he was about 17 or 18, did he start studying the language. But, when he started writing in the 1950s, his works attracted the attention of respected sections of society. The famous critic, Ka. Naa. Subramaniam, hailed him as one of the two most important literary talents of that decade (the other being Jayakanthan).

Now aged 72, Sundara Ramaswamy, known in literary circles as Su Raa, is quite modest about his career. "I have little to say about high points. I was all along against the Tamil commercialism that adopted the cheapest of tricks to bring the reader to its fold. I tried to lead an uncompromising life as much as humanly possible," he says, in an e-mail interview from the U.S.

Chosen for this year's Katha Chudamani Award for his lifetime contribution to Tamil literature, Sundara Ramaswamy has authored three novels, `Oru Puliamarathin Kathai', `JJ: Sila Kurippugal' and `Kuzhanthaigal, Pengal and Angal' which are considered modern Tamil literary milestones. In fact, according to some critics, `JJ: Sila Kurippugal' is one of the few genuine novels that have been written in Tamil. The work is in the form of a collage of a diary — recollections of a person revolving around a writer.

Apart from the novels, Sundara Ramaswamy has written several short stories and essays on literary criticism. His works have been translated into other languages including Hindi, English and Hebrew. He translated into Tamil the Malayam works `Chemmeen' and `Thottiyin Mahan' of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. He had received the Kumaran Asan Memorial Award for Poetry. The Katha Award will be presented to him at a function in New Delhi in January.

As far as he is concerned, Pudumaipithan (1906-48), one of the leading lights of the `Manikodi' era, was the first conscious Tamil modernist-writer. It was the writing of Pudumaipithan that influenced him, both in style and outlook.

At the macro-level, the modernist movement of the West had its influence on Tamil language. "Against the backdrop of a long tradition of poetry that portrayed the traditional values of our culture, Tamil writers were able to create their own version of modernism. In a very broad sense, all the writers, who were able to adapt themselves to the fast changes taking place all over the world, created not only something new and original but also appropriate to their time and place." In his assessment, Subramania Bharati was able to analyse Tamil life and was a beacon in showing a new way of life for Tamils.

Sundara Ramaswamy, initially, had leanings towards the Left. Subsequently, he distanced himself from the movement, though he continues to hold the view that some aspects of Marxism are relevant to the conditions in this country.

He strongly believes that a writer has a vital role to play, particularly when there is an atmosphere of oppression. Once a writer loses his ability to oppose injustice, he will lose his voice forever and society will isolate him. About writers of Indian languages, he says the country has a number of prominent writers in each language who compare favourably to the best writers in the international arena.

All the writers share a common interest in humanity. Such common beliefs make every writer a member of the world community.

At the same time, he feels that if idealism is a way of life that believes that the values adhered to by a writer are much more important than the material success he attains during his life, that brand of idealism is no more in vogue in Tamil Nadu.

This is the general state of affairs barring `a few misfits'. The present Tamil writer is a rare specimen who has learned all the crafts of a successful politician, the veteran writer notes.

From Ramakrishnan T

in Chennai.

Recommended for you