Tamil litterateur Sundara Ramasamy dead... "Chennai: A
leading contemporary Tamil writer Sundara Ramaswamy,74 died at
California in the United States early on Saturday 15 October 2005.
He is survived by his son Kannan, present Editor of the
revolutionary Tamil literary magazine ''Kaala Chuvadu'', and a
A prominent literary critic, Ramaswamy was the founder-editor of the
magazine. He had been suffering from a lung ailment for quite some
time. He was staying with his daughter in the US when the end came.
The body will be brought to India and the funeral would take place
at his native place, Nagercoil in southern Tamil Nadu, Kannan said
was born on 30th May 1931, in Thazhuviya MahadevarKovil, a village
in Nagercoil). At 20, he began his literary career, translating
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's Malayalam novel, Thottiyude Makan into
Tamil and writing his first short story, 'Muthalum Mudivum', which
he published in Pudimaipithan Ninaivu Malar.
He was influenced by the works of great reformers and savants
Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramakrishna
Paramahamsa, Dr.Ram Manohar Lohia, Dr.J.C.Kumarappa and
J.Krishnamurty. He met the
great literary luminary of Malayalam, M.Govindan, in 1957 and
remained his good friend till the end. In 1952, he met the
charismatic Communist leader T.M.C.Raghunathan. He was influenced by
Marxian philosophy. His relationship with the literary magazine
Shanti, edited by Raghunathan, and his joining the editorial-board
of Saraswathi, edited by Vijayabhaskaran, also an ardent Communist,
were decisive in his growth as a writer.
His talent manifests itself uniquely through his novels. Oru
Puliamarathin Kathai (The Story of a Tamarind Tree, 1966), his first
novel, was well received as a work that proved to be a new
experience both in form and content, extending the frontiers of
Tamil novel and creating new perspectives. He gave up active writing
for nearly six years; and when he began again in 1973, he had gone
far beyond executing an interesting and agile narration.
He still remained a stylist, but his concerns took new directions
and his language acquired a solid texture, retaining a powerful and
Oru Puliamarathin Kathai has been translated into English (Tale of a
Tamarind Tree, Penguin India, New Delhi), Hindi (Imli Puran,
Nilakant Prakashan, New Delhi), Malayalam (Oru Puliyamarathinte
Katha, D.C.Books, Kottayam) and into Hebrew language (by Ronit
Ricci, Hakibbutz Hameuchaud Publishing House, Tel Aviv).
In 1959, he wrote his first poem, "un kai nagam" under the poetic
pseudonym 'Pasuvia' and published it in Ezhuthu. Poetry brought him
the experience of a dimension beyond the concreteness of words and
their meaning. The early poems were rigorous in language and heavy
in tone. His poems gradually became more translucent and immediate.
All his poems are collected in the volume, 107 Kavithaikal.
"Sundara Ramaswamy who has written poetry under the name
Pacuvayya is perhaps the most important writer today in Tamil. His
earlier short-stories, with which he began his writing career,
influenced by Marxist philosophy transcended the rigid perceptions
normally seen in such writings in Tamil at that time and revealed
his natural instinct for both form and style.
Ramaswamy is by nature a stylist. His inspiration derives partly
from Pudumaipithan, the writer who ushured in modernity into Tamil
literature. Right from the beginning, Ramaswamy developed for
himself a unique sense of narration, marked by a keen sense for
local languages and honour. Thus, his stories were delightful and
compelling. His first novel Oru Puliyamarattin katai ("Tale of a
Tamarind Tree") extended the frontiers of Tamil novel and created
new perspectives on novel.
Sundara Ramaswamy suspended active writing for nearly six years; and
when he resumed in 1973, one found a different Ramaswamy whose
considerations outgrow those for an interesting and agile narration.
True, he still remained a stylist, but his concerns took new
directions and his language which ceased to be soothing and amusing
acquired a solid texture yet it retained a strong feel for humour,
only now more powerful and pointed. It was in this phase that he
wrote his stories in the "Palanquin Bearers"
volume, and later an outstanding novel "J.J.
Some Notes". This novel defied all the notions prevalent in Tamil
writing about the concern, form and language of a novel. It eschewed
narration, brought in a tone of intense meditation on the quality of
human life and the problem of remaining human.
Ramaswamy started writing poetry in 1959. His urge for new poetry
stemmed from the condition of Tamil poetry which, in spite of the
great poet Subramaniya Bharati in the early decades of the century,
remained weak and which was heavily regimented by the classical
prosody. Also poetry brought him the experience of that dimension
which was beyond the concreteness of words and their meaning. The
possibilities inherent in poetry were challenging.
As a poet, Ramaswamy's output, though not quantitatively vast, is
very significant. Fundamentally, his is a mind of a poet, and what
his poetic sensibilities could not capture in poetry, one may say,
spilled over to prose. In fact it is more difficult to speak about
his poetry. His poems are a severe questioning into one's existence,
perceptions, conflicts, tireless but often defeated search. The
early poems were rigorous in language and heavy in tone. But
gradually, his poems became more translucent and immediate. Often,
he adopts a discussive tone. His poems are not rhetoric; his
language usage has set new directions and possibilities.
Almost all of Ramaswamy's writings have appeared in little magazines
which though reaching limited readership have sustained serious
literary work in Tamil during the last fifty years. Ramaswamy has
also contributed significantly to the disciplines of literary
criticism and essays. He has translated poems from English and
novels from Malayalam. Ramaswamy has travelled widely; he was a
participant in the Indian Poetry Festival in Paris. He has visited
Malaysia, Singapore, London and Toronto for talks on literary
Ramaswamy has translated from Malayalam into Tamil Thakazhi
Sivasankara Pillai's Cemmi and Tottiyue Makal and short stories by
Thakazhi, Basheer, Karoor Neelakanta Pillai and M. Govindan. He has
also translated a few poems of N.N. Kakkad. He was awarded the
prestigious Kumaran Asan Memorial Award for his collection of poems
Naunici Noykal .
My grandfather Sundara Ramaswamy, who died over a month ago, leaves behind a rich legacy shaped by his written works -- novels, poems, short stories, critical essays.
But for me, he was just Grandpa.
My earliest memories of him are of a bald man sitting in his room, a wall entirely made of glass, loudly dictating Tamil words to the clang of the typewriter. Sentences would jump out of him, the typewriter would struggle to keep up, and words would start again. When permitted inside the room, I always found it boring in a few minutes.
He was strict and unapproachable, more in my imagination than in reality. I spent most of my holidays in his house, but I tried hard to avoid him. There would always be some small sin I had committed that he was bound to pull me up for. His idea of playtime was colouring books, mine included violent games, the victim usually being my brother.
I detested Tamil and never read anything outside of school work. His first short story that I read was a little known translation into English of Stamp Album. When I told him about it, he was surprised and asked for the book. He didn't realise that the story had been translated. That incident left no impression on my mind. I thought compared to Sherlock Holmes, Stamp Album was nothing.
Then for years, he was absent from my life. I rarely visited my grandparents and for a time it seemed like I didn't know them anymore. My father would keep mentioning JJ: Sila Kurippugal in his conversations about books. After one such conversation, I dusted a heavily marked first edition copy of the book from the loft and looked at it. I had never read a Tamil novel before and I seriously doubted I would read this one. The first sentence on JJ's death was striking. I was curious about how a writer could start a novel with his main character dying right in the first line. I kept reading and over three or four days finished the book.
I realised then that books do change your life. And for the first time in years, I wanted to meet my grandfather. I went over to his place and told him that I had read JJ. He wanted to talk but I grew shy. He said he would like to suggest a couple of books that I might like, but I somehow slipped away.
Years later, after my mother died and father became ill, I moved to my grandparents' home.
I read a lot of him during this time which gave me the confidence to ask him questions about his work, his idea of creativity and virtually everything under the sun. I joined him in his evening walks and we would have long conversations. Looking back, I realise that I was more naive than I thought I was and he was more patient than he needed to be.
He had a mind that always thought things through. He could, with great style, incisively analyse issues, a quality that make his essays valuable. But there are aspects to him like his conversations -- funny, clever and poignant -- that went unrecorded. He also laughed like no one else, his facial muscles completely loose, his mouth wide, his eyebrows as if frowning.
I remember talking to him when he had just begun his third novel -- Kuzhanthaigal Pengal Angal. From random conversations to the manuscript to the published book, the creative process was fascinating. He approached it like a 10 to 5 job. Even 10 minutes away from his work affected him badly.
It was as if he had tons to say even after 50 years at it. He would always keep grumbling about distractions that keep him away from work. He had a spirit that wasn't easily suppressed. From the way he exercised in the morning till in the night when he read himself to sleep, he displayed an enthusiasm for life that I envied.
One of the first things that my uncle Kannan did around the time he revived Kalachuvadu, the literary magazine, in the mid 90s, was to publish my grandfather's collection of poems. Unlike his other works, the poems kept growing on me with every reading. When dramatised or sung, these poems reveal a dimension to them that make me marvel at their writer.
He was in great health when he wrote the short stories collected in Maria Thamuvukku Ezhuthiya Kaditham in 2003. It's hard to believe that barely two years later, he is no more.
When news that he had been admitted to hospital came, I grew restless. His voice when he had last spoken to me had been really subdued. Even after seeing his body in the casket at the funeral, the reality of his death never hit home. It was unreal to see people crying unabashedly and to walk among showering petals to the cemetery alongside his body.
My relationship with him was in many ways unfulfilled. I had somehow deluded myself to thinking that he would always be there. Today, I regret deeply that another conversation with him is impossible.
The day after his funeral, my six-year-old cousin imitated my grandfather's ritualistic arrival at the dining table for lunch. The door of his room would open, my grandfather would emerge humming a tune and walk the few feet to the large hall, switch on the fan and sit in his regular chair. None of us would look at the time. It would always be 1 pm.
Most people, I think, go through life without ever having a shot at what they really want to do. My grandfather decided in his teens that he wanted to be a writer and pursued that path with rigour. Amidst all this sorrow, that's one thing that makes me happy. Happy of his fulfilled life and our unfulfilled relationship.
(JJ: Sila Kurippugal) ".. is nothing less than a
thoroughgoing critique of Tamil culture and society and by
extension, much more. With the pretext of talking about the
Malayalam literary world, the novel delves into a deep introspection
of Tamil culture. Wrestling with the pressing philosophical
questions of its time, it provides insights into ideas, institutions
and individuals, and the souring of idealism. Despite the generally
adverse reaction to it from fellow writers and critics, the novel
has continued to capture the imagination of young readers and
writers. Sundara Ramaswamy stands unique among his generation of
writers, in being still taken seriously by new readers..."
Reflowering in PDF
-First published in Tamil as “Vikasham” in the Tamil edition of
India Today, January 31 – February 5, 1990.
Sundara Ramaswamy won
the Katha Award for Creative Fiction in 1991, for this story.India Today
(Tamil) received the Journal
Award for first publishing this story in Tamil. The Katha
Translation Award went to S Krishnan. This story first appeared in
English translation in Katha Prize
“Reflowering” is witty, engaging and enormously
positive. A very humane story, that brings to mind the fact that
while a machine may increase the efficiency it can be no match to
the thinking, feeling, caring human being. –