Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sujatha, R.I.P.

S. Rangarajan, a prolific and popular writer in Tamil who adopted the pen name Sujatha, died in Chennai on February 27, 2008. He was 72.

I am not as well-read in Tamil as I ought to be but if any one writer deserves to get credit for opening my eyes early to the pleasures of reading in Tamil, it will be none other than Sujatha. I was a pre-teen when I discovered his serial novels in the pages of Tamil weeklies, Kumudam and Ananda Viketan , in the early 80s. The sketched illustrations that accompanied his stories and novels were strikingly different from those that accompanied other stories and features printed in the same weeklies. His Tamil women characters were often depicted wearing jeans (or skirts) and T-shirts and I paid attention to this tiny detail. Instead of slice-of-life stories about madisaaru-clad conventional middle-class Brahmin women and their maids with their nool podavai hitched up for easy mobility (people that I mistakenly assumed I was quite familiar with and, therefore, had no intention of reading about), the illustrator hinted at a world of stories intriguing enough for me to put down my Louis L'Amours. The illustrator was right.

Two decades have rolled by since those early years in Chennai, and I cannot recall the exact titles of the novels I eagerly waited for and read in weekly instalments. But I remember how often Sujatha surprised me with story-lines and genres that I, in my English language-informed ignorance, didn't expect to find in Tamil. There were mystery novels, detective series, perhaps too, some science fiction. There were charming, young, Tamil male characters more real and relevant to the local context than any that populated the books revolving around Jeeves; yet the young Tamil women characters often led lives and harboured interests quite independent of the conniving male charmers. Perhaps they ended up together occassionally but whether that happened or not did not seem to matter to the main plot of the story, I think. And always, always there was plenty of witty, sharp dialogue--the type of crisp humor you often see in Tamil stage comedies--that easily incorporated some English words written in Tamil script (just as any self-respecting Chennai-ite would do without thinking twice).

I loved Sujatha's style and stories (and his unconventional women and men) so much that I eventually explored other writers in Tamil--whether they glorified the Tamil woman's garpu and honour and frustrated me or whether they explored class/caste consciousness and moved me--during much of my teen years. I have not read a single novel or even a periodical in Tamil for several years now (in fact since I left India to study abroad at 19 years of age) but if it weren't for Sujatha's works I would not have entered the rich world of contemporary Tamil literature even for those few, brief formative years.

A tribute to Sujatha by Prema Srinivasan appears in The Hindu. [Link]

1 comment:

kallu said...

Keep it going , Malathi. Nice new look and lots of verve.