Chennai and Tamil Nadu
A mirror to human nature
Five of Devan’s titles were released at the 95th birth anniversary celebration.
Photo: K. V. Srinivasan
PRINTED AGAIN: Devan’s books were released recently. At the function (Top, from left) Ashokamitran, columnist Vannanilavan, Badri Seshadri of Kizhakku Pathippagam and Viswanathan of Devan Trust.
A function was recently organised by Devan Trust and Kizhakku Pathippagam at Smt. Sivagamy Pethachi Auditorium to mark the 95th birth anniversary of Tamil author Devan. New editions of five of Devan’s titles were released on the occasion by writer Ashokamitran. Vannanilavan, who has written extensively on Devan in the Tamil magazine Tuglaq, received the copies.
Ashokamitran said that Devan tried his hand at every kind of writing — short story, novel, travelogue and reporting and analysis of news. During the Second World War, Devan wrote Yudha Diary, which gave a brilliant analysis of the war, making Ananda Vikatan one of the best sources for war news.
Devan’s books always ended on a positive note. He would put his characters in all kinds of difficult situations, but in the end he would untie all the knots and end the story on an optimistic note. Badri Seshadri of Kizhakku Pathippagam proposed a vote of thanks.
Devan’s ‘Parvathiyin Sankalpam,’ was read by the members of Gurukulam Boys Company, which transported the audience back to the 1950s.
Although it was only a play reading, the excellent voice modulation of the artists made the story come alive.
A quick glance at the titles:
Devan wrote this when the jury system was still in vogue in India. We are first introduced to the jurors, who are themselves colourful characters. Varadaraja Pillai is in the dock for the murder of his father in law. Devan, who served as editor of Ananda Vikatan for many years, must have had experience in legal reporting, and this is evident in the trial scenes. The book is taut with suspense, and one is left guessing till the end about the innocence or otherwise of Varadaraja Pillai.
Kantamani, the beautiful daughter of Pasupathi Pillai, is ill-treated by her step mother, who wants her to marry a rich, old philanderer. Kantamani gets a reprieve as childhood friend Duraisami marries her. But her troubles are far from over. Lakshmi Kataksham is about the trials and tribulations Kantamani faces in life. A touching story, evocative of an innocent era, in which, family ties and even loyalty to the company one worked for, guided one’s decisions in life.
For Sundaram, it is love at first sight, when he sees Kalyani. He follows her to Kumbakonam. Kalyani’s grandfather had married young Alamelu, shortly before his death. Everyone in the household tries to lay their hands on the jewels that rightfully belong to Kalyani. Sundaram, who cannot stand by and watch his beloved’s jewels being stolen, jumps into the fray. The story is reminiscent of the sort of hilarious mix up one finds in PGW’s Blandings Castle stories.
His father’s death comes as a jolt for Vedantham, who has been frittering away money and neglecting his studies. Now it is a mountain of debts he faces. Without wealth or a college degree he lands in Madras, which teaches him lessons. The beauty of the book is that it holds a mirror to human selfishness and envy, without being preachy or soppy.
Chandru, a confirmed bachelor, is a man whose keen observation makes him a kind of local Sherlock Holmes. His deductive abilities help him solve the case of the stolen bag. What does the bag contain? Why was it stolen? And why do different characters in the story have different stories about the bag? Chandru solves all these puzzles. A racy read, with Devan’s characteristic humour.
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Man of few words
Photo: K. V. Srinivasan
He should be given an award for refusing awards. But then he would probably turn that down too. He craves anonymity, has stage fright, and is a man of few words. How few I realise, as he answers in monosyllables.
Vannanilavan, whose real name is Ramachandran, however, sheds his diffidence and gentleness when he writes. His column in the magazine Tuglaq, which he writes under the name Durvasar, is famous for its zing and sting. Why did he choose the pseudonym Durvasar? “Cho gave me the name, because I get very angry when I see any injustice.”
His film reviews in Tuglaq in the 70s and 80s under the title ‘Post Mortem,’ were just as harsh as his Duravasar column. Did his reviews lead to trouble for him? “Not always. I must mention Sp. Muthuraman’s sporting spirit. He once asked me why I had been mild in my criticism of one of his films. He said he liked the pungent tone of my reviews.”
Vannanilavan has written five novels and 90 short stories. His most popular novels are “Kadalpurathil” and “Rhenius’ Iyer Theru.” “Kadalpurathil” was inspired by the riots that broke out at Kulasekarapatnam, near Thoothukudi, when motor launches began to be used by some fishermen. Those who until a few days earlier had been friends, suddenly became divided into two camps — those with catamarans and the others with motor boats. “I was in Thoothukudi at the time, and these riots saddened me.” Kadalpurathil was the expression of that anguish.
“Rhenius’ Iyer Theru” is the story of the Christian families that live in Rhenius’ Street in Palayamkottai. “In Tirunelveli district, Christians refer to pastors as Iyer. In this novel, there is no dialogue. I have used only narration. It was well received.”
Vannanilavan happens to be one of the three dialogue writers for the film ‘Aval Appadithan,’ starring Kamalahasan and Sripriya.
Coming back to awards, has he ever accepted any? “Yes,” he says apologetically. “I was given the Tamil Nadu Government Award for my short story collection “Dharmam.” “Kadalpurathil” was given the Ilakkiya Chintanai Award. In 1997, I was conferred the Ramakrishna Dayal Award for Tamil literature, given by the Birlas.”
The awards he has turned down are more in number than the ones he’s accepted. But why this aversion? “Well, I feel, once a person has got an award or two, he should be content with that. Why should the same person get many awards? Young writers must be encouraged.”
And what does his family have to say? Vannanilavan recollects with a smile: “Once my wife received an award on my behalf. I was away at the time. When I learnt later that my wife had accepted the award, which I had refused, I was very angry, and fought with her. My children ask me if I am crazy to shun awards.”
“I never speak before an audience,” says Vannanilavan. And true to form he did not make a speech at the Devan Trust’s function.
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