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Memories of a litterateur

The life and works of `Manikkodi' Srinivasan were reviewed recently with a birth centenary celebration organised in his honour at Kalaivanar Arangam.

WHEN MANIKKODI appeared on the literary horizon on September 17, 1933, it exhibited a quality that has outlived the magazine. With a freshness of form and function, it marked out a new path in Tamil journalism and literature. Time has not eaten into this freshness of approach. It has lived on in the art of successive writers who have adopted the style that it fostered during its brief existence (no more than seven years). Even today it is being used as a measure and a model in comparative evaluations of magazines. Meant for Sunday reading, Manikkodi was modelled after The Observer. However, the magazine's role varied, according to the circumstances.

Though set afloat as a newsweekly, it later staked out a role for itself as a literary magazine. According to several literary figures, it retrieved Tamil from the grip of classicism and made it accessible to the common man. It, however, did not compromise with the high standards of writing. The magazine can take credit for showcasing the versatility of Bharathi's literature and the introduction of Bharathidasan to the literary readership.

The life and works of `Manikkodi' Srinivasan, who along with two other sterling litterateurs, Va Raa (V. Ramaswami) and T.S. Chokkalingam, gave origin to this magazine, were reviewed recently with a birth centenary celebration organised in his honour at Kalaivanar Arangam on December 30. Technically, his birth centenary should have been celebrated four years ago.

But it was not. The Tamil Development Department of the State Government has remedied matters. On the occasion, Srinivasan's son Jayadev and daughter Radha were honoured.

Radha said that her father had love for many languages, but passion only for Tamil. He was proficient in English and had worked as a journalist for English publications such as Bombay Standard. In point of fact, Srinivasan pulled up stakes in Madras to work in Bombay so that he could earn enough money to sustain Manikkodi. Referring to this, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, K. Kalimuthu, said Srinivasan used English to promote Tamil.

Implying that Manikkodi reflected Srinivasan's image, the Education Minister S. Semmalai said that Srinvasan was an example of what an editor should be and Manikkodi an example of what a magazine should be.

Remembering Srinivasan's contribution to the freedom struggle, historian P.S. Mani said the English translation of Thirukural that he completed when in jail was unparalleled in its clarity. His writing glimmered with his erudition, he added.

Vallikannan, who has been influenced by Manikkodi, gave an interesting trivia. Because Srinivasan sported a huge moustache, he earned the sobriquet `Stalin' Srinivasan, he said.

The Vice-Chancellor of Tamil University, E. Sundaramurthy, remembered Kalki's effusive praise of Manikkodi when it had barely seen the light of day.

Ninety-four-year-old P.G. Sundararajan (Chitti), one of the Manikodi writers, related how the magazine received its name. Srinivasan, Va Raa and Chokkalingam were at the beach, casting about in their mind for a suitable name for their embryonic magazine.

At that moment, they noticed the Union Jack being lowered down the flagpole at Fort St. George. All of them imagined how wonderful it would be if the Indian flag was raised up that flagpole. They decided that the magazine should reflect this aspiration for freedom, and they settled on Manikkodi which Bharati had used in fond reference to the Indian flag.

By Prince Frederick

Photo: R. Ragu

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