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MADRAS MISCELLANY

A 40-year correspondence

S. MUTHIAH

A little over a month ago, when the centenary year of Tamil writer Chitti was celebrated, 93-year-old Krithika, a Tamil and English writer, passed away. P.G. Sundararajan, Chitti to all, and Mathuram Bhoothalingam, Krithika to many, were friends for over 45 years and wrote to each other regularly during that period. Mina Swaminathan, Krithika’s daughter, going through her mother’s papers, has found a large amount of unpublished material which she hopes will now get published. But the real find was Krithika’s correspondence with Chitti, and she and K.R.A. Narasiah, a nephew of Chitti, are now working on a selection of letters for publication.

Their views on literature and the world are bound to be of wide interest, especially if they reflect what happened at their first meetings. They met at a literary discussion when, after the meeting, they were introduced and Krithika asked Chitti whether he had read any of her writings. “I don’t read women writers,” he had retorted. “I’ll send you some of my work anyway,” she had smiled. When they next met, she asked him, “You still don’t read women writers?” and now it was his turn to smile as he replied, “But you are a writer!”

Chitti, who was born on the day Haley’s Comet appeared in 1910, April 10, was through much of his working life the editor of Vanoli, All India Radio’s Tamil programme magazine. He also wrote and produced numerous radio plays. But it was as a writer that he was best-known. And he began writing in English as a schoolboy. Between 1928 and 1936, he edited in turn Sound and Shadow, a film magazine; New Age, a socialist monthly, and Marina, a general interest monthly. He also served as an assistant editor of Funny Magazine, a reflection of his own predilection for humour.

It was in 1933 that the famous Tamil literary magazine Manikodi — “New in meaning, new in content, new in style” — began publication and encouraged the art of short story writing. Chitti’s contributions to it were a feature throughout the journal’s life. But Chitti is best known for his work with S. Sivapathasundaram (who, after long years with Radio Ceylon settled in Madras and then in Madurai) on The Tamil Novel and on The Tamil Short Story. These are considered the definitive histories of the two genres. Among his other books in English is an authorised biography of S. Satyamurti.

Krithika, who was married to S. Bhoothalingam, who became one of the pillars of the Indian Civil Service post-Independence, was brought up in Bombay and spent much of her life in Delhi and abroad. One of her earliest memories was being taken on her father’s shoulder to watch Tilak’s body being carried in a chair to the ghat at Chowpatty Beach in Bombay.

Despite her Bombay, Delhi and international background, Mathuram Bhoothalingam began writing in Tamil — as Krithika. She was to write numerous children’s stories, novels, and plays based on the puranas, but her first published Tamil work was Puhai Naduvil, a caustic look at the bureaucracy. One of her plays, Manathile Oru Maru, was directed by Chitti in Madras.

Some years later, when she began writing in English — and when there was a steady flow of children’s books from her pen — she began using her own name. She was one of the first in India to regularly write children’s books in English. But she continued to contribute to Tamil writing.

Perhaps the best-known of her books in English was Movement in Stone, which looked at 12 early Chola temples in nine Tamil Nadu locations which owed their beauty to Pallava art, before the Chola art of the 9th and 10th Centuries took over. The last of her English books that I know of was Yoga for Living, where she looks at where India is heading. She concludes this 1996 work with these words that are perhaps even more pertinent after the recent General Elections: “The immediate questions for the young … (and the) idealists is how they should deal with deceit, corruption and, perhaps, even blood and violence…In finding the right answer, through science, philosophy, and humaneness, lies hope for our country.”

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