Raja of the whodunit
Tamil pulp fiction and Rajesh Kumar are partners in crime
CRIME UNLIMITED Rajesh has written over 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories. Even today, he writes up to 15 pages a day
It was a deserted stretch of land, except for a young shepherd minding his goats. As luck would have it, Rajesh Kumar's scooter broke down right there. He asked the lad to look after it while he went for help. The lad agreed and settled down under a tree and pulled out a book tucked into his waistband. It was “Vaadagaiku Oru Uyir”, Rajesh Kumar's first novel.
“Readers like him are my Sahitya Akademi awards,” says Rajesh Kumar, who has perhaps the most diverse readers in the world — auto drivers, daily-wage labourers, educationists, industrialists, globe-trotters and housewives. His crime novels have been translated into English, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. They have also been included in two editions of pulp fiction anthologies brought out by Blaft Publications.
“My first ever story was the result of a classroom prank,” smiles Rajesh Kumar. “Prabakaran, a fellow backbencher, submitted my name when contributions were invited for our college's aandu malar.” Back then, the botany student barely read anything apart from college books. “I tried telling the professor that I couldn't write. Uh-uh, he wouldn't agree.” Rajesh Kumar then reluctantly penned a love story, titled “Vaazhndhu Kaatuvom”. It was well-received in the college.
Months later, in a coffee house in Oppanakara Street, a friend pointed out an invitation for short stories in “Maalai Murasu”. “The published stories would receive a cash prize of Rs.10. I entered the contest, only for the sake of winning some cash,” he says. His crime story “Unnai Vidamaatten” was published the very next week.
Realising that it was a good way to earn, Rajesh Kumar started writing for Tamil dailies and magazines. But his actual love for writing burgeoned during his travels across the country on his father's handloom business. “I came across a lot of interesting people during my travels and started writing about them,” he says.
Rajesh Kumar wrote during his train journeys. “During one such journey in 1977, a young woman narrated an incident that touched me a great deal. I wrote a short story ‘Idhu Nyayama' based on it, which was published in ‘Kumudam'. It was my first contribution to the magazine,” he says. Rajesh Kumar started writing novels from 1980.
“My first novel, ‘Vaadagaiku Oru Uyir', was published in Maalaimathi, a magazine that published full-length novels. It carried the works of writers such as Sujatha and Sivasankari.” It was writer Ra.Ki. Rangarajan who encouraged him to venture into novels.
Rajesh Kumar juggled his time between writing and his job as a sales executive till 1986, when publisher G. Ashogan asked him to write a novel per month for his publishing house. “Till date, I've written about 350 crime novels for him. They were called pocket-novels back then.”
Rajesh Kumar holds the 1980s close to his heart (Perhaps that explains his hairstyle and his glasses.) Those years marked his rise to celebrity status — people devoured his crime novels, shops strung his paperbacks out front and almost every magazine in print carried his stories — “Kalkandu”, “Sathya”, “Bama”, “Jubilee”, “Raja Rani”, “Madhuram” and many others. The man churned out four novels per month!
“I used to write for hours on end to meet their requirements,” smiles Rajesh Kumar. “I remember sending stories through the ticket collector of a train bound for Madras.” He has written over 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories. Even today, he writes up to 15 pages a day. At home, seated by a window with a worn-out clipboard that he's been using since 1977, Rajesh Kumar writes from 9.30 a.m. to 1 a.m. “I browse the Internet for an hour before I sleep,” he says. “This is to catch up with the latest trends of crime in the world.” His wife Dhanalakshmi proofreads his manuscripts. “So you can be sure there will be no vulgarity whatsoever in my writings.”
Rajesh Kumar has taken home prestigious awards including the Kalaimamani award of Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram for 2009. But the Sahitya Akademi Award has eluded him. “Some say that crime writing is not literature. But I ask, aren't the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Silappathigaram crime stories?”
Rajesh Kumar encourages his readers to write to him. “My novels carried sections such as ‘Trunk Call from Kovai' where I replied to the questions from my readers,” he says. These interviews have been compiled and released under the title “Vilakkam Please Vivek”. Vivek is an investigative officer in the novels, and his wife is the equally popular Rupella. Rajesh Kumar explains how she came about.
“During a trip to Madurai in 1983, I stopped at a lodge near the railway station. It was about 5 a.m. The receptionist — a beautiful woman in her 20s said that there was no vacancy. Just as I was about to leave, she recognised me and called me back.
She said that she was an avid reader of my crime novels. In fact, it was one of my books that was keeping her company at that early hour, she pointed out. She said, ‘I have a request. Can you immortalise my name in your novels?”
And so, Rupella was born. Says Rajesh Kumar, “I haven't met her since. I later learned that she quit her job at the lodge. Rupella — if you're reading this, please get in touch with me. I'm eager to meet you.”
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