Literary titbits


Sa.Kandasamy says that he cares a hoot for plot. If his stories are not wanted now, they will prove to be records for the future. But don’t underestimate him. He is a Sahitya Akademi award winner! Sundara Ramaswamy was the Guru of budding writers. His ‘Kalachuvadu’ provided a forum for them. But the powers-that-be were indifferent to him. Thilagavathi is a top police officer who has published a few volumes of interesting stories. But they don’t revolve round the police! The case of Usha Subramaniam has been one of a business woman writing scores of stories. Of course they touch the business world. Ambai’s stories are of international standard. But her time is mostly consumed by her feminist outfit of Sparrow.


T.Padmanabhan has refused to write novels and has stuck to his lyrical short stories throughout the decades. He even refused the Sahitya Akademi award pinpointing its neglect of the short story. M.T.Vasudevan Nair is a much lionised writer. He has won the Jnanpith award. But part of his fame rests on his film scripts. Kovilan and Nandanar gatecrashed with their soldier stories. Parapurath too joined them. E.Vau’s fame rests on his bureaucratic tales. V.K.N. snatched attention with his short, irritable tales!


Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga and Kiran Desai won the Booker for ‘The god of small things’, ‘The white tiger’ and ‘The inheritance of loss’ respectively. While Roy has turned away from novels, the other two are biding their time. Jumpha Lahiri won the Pulitzer for her ‘Interpreter of maladies’, a collection of short stories. It is a chaotic scene here—globe-trotting writers winning this prize and that from here and there and making much noise. It all started with Salman Rushdie. Till then it was quiet waters—with the presiding deities of R.K.Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao  and their satellites like Nayantara Sahgal, Kamala Markandaya and Prawer Jubwallha  surrounding them.

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If only….

People had an opportunity to see their children and others shine in life!

Jawaharlal Nehru had a glorious innings as freedom fighter and Prime  Minister. But he could not see his daughter sitting in the same  chair for 16 years. As he had a sense of history, did he have a hunch?

SWRD Bandaranayke  was a  popular Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who was assassinated. His wife Sirimavo followed him as Prime Minister and (after constitutional amendment) President. Not only that her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga followed her. SWRD could not have envisaged all these things.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the colourful and controversial, Prime Minister of Pakistan was hanged. He would not have dreamt that his daughter would be at the helm of affairs (and assassinated).

Achmad Sukarno led the freedom fight of Indonesia and became its President also. He would not have thought of his daughter, Meghavati Sukarnoputri, following him later.

President Marcos of Philippines was stridently opposed by Mr Acquino who had to pay for it by his life. He could not have thought of his wife Corazan sitting in the chair of Marcos later!

George Bush senior was president of America once. He could not get a second term because of the Iranian fiasco. But he did see his son George Bush junior become president twice and earn notoriety!

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The extended family

Oscar Wilde, the witty British writer, once said–after a hearty meal, one can forgive anyone, even one’s relations! Writers from all corners of the world have held such a negative view regarding relatives. Our society too seems to be veering round to the view as evident from the mushrooming nuclear families.

Man must have led a nomadic, anarchist life once. It’s uncertainties and dangers made him hanker after stability. The result is the family, agriculture, industry and the concept of God. But in due course these institutions too developed vested interests and stood in the way of the happiness of the largest numbers. Hence the thinking section rebelled against them.

As such agriculture has changed, industry has developed, God diluted and the family at the crossroads.

In these days of the nuclear family, I am tempted to look back. My youngest aunt took me to school along with a cousin. Another taught me to swim. An uncle showed me how to sign my name. A grand uncle brought cashew nuts aplenty whenever he came from his  village. Another took us kids to the circus and the cinema. A third brought me a magazine which was available only in the neighbouring town. Grandma literally brought me up. Grandpa took me to the temple and the town. During vacations usually I visited my parents but it was punctuated by visits to my favourite aunt! Some vacations found me and my numerous cousins (mostly girls) raising a hullabaloo. My paternal grandpa took me to the river bank and told me about the sunset and the birds. I could go on and on……


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The fact

Krishnan Master of our primary school narrated a story. A boy saw an ant carrying a fly and told his friend that he had seen a fox carrying a chick. The second boy told his busy mother that a goat had been knocked away by a panther. What is it, asked the father and the mother said somebody had been killed in the town. That is how, smiled the master, things get reported!

An acquaintance of mine visited the hospital quite a few times and when asked why, he said: ‘This is the second time my brother-in-law is in the hospital for bone fracture.I smell death–he wont survive!’ That was a couple of years back and the victim is attending his shop regularly! The same acquaintance said a few months back that the local child specialist had an operation at the U.S. and his days were numbered. The other day I saw the doctor attending to patients! Morarji Desai, the then prime minister, announced the death of Jayaprakash Narayan in parliament when he was still alive!

Our state has a number of papers in the local language. They are owned by business interests and political parties. Distortion, embellishments and burial are common. Film personalities encroach upon space unduly. Frivolity is prevalent. Business interests, political angles, need to entertain and fear of rulers push them. Often we have to check up with English papers or channels.

No wonder. India has had epics, legends, myths and moral stories galore. But for facts of ancient India,we have to depend upon Chinese pilgrims, Arab travellers or books like Babar’s ‘Memoirs’. In the west they had even then historians like Ptolmy and Pliny.

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A pat for senior

Catch them young, is the general motto. Commercial institutions look for bright young men and women. Governments recruit them. The armed forces do the same. Movie producers attract new faces. Marriage market is for them. Magazines have them in mind. Political parties have youth wings and often talk, while in trouble, of infusing young blood. In short, the world belongs to the youth.

But, Babes, wait a bit. There is something coming! George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, was not enamoured of youth. He held a contrary view. That is expanded in his famous play ‘Back to Methuselah’. Modern life is becoming more and more complex because of the advancement of science and technology  and the explosion of knowledge. Man is incapable of coping with it. In view of the shortness of life, he is tempted just to have a good time. Real social commitment is a rarity. Even our prime ministers are no better than golf-playing boys! By the time man has a grasp of life, he dies. Hence longevity is the remedy. Evolution is the result of necessity. A time will come when humans live much longer.

Even now life is getting extended. As such the elderly should be allowed to play their legitimate part. Their place is not the ‘Home’!

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Compare and contrast

Over the decades I have watched India being compared to other countries. Look at Singapore, some said, how tidy, strict and responsible. How dirty are our streets, bus stands and railway stations. Look at the Japanese, how enterprising they area and what products they make out of nothing. Better to say nothing of our products. And the Germans. Nothing to beat their quality. How slovenly we are. Look at Pakistan.A military man is in control there. No Dick, Harry or Tom can indulge in loose talk or take to anarchic activities. Here everyone is a force! And the Soviet Union. Is it not an ideal state in the world? They don’t have beggars roaming the streets.

Now Singapore is only a city state whereas ours is a populous sub-continent. The Japanese have a history of aggression and was responsible for the second world war. The Germans were responsible for the first and second world wars. The country split into two and had to be reunited after an acrimonious period. As for Pakistan, it has had a chequered history and the less said the better. And where is Soviet Union now?

At present China is held up as the model. Its speed and omnipresence look frightening. One is reminded of ancient Greece. There the militarised Sparta and the flowering Athens presented a contrasting picture. China’s suppressed population is restive. Will the system last?

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The Indian Union consists of many states talking different languages. I came here decades back from a state that though  proud of itself, looked at the national scene as well as the world at large. But the picture here has been different. A force that denied God, attacked the priestly caste, pushed out words from the primary classical language, vociferously agitated against the link language, been lukewarm towards the international language, has captured power and been holding for  it for decades. The nationalists though deplored initially its subservience to the colonialists, lack of support from the neighbouring states and obsession with an area of a neighbouring country, have lost steam and have been depending upon the two wings of the force to get power at the state and the centre.

The masses though voting to power the two wings of the force, have been going on unconcerned with its pet hates. They have been visiting temples, churches and mosques in large numbers. They have been consulting astrologers! The national epics are still referred to by them as occasion demands. People from other states are welcome here. There is no hesitation to mingle with the hated caste. The younger generation is engaged in a struggle for existence  and have no time for a glorious past. Of course the hardcore of the force remains and tilts at windmills!

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Big brother is watching !

The British writer George Orwell wrote a novel in 1948 and named it 1984. It is futuristic of course. In it he  portrays a totalitarian country. Everywhere pictures of the dictator could be staring at you with the words under—BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU ! In China which was liberated in 1949 could be seen pictures of Chairman Mao everywhere!  People looked at them with adulation or trepidation.

Believe it or not, our city has been subjected to a similar situation. The central figure is the close relation of a powerful politician who has been in and out several times. The former was shunted to our place as he was found to be an embarrassment at the state head quarters. The pretext was looking after some party affair locally. But not liking it, he started doing business. Being an outsider, he couldn’t make much headway. It was then that he hit upon the idea of using his kinsman’s name. It paid. Initially he was discreet and then later ominous. Eventually traders, officials and professionals have become amenable. A veritable group of cronies also surround him. Intimidation, arbitration and doles have made him loom large. Crime also has helped. One or two politicians who could have challenged him are dead. His cronies have been pasting his giant posters at every nook and corner. People stare at them with awe!

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The argumentative Indian

That is the title of a recent book by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. In it he says that reasoning is part of our heritage and when western democracy was introduced  here it was not on an alien soil. That sets me thinking:

When young, an elderly relative used to visit us occasionally. He came with cashew nuts and mangoes from his village. He was a carefree man. Once we got into an argument. Reciting couplets and narrating stories, he said there was nothing equal to Hinduism. I had just got over atheism to agnosticism. Hence I couldn’t accept his thesis. But he said finally ‘Hinduism is Hinduism whatever you may say, ‘ and went inside to talk to my grandma.

My father and I found ourselves on opposite sides on the concept of the Indian nation. He found prevalence of Indian culture all over the world. I didn’t. Astronomy is ours, he said.  I reminded him of the Arabs and the Mayans. What about the Ramayana and Mahabharata, he asked. Why not Iliad and Odyssey, I countered. The Hindu society is the ideal one,  he said. What about the caste system, I  asked. Most of the time the encounter finished with his declaration: ‘Half-knowledge is dangerous!’

My uncle was a handsome, elegant, knowledgeable person. Once we found ourselves in prolonged correspondence. I had a hunch he was a kindred spirit. He mentioned Christianity’s compassion and Islam’s brotherhood. He spoke eloquently of western thought. But harped upon the uniqueness of Indian culture and asserted that he believed in everyone of the Hindu deities. He concluded by saying that some decorum should be maintained while corresponding!

That brother of mine and I have some things in common. We too found ourselves in prolonged correspondence once. He spoke of unity and diversity  in India. I had to quote Nirad Choudhduri! He was for patriotism with a big P. I had my  reservations. He castigated the regionalists. I was not enthusiastic. He dilated upon the Upanishadic Absolute. I picked holes in it. At last he said that having lost my tail, I was anxious that others did so!

My lawyer friend and I met for nearly a decade over a cup tea. He was a specialist and I a layman. But when judgements in politically-oriented cases started going in my favour he simply disappeared!

The history lecturer and I were neighbours. We met over breakfast during holidays. He said the Dravidian civilisation was the oldest. I countered by saying Rig Veda was the oldest scripture. He said Sanskrit was a dead language like Latin whereas Tamil was alive and kicking. I replied that Sanskrit lived in almost all languages in India . We were travelling on parallel lines. But my transfer terminated it all !

My brother and son once went to meet a friend of mine with a book written by me. The friend scanned through  it and exclaimed:’Isn’t this light stuff? How could he? He used to be serious,argumentative!’

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One of my brothers is on his second visit to Canada. For our generation, in the family, it is a privilege. I wonder if he is adequately aware of it. He who is a blogger has confined himself to a couple of pieces on his visit. For the rest he has been harping on our teeming, acrimonious sub-continent. Why not I do something about it?

I have never visited Canada. But my first encounter with that country occurred in the geography class in school. Ah, it is a land of pine forests! Newspapers over a period of time tell me that it has had a subdued existence in the sprawling Anglo-Saxon world. I remember its colourful, intellectual, one-time prime minister Elliot Truedau. The country has a French-speaking province. When once the French president Charles de Gaul visited Quebec, he made certain remarks. It created quite a controversy and an embarrassment to the host government. My niece Rekha once sent me a novel by Margaret Atwood, the Canadian writer.  In fact Canadian literature is in vogue in the colleges in and around our city. The other day a lady lecturer from one college talked about Atwood in another college. But my favourite author is Alice Munro. She is a short story writer some of whose collections could be read as novels! One Dr  Jayasree Sukumaran of Kerala has published a book comparing her to the Indo-English writer Anita Desai.

How is it?Bravado?Where angels fear to tread , fools rushing in?

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