Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sujatha, the Icon

To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead. ~Samuel Butler

Sujatha, the prolific Tamil writer died last night.

There was a time when I had very bad, lowly opinion about Sujatha. That was mainly due to his prototype story setup, characterizations you find in his Vikatan, Kumudam short stories. That also shows how shallow my reading had been. I never saw beyond those popular magazines and did not understand the immense personality of Sujatha.

Ironically Sujatha was the first one to impress me in the serious literature. When I had enough of Balakumara and Ayn Rand, I went to Moor market in search of 'good' books. I did not know that that was not a place to be in search of such books. After hours of search I discovered two short story collections in tatters - one by Thi.Janakiraman (Akbar Sastry) and another one by Sujatha (unnamed).

Both the books blew me out. That was the 'first' short story collection of Sujatha to be published. It introduced me to a world of Sujatha that was hidden from tabloids. His notable short stories 'Ore oru maalai', 'Nagaram', 'Ranjani' were found in that collection. His style of story telling, which was unconventional, yet very easy to read impressed me greatly. (But in that collection there were pretty ordinary stories too). His eye that catches unnoticeable details, sense of humor, language influenced me enormously. As usual I went from one extreme to another.

I frantically searched for Katrathum - Petrathum series, Srirangathu sirukathaigal and read them several times. Slowly over the years I started seeing the short comings in his essays and stories. His essays had very simplified views of philosophies, technologies, ideologies et al. At first I did not realize Sujatha intentionally simplified ideas so that they reach common men. One should take Sujatha as a starting point, an introduction. It is wise to move from there to build our own understanding. Taking Sujatha's views as defining ones defeat the whole purpose. Sujatha himself would not have wanted it.

His stories are very shallow. Yet they are festooned with unusual, fresh prose. It is very difficult not to get influenced by his style. One Srirangathu Sirukathaigal story ends like this "Avarkitte intha vishayatha sollatheengo. Kathaiya ezhuthida poraar." (Don't tell him this. He will write it as a story). His characterization in simple, few words portrays a pretty neat pencil sketch. In the same story his describes a small girl: "She was very small girl. She was wearing silk shirt and skirt. When nudged by her mother she recited 'Aazhimazhai kanna' in a faint voice, gasping for breath."

Yesterday when I returned home from office, I had the great urge to read Sujatha's "Kanaiyazhiyin Kadaisi pakkangal' - a collection of essays he wrote in the little magazine Kanaiyazhi. As always I was thrilled by the variety and sharp cynicism which was missing in his later years. An hour later I got the news that Sujatha expired. He wrote in one of his essays that he did not believe in rebirth. I too don't believe that the void created by Sujatha's departure can be filled.

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