CHENNAI: Renowned Tamil writer Ki. Rajanarayanan -- popularly known as Ki Ra -- and a winner of Sahitya Akademi award, died in Puducherry on Monday night. He was 98.
While modern Tamil literature has taken up various shapes and forms post independence, Ki Ra's entry into the literary ecosystem marked the germination of several Tamil writers from the Karisal Seemai - Land of the Black Soil- sprawling between Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Rameswaram. He did pioneering work in bringing Karisal literature to the mainstream.
A popular saying goes, "Throw a stone in Kovilpatti and it may land on the head of a writer." This culture was one that was set forth in motion by Ki Ra.
Speak to any Karisal writer alive and they fondly call him as Naina (a Telugu-Tamil word used to address father) or as Bheeshmar - a paternal and wise figure from Mahabharatham.
Some writers mentored by him, including Poomani, Melanmai Ponnusamy and Cho Dharman, went on to win the Sahitya Akademi award themselves. Popular Tamil writer Konangi said that over two dozen writers were handheld into the Karisal Seemai's literary landscape by Ki Ra.
"Ki Ra's house was my only library for a very long time," says Cho Dharman, speaking to Express. He said that every time his contemporaries or he visited Ki Ra, they would be sent back with a handful of books. "We were about 15-20 educated but unemployed youngsters who had no mentors to tell us what to do next," said Dharman. Whenever, one of them published anything, a letter from Ki Ra would follow suit, he said, adding that even when they don't write for while they would get a letter saying, "I haven't read any of your work in a while. 'Ezhuthungo Ezhuthungo' (Please write, Please write)."
Marieswaran or 'Maries', a popular book layout artist who was a dear friend of Ki Ra said that Ki Ra, in addition to being a literary guide to many, was a man of tight morals. "One day we witnessed an accident on the road and the man at fault blamed the victim for the accident.
Ki Ra, butted his way into the brawl and called his bluff," he said. Ki Ra was always getting youngsters aboard literary projects, Maries added. "One day after college, when I went to see Ki Ra, he said that he was collecting words; words which were 'vattaravazhaku (dialectical style) in Karisal Tamil. He wanted us to help him index these words to publish a Karisal Dictionary - Karisal Kaatu Sollagarathi," he said.
Ki.Ra’s first novel ‘Gopallagramam’ is still revered as a great novel even though in the beginning it was not acknowledged by literary critics. In his tenure at the Pondicherry University, he collected 200 folk stories and published them as Nattuppura Kadhai Kalanjiyam.
TS Saravanan, the deputy director (translation), Tamil Nadu Textbook And Educational Services Corporation said that in 1982, Ki Ra published the Dialectical Dictionary, making it one of the first academic works to be published in this literature. One of Ki Ra's last works to be published was "Along with the Sun" an English translation of an anthology of short stories hand-picked and edited by Ki Ra, published by the Corporation and HarperCollins.
"When I handed him the copy of Along with the Sun, he told me he loved hardback books," said Saravanan adding in addition to his literary persona, Ki Ra was a man of many interests and passions: particularly food. He said that Ki Ra asked him, "Did you know how Iruttu Kadai Halwa got its name?" Saravanan added that Ki Ra asserted that Curd Rice tastes better with 40 different side dishes that included Rasam.
Mini Krishnan, the coordinating editor of the anthology said that when Ki Ra received the book, he said, "They are all my friends. Like my children." She added that Ki Ra did not win the many awards he might have, but he truly lived Along with the Sun.