It was a rare privilege for me to have been welcomed into this gallery of distinguished writers. While I was not a dedicated creative writer as the members of this gallery, I was interested in the serious literature though I began writing in lighter vein initially. I was more like the circus clown who parodies the feat of the strong man in the rings. On more than one occasion I was myself surprised to find that I had achieved some success in short story or essay.
The guiding spirit of Va. Raa. and his harping up on the greatness of Subramania Barathi opened up a vista of the port’s creation who was till then known only as a minstrel of inspiring patriotic songs. It was a weekly happening at the offices of Manikkodi to listen to Barathi’s songs sung by Sangu Subramaniam at Va. Raa’s bidding. His remembering of the literary creation of Barathi was most effective. Sangu Subramaniam the editor of a weekly “Suthanthira Sangu” which was more or less like Chokkalingam’s Gandhi. Coming under the influence of Va. Raa this freedom fighter also opened up the pages of his nationalistic periodical for literary pieces and many Manikkodi writers availed themselves of this opportunity.
No wonder the days spent with Va. Raa. and Manikkodi were regarded as being part of the golden era by the group of writers who participated in the literary adventure. Meanwhile the founder Srinivasan had to go to Bombay to look after the Free Press Journal started by the legendary and indefatigable pioneer Sadanand. Srinivasan whose primary interest was in English periodicals was soon involved in other papers like Bombay Standard. Srinivasan had asked Chokkalingam to look after the business side of Manikkodi. It was not much as the magazine had a circulation of less than one thousand, but sought after by many aspiring writers. Manikkodi was growing strong as a literary vehicle with Va. Raa’s inspiration and B. S. Ramiah’s assistance. Within a year of its glorious existence Va. Raa. was relieved of the editorial responsibilities by Chokkalingam under circumstances that sometimes plague even the most distinguished movements in public life. The incident which disturbed many writers like myself was never explained and the trio who began the journal never met to discuss it. It was obvious that clash of egos was at the bottom of the whole affair. Manikkodi without Va. Raa! This was unthinkable but it was the fact.
By then Chokkalingam had been the editor of the Tamil daily Dinamani newly started by Sadanand. The daily was destined to make history later as the voice of nationalism. Va. Raa. left for his village from where he was ferreted out by his admirers especially the doyen of patriots V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and made to assume the editorship of a SriLankan Tamil daily Veerakesari
Ku. Pa. Rajagopalan who passed away four years before Pudumaipithan had also left a rich legacy of lasting quality in his short stories. He revelled in dealing with human relationship, especially between man and woman, with a delicacy and tact befitting a diplomat. His portrayals of characters in embarrassing situations are like miniature paintings. His sense of form in the short story is evident in his choice of themes, which enable him to sketch in the essential details without resorting to interperative incursions. He would create tension in the mind of the reader which is intense as the as the suspense undergone by the characters. His famous story ‘Vidiyumaa” is a case in point. Most of his stories are examples of well-knit units wherein conflict, contrast and climax serve as adequate appurtenances to thematic development. Where Pudumaipithan’s voice is resounding, Rajagopalan’s is a mild whisper. Both have attempted with great success to deal with what
appear in their day a controversial theme, namely sex. Rajagopalan may be said to have pioneered this departure from conventional themes. He succeeded more by understanding than by vivid description where he had to deal with repressed emotions and extra-marital excursions. Pudumaipithan, on the other hand, pictured the nature of stark desire with astounding realism. Both steered clear of any tendency to titillate the reader. They had the balanced outlook resulting from their experience in handling a variety of themes, which helped them to distinguish between obscenity and sex, as well as between reportage and realism.
The rich tradition set up by these writers inspired a score of others to make the short story the vehicle of their self-expression. Among those who frequently share literary merit with them are C. S. Chellappa
and Cidambarasubramaniam who sought to continue the tradition and add to it by their output. The meticulous care with which the sentiments of Chellappa’s characters are delineated require him to be lavish with descriptions and interpretations. He was thus prone to indulge in excessive analysis of his characters. He is conscious of the various techniques prevalent in the English short story. His own success is confined to an adequate narration of problems relating to human situations.
Chidamabarasubramaniam was steeped in the traditional culture of the country and bestowed great attention on the fundamentals of human existence. His style is as limpid as the flow of thought in his characters, while the themes he handled were chosen from a cross-section of life which does not contain too many abnormalities. He displays an intense sense of feeling in dealing with conflicts, which figure, in his stories. T. J. Ranganathan believed in direct narration without recourse to extraneous devices. His stories have an air of taking place before our very eyes, an illusion he was able to create through thematic quality of his style which has an impressive clarity of its own. An atmosphere of utter seriousness pervades the work of these writers who handle techniques not for the sake of departing from the beaten track but to make them subserve the unfolding of the themes they chose.
Stalwarts of Manikkodi
range in the matter of themes is as varied as the thought patterns he derives from the behaviour of the characters. His sense of realism saves his stories from being overburdened with decorative factors lie experiments in technique and style. When symbols are detected in his stories they seem to be more the result of concept he wants to expound rather than an attempt to interpolate symbols deliberately. An air of mysticism pervades some of his stories in which he depicts human values in relation to religion and philosophy. Just as Pudumaippithan experimented with God himself as a visitor to the contemporary world Pichamurthi has also experimented with the Goddess of a village setting out to find for herself the aspirations of her people. He is able to transport the reader upto the frontiers of human reasoning beyond which only faith can guide the reader. Pichamurthi’s significant contribution to the art of short story during the period of more than thirty years’ writing is the revival of traditional common sense in a man in his dealings with his fellow beings and God. The sense of awareness of realities in human existence gave strength to the stories of Pichamurthi marking them out as examples to be followed by others.
Pichamurthi later turned his attention to New Poetry bereft of prosody and is today hailed as the origination of this form of Tamil.
Another stalwart who enriched Short Story in Tamil in the wake of the renaissance of letters was Chokkalingam Virudachalam, who wrote under the pseudonym Pudumaippithan
, specialised in a trend that suited his pen name. As one of the early writers of Manikkodi, the vehicle of Tamil new writing, Pudumaippithan brought to the form a daring kind of treatment as far as the content and technique were concerned. Having drunk deeply at the fountain of English literature while in college, Pudumaipithan displayed an extraordinary sense of variety in his writings. His stories characterised by a sardonic vein, which sought to demolish whatever was held sacred till then. His stories, which began in the pages of Manikkodi even before it was converted into fortnightly devoted mainly to the short story, were significant. His attitude towards life was marked by an irreverence which did not spare even divinity. His untimely death in 1948 is constantly mocked at by his literary legacy, which serves as a veritable grammar for the short story.
B. S. Ramiah
was a prolific author who has written perhaps the largest number of stories. His range is almost unlimited and his power of narration unsurpassed. His approach to his themes was essentially human. Endowed with a sense of drama Ramiah was able to import into his writings an intense atmosphere of conflict and contrast which make the reader feel like participating in the building up of the story. He makes the reader weep and laugh with his characters. The emotional content of his stories demands a seemingly unending cascade of word-pictures, which Ramiah supplies in good measure. In the hundreds of stories he has written, one sees a large variety of themes the handling of which might have needed new techniques. Ramiah himself was unaware of any legitimate objection to the assessment of Tamil short stories by foreign standards for the reason that the form was borrowed.
LIONS LEAVE THEIR LAIRS
It had become evident with the short period of ManikKodi’s existence as a magazine, that here was the beginning of a literary revival. The diffidence of newcomers was soon dispelled by Va. Raa’s encouragement. He was generous to a fault in his recognition of new talent. He was of the firm opinion that appreciation was the staple food on which the literary enthusiasm throve and he saw to it that the beginners got it in full measure. When it came from Va. Raa. whose status and authority had been so widely recognised in the literary field, the new comer was not only heartened but also strove to better himself.
Pudumaippiththan with his passion for realism joined the ranks of this avante garde
The soil in which Va. Raa. sought to sow the seeds of literary awakening was rich and fertilizing influence of Manikkodi soon bore good results. Literary lions hibernating in the lonely lairs scented the new atmosphere and came out in all their majesty. The eternal flame of Barathi’s poetry burnt steadily in the verses of Barathidasan who used his poems much as Va. Ra.. used his prose. Stalwarts in the field of the short story like B. S. Ramaiah whose gift for narration is unique and the late Pudumaippiththan with his passion for realism joined the ranks of this avante garde. N. Pichamurthy and and Ku. Pa. Rajagopalan who were building their literary nests on the banks of the Cauvery in Kumbakonam responded to the invitation that was inherent in the pages of the journal. Dubbed by Va. Raa. as the twins after a pair of medieval Tamil poets, these two have contributed a rich horde of story writing. The telling style of Va. Raa. reflecting all the nuances of the language found for him a worthy successor in T. J. Ranganathan who handled Tamil as deftly in the short story as in the essay. Among the leading stars in the Galaxy was N. Pichamurthy who was looked upon with respect for his short stories. His technique never depended on extraneous devices like peculiarities of language or choice of unusual themes. A robust faith in human destiny combined with an unfailing sense of
proportion gives a quality of deathlessness to his short stories. He has explored his themes in forthright narration, balancing events and characters like a master cook adding salt to a concoction. Some of his best-known stories like ‘Pathinettaam Perukku’ (The Eighteenth of Adi) take in their stride emotional reactions based on man-woman relationships without making much fuss about the facts dealt with. An atmosphere of mysticism pervades some other stories wherein he deals with fundamental human values in the context of faith in God.
MANIKKODI GOES ON STREAM
While Srinivasan was the founder Va. Raa. assumed editorial responsibility and the issues of the journal began to appear with their writings. Chokkalingam looked after the administration of the journal. The first issue of Manikkodi came out on the 17th September 1933
, which date and month happened to be also the date of birth of Va. Raa. though in a different year. The editorial signed by all the three pioneers promised a new healthy trend in Tamil journalism where the language would come into its own, to convey ideas of growth and progress. They expressed hope that people would notice the journal and discuss it. While opponents might attack, friends will sustain it.
Manikkodi is an attempt. Time will give its final verdict. Manikkodi heralds a new life. Its life and growth lie in our ideal, in your abiding affection and above all Divine Grace was the joint message by them.
The Hindu welcomed Manikkodi thus: We have received a copy of the first issue of ˜Manikkodi" a new Tamil weekly edited by Mr. K. Srinivasan and published every Sunday from No. 35, Sembudoss Street, Madras. A glance at the issue reveals that it is a pioneer in weekly journalism in Tamil and is planned on the lines of such Sunday newspapers in England as the ˜Sunday Times" and ˜The Observer. It contains selected news items with well-written and well-reasoned articles on subjects of topical and cultural interest. Cartoons and quips add the necessary spice to the fare thus provided. The price per copy is one Anna and the annual subscription is Rs. 3-8-0.
The impact of the journal on the profession of Tamil journalism was described vividly by B. S. Ramaiah in his book on the Manikkodi Era (Manikkodi Kaalam) Ramaiah was the earliest writer to be closely associated with Manikkodi ever since the inception. According to him within an hour of the issue coming out Kalki Krishnamurthi, editor of the most popular weekly Ananda Vikatan, and who had built up a vast readership rushed to Srinivasan and exclaimed This is the ideal journal The writings are unmatched by any other publication!
C.Subramania Barathi, pioneer spirit of Tamil renaissance in early 20th century Tamilnadu.
The reaction was typical of all other writers who saw the journal. Readers were delighted to identify a vehicle for writings of high standard. It was the self-imposed task of Manikkodi to kindle the thinking of readers with stories and essays in which there was astounding clarity of thought and language not dreamt in the past. The Tamil language was made to express abstract thoughts and vivid images. There grew a tendency on the part of discerning readers not to accept anything less than the best as far as literary standards were concerned. ˜New in meaning, new in content now in style
was the slogan which manikkodi adopted following the footsteps of Subramania Barathi
who had postulated it when he ushered in the reminiscence of letters in Tamil.
This little magazine whose circulation was less than a thousand copies in the beginning and not much thereafter, served to bring together a number of writers for whom literary achievement was the goal. As against thousands of readers to whom magazines like Anadavikatan a popular contemporary could cater, many of those who desired to read something that was out of the ordinary and thought provoking found in Manikkodi a new form for new directions. While a greater number of readers purchased copies of popular magazines, it was usual to find many reaers sharing a single copy of Manikkodi.
Srinivasan as a correspondent in London of Free Press of India was attracted by the weekly Observer, which was the only paper that appeared on Sundays. Chokkalingam had already established his reputation as a fearless editor by running his own weekly Gandhi. Va. Raa. was hibernating in Tanjavur after trying his hand in running a few journals like Prapancha Mitran and Sudhandiran. Srinivasan, aware of Va. Raa’s status as a writer, invited him to be in-charge of the new weekly which the three named Manikkodi. Today if Manikkodi is a synonym for renaissance it is due mostly to the excellence of Va. Raa’s writings in the journal.
He made it a point to din into the ears of whoever happened to listen to him, the greatness of Barathi whom till then many thought as a singer of patriotic songs only. Va. Raa’s indefatigable efforts brought to light the many-faceted brilliance of Barathi as one of the Great Poets of the language. He did not hesitate at times to exaggerate the literary genius of Barathi to drive home his point. While Va. Raa. was chiseling Tamil prose for the benefit of all classes of readers, he seldom forgot the inspiration he derived from Barathi for his literary adventure.
The days when in the office of the Manikkodi journal Va. Raa. used to ask Sangu Subramanian another fearless editor who was in-charge of the weekly Suthanthira Sangu, to sing the songs of Barathi just as the master used to sing are still remembered as the golden days of literature by the few survivors of the Manikkodi era.
T. S. Chokkalingam was a contemporary journalist, who interacted closely with Srinivasan and Va. Raa. Imbibed with the spirit of struggle for freedom he participated in journalistic protest against the foreign rule. Without the knowledge of his family he left for Ahmedabad from Tenkasi to join Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram. His mother and brother-in-law went there and persuaded him to return home. The few days he spent in the Ashram had whetted his enthusiasm to involve himself in patriotic endeavour. Many members of his family had already suffered imprisonment for nationalistic activity. Chokkalingam had his apprenticeship in journalism under Dr, Varadarajulu Naidu a fiery writer in his journal TamilNadu. This enabled him to start his own newspaper, which he named Gandhi.
He was imprisoned for publishing the Congress resolution supporting Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. He successfully fought and regained the security deposit which the Government had confiscated for his editorial criticising its failure to provide adequate relief for the Bihar earthquake victims in 1934.
Srinivasan. Chokkalingam and Va. Raa. knew one another very well as journalists. When Srinivasan decided to start a Tamil periodical he sought Chokkalingam’s help and both of them invited Va. Raa. who was for a short while resting in his village after working in many periodicals, like Ooliyan and Suthanthiran.
MANIKKODI GETS ITS NAME
The three of them were once discussing the question of finding a name for the journal, which Srinivasan was sponsoring. They were at that time on the sands of the beach near the Madras High Court. As they were thinking about possible names, the Union Jack was being lowered from the flagstaff in the Fort St. George. Their thought went back to the scene where Kamban described the fluttering of the flags in Mithila as Rama and Lakshmana entered the city with sage Viswamithra. Another thought about Barathi’s song about our National Flag also struck them. Barathi had called the National Standard the Manikkodi, meaning beautiful flag in Tamil. They decided to name the new journal “Manikkodi”
Causing a sensation even in its first appearance, ‘Manikkodi'; stood as the guardian of a renascent spirit that was attempting to find expression in the midst of growing din of popular writing. The adventure of idea one was invited to join in the pages of this journal remains to this day the most exciting. Names in modern Tamil writing which are today watchwords for creative writing were most of them part of this distinguished coterie. The Tamil language came into its own as a vehicle of artistic expression, and was equated to its potentialities to the richness of English itself. The latent capacity for abstract expression and the innate strength for technical assimilation were convincingly demonstrated in the themes dealt with and the issues discussed. The venture gave a new life to the language and a new forum to real aspirants.
V.Ramaswami alias Vaa.Raa.
Born in 1889, of an affluent Brahmin family in Thingalur, a village near Thiruvaiyaaru, Ramaswami proved to be an unconventional rebel even in his childhood. He soon discarded the insignia of caste by giving up the suffix to his name and the sacred thread. Attracted by the forces of National resurgence, all over the country, he set off to Calcutta, in his twentieth year giving up his college career. He hoped to join the institution run by the great nationalist Surendranath Bannerjee. Failing in his objective, the prodigal returned home a little disheartened. Unable to resist the call of the country to rally round the banner of revolt against the alien ruler, Va. Raa. proceeded to Pondicherry where he met the heralding minstrel of Freedom, Subramanya Bharathi and fiery patriot, Aurobindo who was then trying to get into tune with the Absolute. The friendship with Bharathi launched him on a literary career, wherein along with his master he created history in Tamil writing. Once, Bharathi noticing Va. Raa’s attempt to translate a story of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee into Tamil, found the prose style simple but forceful. He thereupon told his disciple that henceforth he would write only poetry while Va. Raa. should write prose.
Va. Raa. imbibed the spirit of nationalism which impelled Bharathi to put forth his ideas in immortal songs as well as the literary fervour pervading them. For about three years Va. Raa. absorbed the atmosphere prevailing in Pondicherry where freedom fighters and revolutionaries like Aurobindo, V. V. S. Iyer and Bharathi kept the standard of revolt flying with their writings. The apprenticeship that Va. Raa. thus underwent helped him to flower into the foremost writer of Tamil prose endowing the initials of his name under which he wrote with a literary reputation unmatched by other contemporaries. The Tamil language of the day was mostly the property of the Pandithas who were votaries of the classic style. It was Bharathi and later stalwarts like Thiru. Vi. Ka. who rescued it and made it available to the common reader. Inspired by Bharathi, Va. Ra.. soon perfected it by streamlining it to suit the needs of the day.
He utilised his talents to the fullest extent when he served after return from Pondicherry, on the staff of the Tamil edition of Swarajya founded by Andhra leader T. Prakasam. Kuppuswami Srinivasan who was in charge of the English edition and Va. Raa. were later to join together to illustrate the feasibility of making Tamil prose serve the purpose of both rousing the people into consciousness of their political rights and literary aspirations. They had also the assistance of T. S. Chokkalingam, who was at that time working in the journal Tamilnadu started by the veteran patriot Dr. P. Varadarajan.
P.G.Sunderarajan, affectionately called "PG" by many of his friends, is the renowned "Chitti", a highly respected litterateur and Andhra Pradesh's gift to Tamil literature. He is a bilingual author of innumerable books, which include creative works such as poetry and fiction, criticism, literary history, biographies, and books on spiritual discourse. He writes with equal felicity in English and Tamil.
P.G. Sunderarajan ("Chitti")
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