Duh !!

THE UNFORTUNATE DEMISE OF THE TAMIL WRITER SUJATHA – from the news-channel eulogies, though, you’d think the man was merely a screenwriter, giving shape to the visions of Shankar and Mani Ratnam – has occasioned a steady outpouring of how-I-learnt-to-read-Tamil-with-his-books memories, and while I know from experience that that’s true, I feel no one has zeroed in on why this is so. After all, there were so many other Tamil writers – the great modernist god that was the early Vairamuthu, say – who were Sujatha’s contemporaries and who were certainly no slouches when it came to a certain felicity of expression that could make any rank newbie fall in rapturous love with the language. But I think what made Sujatha stand apart and speak to so many of us who grew up in the seventies and the eighties was that his writings were instantly appealing to a generation that could understand Tamil and speak Tamil and read Tamil and perhaps even write Tamil – but thought in English. I’m not just talking about the sci-fi setting of En Iniya Iyandhira and its robo-dog named after the Roman goddess Juno – all far, far removed from the sociopolitical and moralistic scenarios that constituted a lot of the writing in the local magazines of the time – but Sujatha’s Western sensibilities would peek through even his pieces on ancient religious texts.

Baradwaj Rangan wrote those lines in a sort-of-obituary column on Writer Sujatha. While it was nice of him to write about Sujatha for a large audience, two things about it that didn’t gel very well.

One. Check out this line –

you’d think the man was merely a screenwriter, giving shape to the visions of Shankar and Mani Ratnam – has occasioned a steady outpouring of how-I-learnt-to-read-Tamil-with-his-books memories, and while I know from experience that that’s true, I feel no one has zeroed in on why this is so.

Sujatha himself has written about this a number of times about writing in Tamil for thinking-in-english generation of Tamil Nadu. So this isn’t a very new thought on the horizon.

Baradwaj writes – I feel no one has zeroed in on why this is so. That’s probably the easiest way to go beyond all the lengthy texts Sujatha’s fans have ever written on his demise. And a subtle path to take-by-force, an established writer status.

To answer him, nobody zeroed in on this because its the first thing that hits you when you even glance Sujatha’s writing at the first place. Also, there are quite a few people who wrote about it. Maybe nobody “zeroed-in” on this in English as Baradwaj has done here. Take that credit, BR.

Then, Two.

As an aside, maybe that’s why Mani Ratnam felt the time was ripe for his kind of cinema – because he had in front of him a young audience that wasn’t especially “Indian” when it came to, say, respecting authority figures. Do you think a filmmaker from an earlier era would have given us the scene from Roja where Arvind Swamy’s mother speaks of his smoking habit as if it were a minor annoyance

Just this simple reason that a film reviewer recollects this scene even after 15 years goes onto show that this was even a shocker scene during its release. If such a scene were to be a part of 80s flick it would have still been viewed with the same emotion.

It’s just that it wasn’t made before doesn’t mean the 90s generation was the first non-“indian” generation. And when Baradwaj gets to read Sujatha’s first novel Nylon Kairu or Kanavu Thoyirchalai, it would evident that Sujatha created a variety of such westernized characters long before Roja.

9 thoughts on “Duh !!

  1. I saw red after this line – “the great modernist god that was the early Vairamuthu, say ” – and skipped the post. Obviously Baradwaj Rangan doesn’t have much introduction to Modern Tamil Literature.

  2. Good Catch Chenthil. I over-looked that fact !! Yes, BR seems to be a pretty good movie reviewer. Probably his editorial team asked him to do this as a stretch goal.

    Obviously, he didn’t stretch too well.

  3. lazy and chenthil, as someone who reads all 3 of you(including BR) , have to say there is a lot of miscomprehension here.
    Yes, he doesnt have much exposure to ‘modern’ tamil literature, as in the Sundara Ramasamy or Vanna Nilavan types that Chenthil can quote in sleep.
    But the ‘bite’s are unwarranted. He isnt the type who would show-off or pretend. I think what he says comes from the heart and thats his understanding. I mean, he is the type who would claim that “Gemini Ganesan was the most popular of the 3 60’s TF idols” and genuinely mean it. I dont think he needs to be berated for a lack of understanding of kanaiyazhi and kurumpathrikai audience. he is a class writer and he has his perspective, just like you guys do. And I respect all 3 of you for expressing things as you see them from your perspective. I know from interaction with him that he would see your POV as he has infact done in this case also. It would reflect well upon you to read his articles from HIS POV, rather than toss them away as Chenthil seems to have done because he expressed a POV thats not yours. (Vaira is a modernist God, yes , I would disagree but would never forgo the pleasure of reading BR for that line. If you are a sucker for good writing, you shouldnt either but thats your prerogative as BR says!)

  4. Raj, I read all BR’s reviews though I hardly see any film he reviews. I like his prose and that is the reason I read his posts. This particular post irritated me like no other.

    And thanks, I can’t quote sundara ramasamy or vanna nilavan types in sleep, thought I try 🙂

  5. //Vaira is a modernist God, yes , I would disagree but would never forgo the pleasure of reading BR for that line. If you are a sucker for good writing, you shouldnt either but thats your prerogative as BR says!)//

    Raj, How long can u keep reading someone just for the pleasure of reading if there is no level headedness.

  6. Whoa, now it moves on to a bigger accusation – level-headedness….
    I fully accept, that article was a sore thumb. Desikan has a better collection of obituaries to the great man.
    But till date, haven’t found a better reviewer (may or maynot match my verdicts) of indian cinema (hindi and little pieces of tamil) than brangan.
    “How long can u keep reading someone just for the pleasure of reading if there is no level headedness?”
    Looks like there is much more than this instance that you are hinting at, Lazy.. I would disagree.

  7. Bart, I was probably communicating it wrongly. I was trying to only spotlight this instance. i wasn’t trying to make a bigger accusation.

    Infact, I personally like BR for his reviews and even one this blog he has been mentioned more than once.

    that was a general comment to Raj asking how long would he keep reading someone if they weren’t level headed. it wasn’t referring to BR.

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