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.
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.