Some Jottings (JJ: Sila Kurippugal) ".. is nothing
less than a thoroughgoing critique of Tamil culture and society and
by extension, much more. With the pretext of talking about the
Malayalam literary world, the novel delves into a deep introspection
of Tamil culture. Wrestling with the pressing philosophical
questions of its time, it provides insights into ideas, institutions
and individuals, and the souring of idealism. Despite the generally
adverse reaction to it from fellow writers and critics, the novel
has continued to capture the imagination of young readers and
writers. Sundara Ramaswamy stands unique among his generation of
writers, in being still taken seriously by new readers..."
Reflowering in PDF
-First published in Tamil as “Vikasham” in the Tamil edition of
India Today, January 31 – February 5, 1990.
Sundara Ramaswamy won
the Katha Award for Creative Fiction in 1991, for this story.India Today
(Tamil) received the Journal
Award for first publishing this story in Tamil. The Katha
Translation Award went to S Krishnan. This story first appeared in
English translation in Katha Prize
“Reflowering” is witty, engaging and enormously
positive. A very humane story, that brings to mind the fact that
while a machine may increase the efficiency it can be no match to
the thinking, feeling, caring human being. –
Tamil litterateur Sundara Ramasamy dead... "Chennai: A
leading contemporary Tamil writer Sundara Ramaswamy,74 died at
California in the United States early on Saturday 15 October 2005.
He is survived by his son Kannan, present Editor of the
revolutionary Tamil literary magazine ''Kaala Chuvadu'', and a
daughter... A prominent literary critic, Ramaswamy was the
founder-editor of the magazine. He had been suffering from a lung
ailment for quite some time. He was staying with his daughter in the
US when the end came. The body will be brought to India and the
funeral would take place at his native place, Nagercoil in southern
Tamil Nadu, Kannan said from Nagercoil.Winner of the Katha Chudamani
Award, Sundara Ramaswamy had authored several novels, including ''JJ
Silakurippugal'' and ''Puliamarathin
Kathai'' (Story of a Tamarind Tree), which were considered
watersheds in the history of
literature. Both were translated into English. He had also
written more than 100 short stories, notable for their conscious
experiments with form."
Sundara Ramaswamy: was born on 30th May 1931, in Thazhuviya
MahadevarKovil, a village in Nagercoil). At 20, he began his
literary career, translating Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's Malayalam
novel, Thottiyude Makan into Tamil and writing his first short
story, 'Muthalum Mudivum', which he published in Pudimaipithan
He was influenced by the works of great reformers and savants
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Dr.Ram Manohar Lohia, Dr.J.C.Kumarappa
He met the great literary luminary of Malayalam, M.Govindan, in 1957
and remained his good friend till the end. In 1952, he met the
charismatic Communist leader T.M.C.Raghunathan. He was influenced by
Marxian philosophy. His relationship with the literary magazine
Shanti, edited by Raghunathan, and his joining the editorial-board
of Saraswathi, edited by Vijayabhaskaran, also an ardent Communist,
were decisive in his growth as a writer.
His talent manifests itself uniquely through his novels. Oru
Puliamarathin Kathai (The Story of a Tamarind Tree, 1966), his first
novel, was well received as a work that proved to be a new
experience both in form and content, extending the frontiers of
Tamil novel and creating new perspectives. He gave up active writing
for nearly six years; and when he began again in 1973, he had gone
far beyond executing an interesting and agile narration.
He still remained a stylist, but his concerns took new directions
and his language acquired a solid texture, retaining a powerful and
Oru Puliamarathin Kathai has been translated into English (Tale of a
Tamarind Tree, Penguin India, New Delhi), Hindi (Imli Puran,
Nilakant Prakashan, New Delhi), Malayalam (Oru Puliyamarathinte
Katha, D.C.Books, Kottayam) and into Hebrew language (by Ronit
Ricci, Hakibbutz Hameuchaud Publishing House, Tel Aviv).
In 1959, he wrote his first poem, "un kai nagam" under the poetic
pseudonym 'Pasuvia' and published it in Ezhuthu. Poetry brought him
the experience of a dimension beyond the concreteness of words and
their meaning. The early poems were rigorous in language and heavy
in tone. His poems gradually became more translucent and immediate.
All his poems are collected in the volume, 107 Kavithaikal.
"Sundara Ramaswamy who has written poetry under the name
Pacuvayya is perhaps the most important writer today in Tamil. His
earlier short-stories, with which he began his writing career,
influenced by Marxist philosophy transcended the rigid perceptions
normally seen in such writings in Tamil at that time and revealed
his natural instinct for both form and style.
Ramaswamy is by nature a stylist. His inspiration derives partly
from Pudumaipithan, the writer who ushured in modernity into Tamil
literature. Right from the beginning, Ramaswamy developed for
himself a unique sense of narration, marked by a keen sense for
local languages and honour. Thus, his stories were delightful and
compelling. His first novel Oru Puliyamarattin katai ("Tale of a
Tamarind Tree") extended the frontiers of Tamil novel and created
new perspectives on novel.
Sundara Ramaswamy suspended active writing for nearly six years;
and when he resumed in 1973, one found a different Ramaswamy whose
considerations outgrow those for an interesting and agile narration.
True, he still remained a stylist, but his concerns took new
directions and his language which ceased to be soothing and amusing
acquired a solid texture yet it retained a strong feel for humour,
only now more powerful and pointed. It was in this phase that he
wrote his stories in the "Palanquin Bearers" volume, and later an
outstanding novel "J.J. Some Notes". This novel defied all the
notions prevalent in Tamil writing about the concern, form and
language of a novel. It eschewed narration, brought in a tone of
intense meditation on the quality of human life and the problem of
Ramaswamy started writing poetry in 1959. His urge for new poetry
stemmed from the condition of Tamil poetry which, in spite of the
Subramaniya Bharati in the early decades of the century,
remained weak and which was heavily regimented by the classical
prosody. Also poetry brought him the experience of that dimension
which was beyond the concreteness of words and their meaning. The
possibilities inherent in poetry were challenging.
As a poet, Ramaswamy's output, though not quantitatively vast, is
very significant. Fundamentally, his is a mind of a poet, and what
his poetic sensibilities could not capture in poetry, one may say,
spilled over to prose. In fact it is more difficult to speak about
his poetry. His poems are a severe questioning into one's existence,
perceptions, conflicts, tireless but often defeated search. The
early poems were rigorous in language and heavy in tone. But
gradually, his poems became more translucent and immediate. Often,
he adopts a discussive tone. His poems are not rhetoric; his
language usage has set new directions and possibilities.
Almost all of Ramaswamy's writings have appeared in little magazines
which though reaching limited readership have sustained serious
literary work in Tamil during the last fifty years. Ramaswamy has
also contributed significantly to the disciplines of literary
criticism and essays. He has translated poems from English and
novels from Malayalam. Ramaswamy has travelled widely; he was a
participant in the Indian Poetry Festival in Paris. He has visited
Malaysia, Singapore, London and Toronto for talks on literary
Ramaswamy has translated from Malayalam into Tamil Thakazhi
Sivasankara Pillai's Cemmi and Tottiyue Makal and short stories by
Thakazhi, Basheer, Karoor Neelakanta Pillai and M. Govindan. He has
also translated a few poems of N.N. Kakkad. He was awarded the
prestigious Kumaran Asan Memorial Award for his collection of poems
Naunici Noykal .
My grandfather Sundara Ramaswamy, who died
over a month ago, leaves behind a rich legacy shaped by his written
novels, poems, short stories, critical essays.
But for me, he
was just Grandpa.
My earliest memories of him are of a bald
man sitting in his room, a wall entirely made of glass, loudly
dictating Tamil words to the clang of the typewriter. Sentences
would jump out of him, the typewriter would struggle to keep up, and
words would start again. When permitted inside the room, I always
found it boring in a few minutes.
He was strict and
unapproachable, more in my imagination than in reality. I spent most
of my holidays in his house, but I tried hard to avoid him. There
would always be some small sin I had committed that he was bound to
pull me up for. His idea of playtime was colouring books, mine
included violent games, the victim usually being my brother.
I detested Tamil and never read anything outside of school work. His
first short story that I read was a little known translation into
English of Stamp Album. When I told him about it, he was surprised
and asked for the book. He didn't realise that the story had been
translated. That incident left no impression on my mind. I thought
Sherlock Holmes, Stamp Album was nothing.
Then for years,
he was absent from my life. I rarely visited my grandparents and for
a time it seemed like I didn't know them anymore. My father would
keep mentioning JJ: Sila Kurippugal in his conversations
about books. After one such conversation, I dusted a heavily marked
first edition copy of the book from the loft and looked at it. I had
never read a Tamil novel before and I seriously doubted I would read
this one. The first sentence on JJ's death was striking. I was
curious about how a writer could start a novel with his main
character dying right in the first line. I kept reading and over
three or four days finished the book.
I realised then that
books do change your life. And for the first time in years, I wanted
to meet my grandfather. I went over to his place and told him that I
had read JJ. He wanted to talk but I grew shy. He said he
would like to suggest a couple of books that I might like, but I
somehow slipped away.
Years later, after my mother died and father became ill, I moved
to my grandparents' home.
I read a lot of him during this
time which gave me the confidence to ask him questions about his
work, his idea of creativity and virtually everything under the sun.
I joined him in his evening walks and we would have long
conversations. Looking back, I realise that I was more naive than I
thought I was and he was more patient than he needed to be.
He had a mind that always thought things through. He could, with
great style, incisively analyse issues, a quality that make his
essays valuable. But there are aspects to him like his conversations
-- funny, clever and poignant -- that went unrecorded. He also
laughed like no one else, his facial muscles completely loose, his
mouth wide, his eyebrows as if frowning.
I remember talking
to him when he had just begun his third novel -- Kuzhanthaigal
Pengal Angal. From random conversations to the manuscript to the
published book, the creative process was fascinating. He approached
it like a 10 to 5 job. Even 10 minutes away from his work affected
It was as if he had tons to say even after 50
years at it. He would always keep grumbling about distractions that
keep him away from work. He had a spirit that wasn't easily
suppressed. From the way he exercised in the morning till in the
night when he read himself to sleep, he displayed an enthusiasm for
life that I envied.
One of the first things that my uncle
Kannan did around the time he revived Kalachuvadu, the
literary magazine, in the mid 90s, was to publish my grandfather's
collection of poems. Unlike his other works, the poems kept growing
on me with every reading. When dramatised or sung, these poems
reveal a dimension to them that make me marvel at their writer.
He was in great health when he wrote the short stories collected in
Maria Thamuvukku Ezhuthiya Kaditham in 2003. It's hard to
believe that barely two years later, he is no more.
that he had been admitted to hospital came, I grew restless. His
voice when he had last spoken to me had been really subdued. Even
after seeing his body in the casket at the funeral, the reality of
his death never hit home. It was unreal to see people crying
unabashedly and to walk among showering petals to the cemetery
alongside his body.
My relationship with him was in many ways
unfulfilled. I had somehow deluded myself to thinking that he would
always be there. Today, I regret deeply that another
conversation with him is impossible.
The day after his
funeral, my six-year-old cousin imitated my grandfather's
ritualistic arrival at the dining table for lunch. The door of his
room would open, my grandfather would emerge humming a tune and walk
the few feet to the large hall, switch on the fan and sit in his
regular chair. None of us would look at the time. It would always be
Most people, I think, go through life without ever
having a shot at what they really want to do. My grandfather decided
in his teens that he wanted to be a writer and pursued that path
with rigour. Amidst all this sorrow, that's one thing that makes me
happy. Happy of his fulfilled life and our unfulfilled relationship.