S Ramakrishnan, one of the doyens of Tamil publishing industry died due to COVID-19 on Tuesday (November 17) in Chennai.
Best remembered as ‘Cre-A’ Ramakrishnan for Tharkaala Tamil Agarathi or Cre-A: Dictionary of Contemporary Tamil, which he has been editing for the past 30 years, the 75-year-old recently released the third revised edition of the dictionary at the hospital.
Born in Chennai, Ramakrishnan worked in RK Swamy advertising agency, before taking the plunge into the Tamil literary world. He along with his friends and fellow litterateurs such as Na Krishnamoorthy and Gnanakooththan, published the Ka Sa Da Tha Pa Ra, a small literary magazine which introduced a lot of young writers in the 1970s.
Being a voracious reader, Ramakrishnan always craved for Tamil books which are published on par with books published in English. It was then that he became conscious about the use of the language and understood the importance of editing books.
In 1974, he started his own publishing house ‘Cre-A’ in Chennai. Its first published work was Naarkaalikaarar, a collection of plays by Koothuppattarai’ Na Muthusamy.
He published the early works of some of the writers who are now major literary figures. Sundara Ramasamy, author of JJ Sila Kurippugal, Ambai, who has written Veettin Moolaiyil Oru Samayalarai and Imayam whose work Koveru Kazhuthaigal, celebrates its silver jubilee this year are a few to name. Ramakrishnan has also published renowned epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan’s Early Tamil Epigraphy.
Besides publishing modern Tamil literary works, Cre-A also published translated works of Albert Camus, Jacques Prevert and Franz Kafka.
While the Tamil publishing world published translated works in European languages through English editions, Cre-A has published some of the books, directly translated from French and German.
“Before that some of the Russian works were translated directly from Russian by other publishers. But they were not properly edited and proofread. Ramakrishnan has brought meticulous editing and works such as Anniyan (Stranger by Camus) and Visaranai (The Trial by Kafka) have become classics among Tamil readers,” says D Asaithambi, a journalist who worked with Cre-A for some years.
Ramakrishnan not only focused on the content but also other aspects of publishing like selecting suitable fonts and bringing modernity cover designs. Over the years, Cre-A had started to publish books on a gamut of subjects like health, environment and science.
While publishing those works, both the writer and the publisher faced a major linguistic hiccup: translating scientific jargons in English to Tamil. In order to address this lack of vocabulary, Ramakrishnan embarked on a landmark work in 1985 – publishing a contemporary Tamil dictionary. Even though a Tamil dictionary by the century-old South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society Limited was in in publication before Cre-A, it had limited words, with most being archaic in nature.
Cre-A’s in contrast had close to 80 lakh word bank. The first edition of dictionary was published in 1992 and the second edition came in 2008 and the third revised edition was brought in November 2020.
It is also the first Tamil dictionary to be published in Braille format. The publishing house has also developed mobile application of the dictionary.
“Many think that lexicographers create language. It is not true. The basic aim of a dictionary is to collect the ideas of a society about a word. So a dictionary not only helps in giving clarity on a language, but also to form a knowledge-based society. That’s why publishing a dictionary is a political act. It’s a key to democracy,” Ramakrishnan had said in one of his interviews.
Apart from publishing books, Ramakrishnan was also actively involved in the making of Roja Muthaiah Research Library in Chennai and Koothuppattarai, a theatre group. His wife Jayalakshmi predeceased him few years ago. The publication’s another latest offering was the Tamil translation of Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis’s Talking to my daughter about the economy.