One day in January, Jinna Asmi, a poet in Tamil Nadu, got a call from his fellow poet and friend J Francis Kiruba. What the latter said shocked Asmi and left him in tears.
“I haven’t eaten in two days. I am hungry. Will you please help me get some food?” This was what Kiruba had told Asmi, who then took his friend to a hotel and satiated his hunger.
Kiruba, a full-time writer sustaining on the meagre amounts paid by magazines for his works, has no one to look after him. He slept in streets and sometimes at his friends’ rooms.
“That was when I decided that we should adopt such deserted writers,” said Asmi. “We adopted Kiruba and found a place for him to live and write. We are going to take care of his expenses all through his life. Besides paying him Rs 5,000 monthly, we will also take care of his expenses in case there is any emergency, like hospitalisation.”
A native of Cuddalore district, Asmi works as a software engineer in Bengaluru. He has been interested in Tamil literature from a very young age. He has brought out three poetry collections — ‘Velichathin Mugavari’, ‘Kadavul Marantha Kadavuchol’ and ‘Nee Thulaiyitta Enathu Pullaanguzhal’.
In 2016, he started a Facebook group called ‘Padaippu Kuzhumam’ (Literary Creators Group) with his like-minded friends to share their views on good literary works. After Kiruba’s episode, the group turned itself into a trust and is on a mission.
“Now, we have 65,000 members in our group. We have representatives from 18 countries. They contribute money from their own pockets to help the writers,” said Asmi.
Using the money, the group publishes the works of economically backward writers and newcomers. It has instituted the ‘Padaippu Sudar’ award, which carries a cash prize of Rs 50,000 cash, to honour talented, poverty-stricken writers.
“This year, we will publish 50 books on various subjects, of which four are in English. The books we publish fetch awards in various literary events. They have even found a place in some of the central libraries in the US,” said Asmi.
For many, being a writer in Tamil is a bane. They don’t get their royalties for their published work on time. Many who are solely dependent on writing and are without a regular government or private job find survival difficult. As a result, most such writers live in poverty. The Tamil literary world has many such examples starting from poet Bharathi. Groups like ‘Padaippu Kuzhumam’, therefore, are considered as manna from heaven for such writers.
Last year, the group helped with the education of the grandchildren of 82-year-old poet and artist Amudha Bharathy, who popularised the ‘Haikku’ poetry form in Tamil literature.
“The poet’s daughter and son-in-law died in an accident. His wife lost her legs in that accident. His son also died of heart attack. At this age, he cannot go for work to support his family. So we adopted him,” Asmi said.
Recently, the group adopted a writer named Ramesh Predhan, who is paralysed and bed-ridden. He is considered as a pioneering writer who introduced discussions about postmodernism in Tamil.
“All these writers are capable of doing great works. We, the readers, should take care of them and let them focus on their work. This is the basic objective of our group,” said Asmi.
The Federal had reported a story on Kiruba on May 6, 2019. He had tried to save a life but was arrested for murder charges on mistaken grounds.
On the eve of Traders Day (May 5), when every shop was closed in Koyambedu, a man who used to roam around the place got seizures and fell. No one came forward to help him. Those near him thought he may have been drunk. Kiruba, who was in the vicinity, saw the man’s condition and tried to stop his seizure by making him hold an iron rod, a practice stemming from an old belief. Unfortunately, after some time, the man died and Kiruba, who was dishevelled with a beard and in shabby clothes sat near the body helplessly.
Someone then told the police that Kiruba had murdered the man and was sitting near the body. The police acted immediately and took Kiruba to the police station.
The act of Kiruba’s helping was also recorded in a CCTV camera set up in that area. Later that video went viral on social media. At first look, the video gave an impression that both Kiruba and other man were fighting.
Kiruba is a Tamil poet who has written lyrics for songs in films such as ‘Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu’ and ‘Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai’.
After completed his schooling, he came into the limelight with the publication of his first poetry collection ‘Malligai Kizhamaigal’. Initially serialised in the Ananda Vikatan magazine, it brought new colour to Tamil modern poetry. He has brought out six poetry collections and a novel titled ‘Kanni’.
Kiruba won the ‘Sundara Ramasamy Award’ for poetry instituted by Neidhal, a literary organisation, in 2008. He was also honoured with the ‘Sujatha Award’, again for poetry, instituted by Uyirmai Publications, Chennai, in 2017.
Friends say that the sensitive Kiruba has been looking disturbed of late, taking refuge in drinking. Like other literary figures, he found solace in solitude and wandering around the streets. He was on a poetic sojourn at Koyambedu when he went to help the man.
“No one came to his help. So, I came forward. I pushed an iron rod into his hands. Holding that, his body started to get normal and then his breath stopped,” Kiruba told the police who took him.
After hearing the news, Kiruba’s friends went to police station and got him released. They said the police refused to believe that he was an award-winning poet. Later, the autopsy report revealed that the man had died of heart attack.