One has heard about readers honouring their favourite authors, either in the form of felicitations, holding seminars on their books or even naming their children after favourite characters. But it is rare to see authors returning the favour. Two recent incidents in Tamil Nadu, have shown that the tradition is beginning to change, with authors finally giving readers their due.
When a reader made it to the writer’s will
Setting a precedent in the Tamil literary world, writer Ki Rajanarayanan, fondly called as ‘Ki Ra’ or ‘Naina’, has named a reader as one of his three sons in his will. The will of the 98-year-old Sahitya Akademi winner, says all rights of his work are to be given to his three sons – two biological and the third one a loyal reader – upon his demise.
The reader Puduvai Ilavenil’s name comes first in the will, followed by the names of his sons Divakaran and Prabhakar.
Sharing his story of meeting the writer 29 years ago and how the writer-reader bonding has evolved into a father-son relationship, Ilavenil, said Rajanarayanan is the only reason for what he is now.
“I am the eighth and last child in my family. I lost my father at a young age and my mother till her death was worried how I was going to look after myself in future,” said Ilavenil, who hails from Puducherry.
Although Ilavenil did not continue his studies after Class 10, he developed the habit of reading through his frequent visits to the famous Romain Rolland Library of Puducherry and chanced upon the writings of Ki Ra in Junior Vikatan.
“It was 1993. The weekly magazine Junior Vikatan has started serialising Karisalkaattu Kaduthaasi, a column by Ki Ra. The column was accompanied with an illustration by Aadhimoolam, and it became an instant hit among young readers. I used to read the column, just for the art,” he said.
One day, Ilavenil got an opportunity to meet Rajanarayanan at the latter’s house with the help of his friend.
“The way Ki Ra spoke and laughed impacted me a lot. I started to visit him regularly at his house. I would meet him every day, have breakfast at his house and then leave for the library. After spending the whole day there, I would return home in the night for dinner. This was my routine for many years, since I had no job,” said Ilavenil.
Years after they became a good friends, Rajanarayanan gave Ilavenil ₹60,000 to buy an auto-rickshaw in a bid to help him become self-reliant.
“I would ride the auto only for select customers, so that my reading in the library doesn’t get affected. I started earning and after four years I bought a second-hand Pentax FM 10 camera and started doing photography. It was Ki Ra who inaugurated my studio. It was from then on that I became a permanent member of his family,” said Ilavenil, who is now carved a niche for himself by photographing the stalwarts of Tamil litterateurs.
“I didn’t expect that Ki Ra would write such a will. More than happiness, I feel I have been entrusted with a great responsibility,” Ilavenil said.
In the will, Rajanarayanan has demanded that the three of his sons should establish a foundation called ‘Karisal’ through which writers and small magazines should be given awards with cash prizes.
‘Undaattu’ for a reader
In another incident, a reader named Lingam was recently honoured by some writers in Tiruvannamalai district of the state on January 9 for his dedication towards literature.
Sixty eight-year-old Lingam, a native of Vellore, says he was introduced to literature at the age of 16.
“At the age of 16, I read Dr M Varadarajan’s Akal Vilakku, a novel. That’s when my reading started. Then when I am doing my graduation in Bengaluru, I used to visit my friend SV Anbalagan’s room. He was a voracious reader. Through him I got introduced to small magazines such as Kanaiyaazhi and Deepam. Those magazines opened me a door to modern Tamil literature,” said Lingam who served in a fertilizers company for many years before retiring.
Having travelled across Tamil Nadu and South India during his youth, Lingam developed the habit of visiting a bookstore whenever he visited a new place.
“The traveling I did helped me in reading because I can easily get drowned in a landscape described in a short story or novel. That makes me to understand the work even better than the others,” he said.
“Lingam is a committed reader – and I don’t mean pulp fiction, he is a reader of serious literature. He has a vast knowledge in Russian and Tamil literature too,” said translator G Kuppusamy.
“Many readers just read. But Lingam, after reading a work, would call up the writer and share his thoughts. He has nearly 50,000 books in his collection. He reads both classical and contemporary writers. In order to honour such a reader, we had organised Undaattu. In ancient Tamil culture, people would honour a king returning victorious from war by organising feast in his honour, which was called Undaattu (a feast). We respect the readers as kings” said writer Bava Chelladurai, who had organised the function along with his friends to felicitate Lingam.
A fan of writers like Thi Janakiraman, Shivram Karanth, P Kesavadev and Manto, Lingam when asked why he has not attempted to write, said he is satisfied with reading.
“If I start writing, I may end up stop reading. I could have changed the track. But I don’t want to do that,” he said.