• Monday, July 15, 2024

Devibharathi, a Tamil Writer, on his Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Novel

Explore award-winning Tamil novel Neervazhi Padooum by Devibharathi, inspired by Udayampalayam. Rich in culture, it delves into human pain and virtues.
on Jan 04, 2024
Devibharathi, a Tamil Writer, on his Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Novel | Frontlist

According to the author, the inhabitants of Udayampalayam, near Coimbatore, inspired Neervazhi Padooum's work, which earned the award Udayampalayam's nights were made for stories.

During Devibharathi's summer vacations, his periamma (aunt) would spread a mat on the floor at bedtime and tell the children stories. She told them about an insect and a fox who married and a tree whose branches sprouted garments. Periamma's outrageous stories would make the kids howl with laughter. But one thing she didn't tell them was her tale.

Neervazhi Padooum tells the story of the inhabitants of Udayampalayam in the Tiruppur area near Coimbatore, of Kaaru mama, and Devibharathi's mother and father. The work was been awarded the Tamil Sahitya Akademi Award 2023.

The 65-year-old novelist, who resides in Tiruppur's Pudhu Vengaraiyampalayam, speaks to us over the phone in between interviews. Since the 1980s, Devibharathi, real name Rajasekaran, has been writing novels, short tales, poetry, and political essays.

He claims that the adage 'the most personal is the most creative' (popularised by filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho's Oscar acceptance speech) is not necessarily true. "A writer's job is to learn about lives he knows nothing about," he argues, citing his political novel Natraj Maharaj and the meticulously researched Noyyal which spans 100 years. "Neervazhi Padooum is my only novel that can be termed somewhat personal," says the author.

His mother, father, uncle, and aunt are the novel's main characters. "It is the story of the people of Udayampalayam, their lives, their small conflicts, what they achieve and what they do not achieve in life..."More than anything, it has a sense of virtue at its core, which some characters uphold in the end," says the author, adding that one of his favourite characters is Savithri, who is based on a real-life childhood buddy.

Writing it sent the author back in time to relive his forefathers' tribulations. Pain appears frequently in his art. "Pain is central to my writing, and writers all over the world are inspired by the human condition's pain." "I believe that pain is at the heart of existence," he says.

Devibharathi is inspired by the Kongu landscape in which he lives. "Udayampalayam, for example, the village where my grandfather grew up, has a dialect, culture, and tradition unique to the region," he notes, adding that any piece of literature must be based in people's culture in order to be effective.

Devibharathi, who was in government service at the time, began writing on a strong typewriter at work. "I then graduated to the laptop, but I never wrote by hand," he explains. "In the end, what matters is that we write, no matter what the tool." Devibharathi's most productive writing hours are late at night. "I write after 2 a.m., when the rest of the world is sleeping." At that hour, there is complete silence; even the birds do not move."

Devibharathi dedicates the 2022 edition of Neervazhi Padooum, published by Thannaram Publications, to writer and translator N Kalyana Raman for bringing his work to English readers. He translated a collection of the author's short stories, Farewell, Mahatma, which was published by Harper Collins.

"The publisher is planning to release an English translation of my novel Nizhalin Thanimai as well," he continues, noting that the Sahitya Akademi will translate Neervazhi Padooum into 21 Indian languages in addition to English.

The life Devibharathi leads has contributed to his grasp of the human psyche. "I live in a village, and I see people's suffering firsthand, especially women." "I've seen so many of them cry by themselves," he says. Is he optimistic about humanity? "Like Sundara Ramaswamy, I believe there will come a time when everyone will live in peace." It may not be the case right now, but the day will come."  

Neervazhi Padooum is available at Thannaram's stalls 350 and 351 at the Chennai Book Fair.

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