In Conversation with N Vinoth Kumar ENS - CHENNAI
02nd May 2013 08:40 AM
Passing the literary torch
Like any other person living in this world I am also a social animal. Hence it is quite natural that my writing is my world and vice versa — he wrote once in an essay that appeared in Indian Literature, a bi-monthly literary magazine published by the Sahitya Akademi. His words are true and are reflected in his writings — be it a poem or short story or a novel. By weaving human feelings together he makes a reader become a part of his work. Maybe it is this uniqueness that had Tamil literary critic Ka Na Su write about Thalaimuraikal as one of the ‘Ten Great Novels of India’. The man who has earned such praises is none other than Neela Padmanabhan.
An eminent litterateur, he celebrated his 75th birth anniversary on April 26, a couple of weeks before he was honoured by Ilakkiya Chinthanai, one of the prominent Tamil literary organisations in the State, for his contribution to literature.
Born in the year 1938 in Thiruvananthapuram, Neela Padmanabhan is well-versed with Tamil and Malayalam. As a bilingual writer he brought out his works in multiple platforms as poems, short stories, novels, essays and literary criticisms. He served as a Deputy Chief Engineer at the Kerala State Electricity Board. Though he started to write at the age of 12, it was his debut novel Thalaimuraikal written at the age of 30, shot him to fame in the literary world. The novel was later translated by Ka Na Su under the title The Generations. A couple of years ago, the novel has turned into a Tamil film titled Magizhchi directed by Va Gowthaman, who had earlier made a documentary on Neela Padmanabhan for the Sahitya Akademi.
His novel Ilai Udhir Kaalam fetched him the Sahitya Akademi Award in the year 2005. His other novels such as Pallikondapuram, Uravugal, Koondinul Pakshigal were also well received by readers and critics. He has penned than 20 novels, 11 collection of short stories, four volumes of poems and 11 collections of essays, all in Tamil, to his credit. Besides, he has also penned nearly 10 novels in Malayalam and English. His work has been translated in several Indian languages and other such as English, German and Russian as well.
Neela Padmanabhan who was in Chennai recently, shared his literary journey with City Express.
“I was born into a middle class family,” he shared. “And I spent my childhood days in a small circle — home, street, drama theatre, school, and a small rivulet near the school, temples and ponds. This is where I think the sensitivity, shyness, imaginative nature and a feeling of isolation lead me to read more and thereby engage in writing,” he added.
He went on, “It was only after 10 years of my birth that the states were reorganised on the basis of language. Until then we were in Travancore, whose southern boundary was Kanyakumari. After Kanyakumari became one of the districts of Tamil Nadu, we became strangers to other Tamils and Malayalis, since the Tamil we speak has a Malayalam accent and vice versa.” This can also be accounted as a reason for the success of his novels like Thalaimuraikal, which has a local slang, the author points out.
“If you want your language to be an international language, then you need to give up its purity,” he said. When asked about his poems of metaphysical nature, he responded, “I want readers to think and so I am writing metaphysical poems.”
“A writer has been moulded by his surroundings and the circumstances he faces. This is reflected in his writings and so I deliberately avoid imitating myself in each of my books. Though the world around me hurts sometimes, I must keep writing so that it passes down the generations,” said Padmanabhan.
To encourage young writers, he instituted two awards titled ‘Neela Padmam’ and ‘Thalaimuraikal’ for best poem and short story respectively, through the Thiruvananthapuram Tamil Sangam. This year’s awards were presented to Rajeshwari for best poem and Kasi Viswalingam for best story.
Copyright © 2012 The New Indian Express.
கல்லூரிநினைவுகள்: எழுத்தாளர நீலபத்மநாபன்
எழுத்தாளர் நீல பத்மநாபனுக்கு கேரள பல்கலைக்கழக கல்லூரியில் அடியெடுத்து வைக்கும்போதே அவருடைய மனது குதூகலிக்கிறது. பிரமாண்டமான காம்பவுண்டு சுவரைத்தாண்டி அழகான பூங்காவைத்தாண்டி கம்பீரமாக நிற்கிறது 1866.ல் கட்டப்பட்ட இந்த கல்லூரி. முன்புறம் ராஜராஜவர்மாவின் சிலை..நீல பத்மநாபன் 1956-58 காலகட்டத்தில் படித்த இயற்பியல் துறை படிக்கட்டில் ஏறி வராண்டாவைப்பிடித்தபடி பழைய நினைவுகளை அசைபோடுகிறார். பிசிக்ஸ் மெயினாக இருந்தாலும் தமிழ்த்துறையோடு அதிக தொடர்புவைத்திருந்தார் நீல பத்மநாபன். கல்லூரி நினைவுகளுக்காக நம்முடன் பயணித்தவர் தமிழ்த்துறை நூலகத்தில் சென்றதும் அங்கிருந்த மாணவிகளுக்கு அவருடன் உரையாடுவதில் மிகவும் மகிழ்ச்சி. அங்கிருந்த கிறிஸ்டில்டா என்ற மாணவி நீல பத்மநாபன் கதைகளைப்பற்றி முனைவர் பட்டத்திற்காக ஆய்வு செய்வதாக கூற மனதுக்குள் மத்தாப்பூவாய் முகம் மலர்கிறத.
அந்த மாணவியும் மற்ற மாணவிகளும் கேட்ட சந்தேகங்களை பொறுமையுடன் நிவர்த்திச்செய்கிறார். சில ஆலோசனைகளும் வழங்குகிறார். இந்தகல்லூரியில் இருந்து வெளிவந்து ஆண்டுகள் 54 கடந்து விட்டபின்னரும் இக்கல்லூரியின் உடனான உறவு இன்னும் அகல வில்லை. பல்வேறு நிகழ்ச்சிகளுக்காக அடிக்கடி வந்து போகிறார். தமிழ்த்துறையைச்சேர்ந்த அனைவருக்கும் அவர் பரிச்சயமானவராக இருக்கிறார். இளம் தலைமுறை மாணவ மாணவியர்கள் அவரை வணக்கத்துடன் வரவேற்று நலம் விசாரிக்கின்றனர்.
அங்கே சுற்றிச்சுற்றி வந்து பழைய நினைவுகளை நம்மிடம் பகிர்ந்து கொள்ளத்துவங்கினார்; நகரச்சந்தடியிலிருந்து சற்று விலகியிருந்த
”நாலாஞ்சிறை எனும் இடத்திலிருந்த மார் இவானியேஸ் கல்லூரியில் இண்டர்மீடியேட் முடிச்சதும் இந்த கேரளபல்கலைக்கழக கல்லூரியில் பி.எஸ்சி இயற்பியலில் சேர்ந்தேன். இண்டர்மீடியேட்டில் நல்ல மார்க் இருந்ததால் விரும்பிய குரூப் இங்கே கிடைத்து. நான் பள்ளியில் மலையாள மீடியம் படித்தாலும்(கல்லூரிகளில் ஆங்கில மீடியம்) பிறந்து வளர்ந்தது, மழலை பேசி வளர்ந்தது எல்லாம் தாய்மொழி தமிழில் என்பதால், சிறுவயதிலேயே நான் எழுதுவது தமிழில் தான்.கையெழுதுப்பத்திரிகை நடத்துவது, கவிதைகள், கதைகள், தெருவில் சிறுவர்கள் நடிப்பதற்கு நாடகங்கள்-இப்படிபல்வேறு விஷயங்களில் எழுத்தார்வமுடன் இருந்திருக்கிறேன். இங்கே நான் இயற்பியல் பாடம் எடுத்திருந்தாலும் ,இங்குள்ள தமிழ்த்துறையின் மீதான என் அக்கரையும் அபரிமிதமானஆர்வமும் காரணமாக இயற்பியல் பாடத்தை கோட்டை விட்டுவிடவில்லை. என் அறிவியல், கணக்கு படிப்பு,எதையும் வள
வளவென்றில்லாமல், கணக்கு நுணுக்கத்துடன்(arithmetic accuracy) படைப்புத்துறையில் கையாளும் பயிற்சியை அந்த காலத்திலேயே எனக்கு தந்துவிட்டது என்கலாம்.. அப்போது,தமிழ்த்துறைத்தலைவராக பேராசிரியர் ஜேசுதாசன் இருந்தார்.மார் இவானியேஸ் கல்லூரியில் என் ஆங்கில ஆசிரியராக இருந்த டி.கெ.துரைசாமி(நகுலன்)யும்-அவர் அடிக்கடி ஜேசுதாசன் சாரைப்பார்க்க இங்கேயும் வருவார்,இங்கிருந்த ஜேசுதாசன் சார் அவர்களும் என்து எழுத்தார்வத்தை மேலும் மேலும் வளர்த்தவர்கள் ஆவார்கள். அத்துடன் இங்கு பணியாற்றிய பேராசிரியர்கள் சா.வே. சுப்பிரமணியம், அழகியசொக்கலிங்கம், வீரபத்திர செட்டியார், ஆங்கிலத்துறையில் என் ஆசிரியர்அய்யப பணிக்கர் ஆகியோர் மறக்க முடியாதவரகள்.ஜேசுதாசன் சார்கம்ப ராமாயணம் போன்ற பழ்ந்தமிழ் இலக்கியம் மட்டுமல்ல, நவீன இலக்கியத்திலும் மிகுந்த ஈடுபாடு கொண்டவர். அக்காலத்தில் தமிழ் மாணவர் சங்கம் சார்பில் நடந்த கட்டுரைப்போட்டியில் பரிசுபெற்ற நான் அப்பரிசை கா.நா.சுப்பிரமணியம் அவர்கள் கையால் வாங்கியது மறக்க முடியாத நிகழ்ச்சி. பிரபல தமிழ் இலக்கியவாதிகள் இங்கு வரவழைக்கப்பட்டுசொற்பொழிவுகள் நடக்கும். தொ.மு.சி. ரகுநாதன் ஒருமுறை இங்கு வந்திருந்தபோது சுந்தரராமசாமி அவருடன் வந்திருந்தார். அப்போதுதான் சுந்தரராமசாமி இலக்கிய உலகில் தடம்பதிக்கத்துவங்கியிருந்தார்.
இங்கே படிக்கும்போது கல்லூரி ஆண்டுவிழா மலர்களில் என்னுடைய படைப்பு இடம் பெறுவதுண்டு. என்னுடையை ஆரம்பகால நல்ல சிறுகதைகளில் ஒன்றாக பேசப்படும் “பதில் இல்லை!” சிறுகதை இங்குள்ள ஆண்டுமலரில் தான் முதலில் வெளியானது. பொதுவாக பெரும்பாலான கதைகளில்,குறிப்பாக அந்த இளம் பருவத்தில், ஆண், பெண் பிரச்சனைகளைத்தான் சொல்வாங்க, ஆனால் அதிலிருந்து மாறுபட்டு,ஒரு சாலைவிபத்தில்சிக்கிக்கொண்ட ஒரு சிறுவனை மையமாக வைத்து எழும் பிரச்னையை சித்தரித்த அந்தச்சிறுகதை பெரிதும்பேசப்பட்டது.
நான் சற்றுசங்கோஜமான டைப் மாணவன். ஆனா அதேவேளை படிப்பு மட்டும் இல்லாம பல்வேறு விஷயங்களில் எனக்கு ஈடுபாடு இருந்தது. கலை, இலக்கியம், அரசியல் எல்லாவற்றிலும் ஈடுபாடு இருந்தது. இந்த கல்லூரியில் அதற்கெல்லாம் வாய்ப்பிருந்தது. நிறைய மகிழ்ச்சியைத்தந்திருக்கிறது. வீட்டிலிருந்து கல்லூரிக்கு அனேகமாக பஸ்சில்தான் வந்து செல்வேன். சில வேளைகளில் நடந்தும் வந்திருக்கிறேன்.
என்னுடைய குடும்பம் பெரிய குடும்பம். அப்பா ஒரு நிறுவனத்தில் வேலைபார்த்துக்கொண்டிருந்தார். . நாங்கள் பத்துபேர்களில் மூத்தவன் நான். அதனால் எனக்கு பொறுப்பு இருப்பதாக உணர்ந்தேன். எனக்கு கீழே உள்ளவர்கள் படிச்சுகிட்டிருந்தாங்க. நான் படிச்சு நல்ல மார்க் வாங்கி பாஸாகி, ஏதாவது வேலை பார்த்தால் அப்பாவின்சுமை குறையுமே என்று நினைச்சிருந்தேன்.இன்னிக்குள்ள கேம்பஸ் இண்டர்வியூ மாதிரிஅன்னிக்கு ஒண்ணும் கிடையாது. நான் பி.எஸ்சி படிச்சுகொண்டிருக்கும்போதே கேரளா அரசின் பப்ளிக் சர்வீஸ் கமிஷன் தேர்வு எழுதி வெற்றி பெற்றேன்.வேலைக்கு வரச்சொல்லி உத்தரவு வந்தது. பி.எஸ்.சி பரீட்சை தேர்வு எழுதி முடித்த கையோடு நான் திருச்சூரில் போய் வேலையில் சேர்ந்தேன்.. விடுமுறைக்காலம் முடிந்ததும், பி.எஸ்சியில் நல்ல மார்க் இருந்ததால் அப்பா என்னை இன்ஜினியரிங் படிக்கக் கட்டாயப்படுத்தியதினால், அதன்பின்னர் இன்ஜினியரிங்க கல்லூரியில் சேர்ந்துநான்கு வருடங்கள் படித்தேன். (அங்கு படிக்கும்போது நான் எழுதி, இயக்கி, நடித்த ”என்ஜினீயர்” என்ற தமிழ் நாடகத்திற்கு அனைத்திந்திய வானொலி நாடகப்போட்டியில் முதல் பரிசு கிடைத்தது என்பதையும் இங்கு குறிப்பிட்டாகவேண்டும்.)
இந்த பல்கலைக்கழக கல்லூரியை எடுத்துக்கொண்டால் மிகவும் பழமையானது.. 1866.ல் கட்டப்பட்ட இந்தக்கல்லூரி இன்னும் பழமை மாறாமல்புதுமைக்கும் இடம் கொடுத்து மிளிர்கிறது. இங்குள்ள இயற்பியல் துறையை அடுத்து வேதியியல் துறை, அதற்கடுத்து மாணவிகள் வெயிட்டிங்க் ஹால் இருந்தது. அதனால் இந்த பகுதி எப்பவுமே கலகலப்பாக இருக்கும். மாணவர்களுக்கு மிகவும் பிடித்தமான இடம். மாணவர்களின் வீர தீர பராக்கிரமங்களை இந்த பகுதியில்தான் அதிகம்காணமுடியும். மாணவ, மாணவிகளின் ரொமான்ஸை தூரத்தில் இருந்து ரசிப்பதோடு நான் என்னை கட்டுப்படுத்திக்கொண்டேன்.அழகான மாணவிகள் நிறைய பேர் என்னுடனும்படித்தார்கள்.
சிலரைப்பார்க்கும்போது அவர்கள் மீது மரியாதை மட்டுமல்ல,ஒன்றிரண்டுபேர்களிடம் ஆசையும் வந்திருக்கிறது. ஆனால் அந்த பதினெட்டு வயசு பிராயத்தில், வம்புதும்புக்களில் மாட்டிக்கொள்ள விருப்பமில்லாமல், உள் உணர்வுகளை மனதுக்குள் புதைத்துக்கொண்டேன்.என்னுடைய முதல் நாவல் “உதய தாரகை”யில் என் கல்லூரி கால நிகழ்வுகளும், நினைவுகளும் ஒரளவுக்குப் பதிவாகியிருக்கின்றன என்று நினைக்கிறேன். தரமான இலக்கியத்தில் எனக்கு அதிக ஈடுபாடு ஏற்பட அடித்தளமாக இருந்தது இந்த பல்கலைக்கழக் கல்லூரி என்றால் அது மிகையாகாது.
இன்று, இக்கல்லூரியில்75-வது வயதை நெருங்கிக்கொண்டிருக்கும்போது நிற்கையில், வயது மீண்டும் 18ஆனதைப்போல் தோன்றுகிறது. பெரிய கட்டுப்பாடொன்றும் இங்கே அன்றும் இன்றும் இல்லை.. மாணவர்களை அடக்குமுறைகொண்டு நடத்தும் பழக்கம் இல்லை. சுதந்திரம் இருந்ததால் படிப்பின் கூட அவரவருக்கு ஈடுபாடுள்ள எனைய துறைகளிலும் தம் திறமையைக் காட்டி முன்னுக்கு வர முடிந்தது என்பதற்கு ஒரு எடுத்துக்காட்டு நான்என்றுநினைக்கிறேன்.
கல்லூரியின் அருகிலேயே சட்டசபை, செயலகம்,வி.ஜெ.ட்டி ஹால், பல்கலைக்கழக செனட் ஹால், எல்லாம் இருந்ததால் அமைச்சர்கள்,அரசியல் தலைவர்கள், மட்டுமல்ல, கலை இலக்கியங்கள், ஏனையத்துறைகளில் பிரபலமானவர்களையும் நெருக்கமாய் பார்க்கவும் பழகவும் முடிந்திருக்கிறது.
தமிழ்ப்பாடத்தில் அதிக விருப்பத்துடன் இருந்ததால்,என்னுடன் படித்த இயற்பியல்மாணவர்கள் என்னை கிண்டல் செய்வார்கள்.”பேசாமல் தமிழ் மேஜரை எடுத்துப்படித்திருக்கலாமே!” என்று.நான் சிரிப்பேன். ஒருமுறை எம்.ஜி.ஆர். அவர்கள் திருவனந்தபுரத்தில் நாடகம் நடிப்பதற்காக வந்திருந்தார். அவரை கல்லூரிக்கு அழைத்து பேச வைத்தோம். மறக்காமல் அவருடன் போட்டோவும்எடுத்துக்கொண்டோம். அதே எம்.ஜி.ஆர். அவர்கள் முதலமைச்சர் ஆனபின்னர்,அவர் கையிலிருந்து, என் “ உறவுகள்”நாவலுக்காக ராஜா சர் அண்ணாமலைசெட்டியார் விருது வாங்கியதும் நான் சற்றும் எதிர்பார்த்திராத அனுபவம்.
அதுபோல் ஆங்கிலத்துறை பேராசிரியர் அய்யப்ப பணிக்கரின் வகுப்புகள் இனிமையானவை.” அக்காலத்தில் இக்கல்லூரியில் ஆசிரியர்களாக பணியாற்றிக்கொண்டிருந்த இடற்பியல் பேராசிரியர் வெங்கடேஸ்வரன் சார், கேரளத்தில் பிரபலமான நாடகாசிரியர் என்.கிருஷ்ணப்பிள்ளை சார், விமர்சகர் குப்தன் நாயர் சார், சர்வோதயத் தலைவரும் புகழ் வாய்ந்த ஆங்கில கவிஞருமான ஜி.குமாரபிள்ளை சார் இவர்கள் முகங்களும் இங்கு நிற்கும் இந்த நல்லநேரத்தில் என்னில் நிறைகின்றன என்று மகிழ்ச்சியுடன் கூறினார் எழுத்தாளர்நீலபத்மநாபன்.
In Conversation with G.N.Panikkar
G.N.Panikkar: Mr Neela Padmanabhan, at the outset, kindly accept my as well as the people of Kerala’s congratulations for having won the National Sahitya Akademi Award for literature, for your novel Ilai Udhir Kaalam (Autumn). Do you consider Ilai Udhir Kaalam as your best novel, and if so, why do you consider it as your best?
Neela Padmanabhan: Thank you. Whenever I complete one novel, in spite of the mixed reactions from the readers, I am inclined to critically examine that novel, and I usually discover certain flaws in it which even the critics have failed to notice. Hence when I plan to write the next novel, I am fully conscious of those drawbacks, an awareness which makes me write the next one more carefully. This process has continued with regard to my all works, one after another, from my earlier novel Thalaimuraikal (1968-Generations) to the latest one Ilai Udhir Kaalam(2005).Therefore, it is natural that this latest novel gives me more satisfaction than the earlier ones.
Coming to Ilai Udhir Kaalam , you may be aware, this novel deals with the problems of present-day old people or senior citizens. Even from childhood I have always had a soft corner for old people. You can find it from my earlier novels like Thalaimuraikal(1968), Pallikondapuram(1970), Uravukal(1975) etc.(All these novels have already appeared in English viz Generations(1972), Where The Lord Sleeps(1982), Relations(2003) respectively). Not only in these novels, but also in some of my earlier short stories, such elderly characters I handled with understanding and compassion. As I am acquainted with their old-age problems I could create such characters without much difficulty. But when I have gradually reached their old age I felt that there are still many of their problems which deserve treatment with a humanitarian and psychological approach.
Though their mind is still young their body and nerves refuse to co-operate with the mind. Even still, if some one dares to be romantic, society will look down upon him. Moreover, he may be victim of news-hunters. Many senior citizens who have held high positions in society are seen neglected by the younger ones, even their kith and kin, but they are compelled to bear every thing silently. Of course, some are rigid and adamant in their habits and are not willing to adjust or compromise, which create numerous problems. Attack of old- age diseases like Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, especially Depression, is a major factor which makes their life hell. Because of these factors, like in Western world, in our country too suicidal tendency and demand for legalizing mercy killing are on the increase.
G.N.Panikkar: In your Award-winning novel Ilai Udhir Kaalam and in the previous novel Koondinul Pakshikal (Birds in the Cage) there is much of spirituality, I think .You seem to become more and more spiritual as the years go by. What makes you write so much and so often about spirituality?
Neela Padmanabhan: True, your observation is quite right. But my conversion to spirituality is not a sudden development. Even from my childhood, though not always, I have had a feeling of the hollowness, maya or delusion of life. I can’t find out the exact reason for this phenomenon of mind. But, now I guess, because of my closeness to old people, and as a close observer of many deaths in our street, I have developed a feeling that there are so many things in this universe, which cannot be explained in material terms. In those days I used to listen to the reading of classics like Ramayana, Rama Naatakam, Thiru vilayaadal Puranam (HaalasyaMahaatyma-Adventure of Lord Siva) by my grand-mother and father in our house, and Garuda Puranam by somebody else, usually near the deathbed of some of our relatives. In other words, death has made me think very deeply about life, its mysteries and about the spirit after life. Of course, it has frightened me also. Quite naturally, these aspects have found a place in my writings from the very beginning. One of my earlier short stories Bathil Illai(No Response), written in 1956 when I was just 18, is my mental reaction to a fatal vehicle accident which killed a boy, and which I witnessed. Here, I remember, Yaathrai(The Journey),a novelette which was written in 1965, before Thalaimuraikal, is entirely about death wherein I attempted to analyze death from emotional and intellectual angles. When I came to write Thalaimuraikal, Pallikondapuram, Uravukal, and Koondinul Pakshikal(Birds in the Cage) my outlook and attitude on life had developed very much. Here I would like to mention my affinity for philosophical works as well as my continuous meetings with spiritual heads to quench my thirst to know more and more about the meta-physical truths.
As you are aware, all human beings have indeed some aims and intentions. We perform our duties to achieve the goal consciously or unknowingly in a mechanical way in our day-to-day life. One has to look after his family, educate his children, equip them for their independent livelihood in future etc. Every individual has an affinity or inclination, as a born gift, towards some field –art, philosophy or some other genre. Though I had some obscure ideas on these truths I could portray them sharply and vividly only after completing my last but one novel Koondinul Pakshikal, fifteen years ago i.e. in 1993. Its writing has changed me out and out.
I think, I am a perfectionist who observes the contradictions and conflicts in life and hence feels restless in spite of my bent towards philosophy. This state of mind has kindled and rekindled my creative urge for more than five decades now. But during the long home work and processing in mind and actual writing of this novel Koondinul Pakshikal, my soul got gradually an insight into men and matters in a genuine philosophical or spiritual manner –to see things as they are and where they are, by which experience I got a peace of mind which has been rare in my life till date. I thought that I had more or less completed my mission of life. And I had no desire to resume writing. The factors which provoked and prompted me to take my pen again to write my latest novel Ilai Udhir Kaalam( The Autumn) I have already explained in my answer to your previous question , I think.
G.N.Panikkar: Would you tell us something about your novel Thalaimuraikal published in 1968? Is it an autobiographical novel? I have in mind novels like D.H.Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and James Joyce’s A portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the well-known autobiographical novels.
Neela Padmanabhan: It is not purely an autobiographical novel as Lawrence’s or Joyce’s. There are in it some autobiographical elements as in some of my other novels also. This novel was the outcome of the hazy impressions of the social life around me in my very early childhood. It is an earnest attempt of the present generation to seek a strong foothold where the past and the future meet. And I tried to recapture in it the shadowy presence of my great grandparents and others from the depths of my psyche. Family background, rituals, rhythm, myths, beliefs, rural games and songs of children while playing in the street, and other boyhood experiences, conversations and thinking style i.e. specific features of the colloquial expressions of the language (slang) of characters-all these I could recapture in it. However, Diravi, the hero of the novel is trying to cope with the social changes and other contemporary developments, though the age-old practices and customs still dominated in his conservative society.
G.N.Panikkar: As a novelist and short-story writer, I too know that many of our characters may have a little or more of ourselves in them. But none of them could be cited as the author himself. I think it is the case with you, and Diravi’s resemblance to you?
Neela Padmanabhan: Yes, What you have said is true. To find the author in his heroes is reading or finding too much in one’s writing. That is not literary criticism. One has to judge aesthetically a work of literature as a piece of art, independent of what it tells us about the author, directly or indirectly.
G.N.Panikkar: Your mother tongue is Tamil, and you are born and brought up in Kerala in the midst of Malayalam-speaking people, and you have established yourself as a bilingual writer in Tamil and Malayalam. How do you feel about bilingual writing?
Neela Padmanabhan: Though I began to write in my mother tongue-Tamil, it is quite natural I could not neglect Malayalam, the language widely used by my neighbours and friends. My reading is not limited to Tamil and English. I have been reading books in Malayalam too even from my early childhood. That is why I feel at home in writing in Malayalam also.
G.N.Panikkar: It is said that you have captured the spirit of Thiruvananthapuram city in your novel Pallikondapuram which came out in 1970 more vividly and effectively than any Malayalam writer. What do you think of your saga of Thiruvananthapuram city?
Neela Padmanabhan: In my previous novel Thalaimuraikal(1968) I had society as its central theme. I did not want to repeat myself in my next novel. I wanted it to be quite different. The city where I was born and brought up has always haunted me as the society to which I belong, which found place in Thalaimuraikal. The myth and many traditional stories of Thiruvananthapuram city where the Lord sleeps have all along been an integral part of my life. As I grew, not only its geographical details, but also its historical background and its contemporary social and political realities have made me restless. So, my home-town itself had become the central character of the novel. Pallikondapuram, which was published in 1970.
G.N.Panikkar: Your longest novel Theroodum Veedhi (Chariot Street) is more than 1200 pages. Why did you write such a long novel? How has it been received by the reading public?
Neela Padmanabhan: When I began to write this novel I did not expect it to be so long. After the publication of Pallikondapuram, I wrote Uravukal (1975 -Relations). It was written over a period of 17 months in 1973-74. This novel discusses the relations between man and man (of course woman too) in general and between son and father in particular. When I completed Uravukal I was extremely tired and had no energy left even to think about another novel. People asked me when my next novel would be out. I said what I had written would do. But the writer in me did not allow me to rest on my oars (on my laurels). In 1977 again a few of the seeds in my subconscious mind began to sprout, and they came out as Theroodum Veedhi(1987), my next novel. This novel was woven around the central figure Kathiresan who was born ten years before India attained freedom, lived 40 years in Free India, and at last died in his fiftieth year. Kathiresan lived the same period I lived, but he is not me. His trials and tribulations might be similar to mine or those of a few others of my generation. The basic theme is Kathiresan’s struggle for existence and his urge to establish himself as an average Indian, who has no backing or support.
Since the background of this novel is unfortunately the writer’s own world, I confess that in certain moments my mind was filled with a feeling of melancholy like that of Arjuna in the Vishada Yoga of the Gita. But the work is fictional; it is not at all autobiography. I may say I was not handling the characters; but the characters ‘handled me’ in their own way! As an idealist and perfectionist Kathiresan is affected not only by the contradictions in others, but also by his own weaknesses. In the characterization, the final state of mind one reaches after trails and tribulations of life is quite significant. While closely following the wheels of the Chariot of Destiny with a positive thinking, is it justifiable to sacrifice the truth? Before completing the novel I had a heart ailment and I was afraid that my end might come before I completed the novel. However, by God’s grace I could complete the novel in 1987. Even after much editing, the novel came to 1215 pages (Crown size).
Public response was mixed as in the case of my previous works. One particular thing I have noticed is that young and budding writers like it very much; perhaps they might have identified themselves with the central character or protagonist of this novel, Kathiresan.
G.N.Panikkar: It is said that your writings have an amazing mass of details. Also too many minor characters are there. Is it because your obsession with realism?
Neela Padmanabhan: As regards details, what you have said is true. I don’t write just because I want to write. I don’t write on subjects of which I have no inside knowledge. During my writing I don’t remain as an outside observer, but I am a participant in the events, at the unconscious level. So, at the time of writing, all the microscopic minute details- even the persons and events which may appear insignificant to others come to me spontaneously from the unconscious, as it were. Even then, my memories, imagination, my dream world, my cast of mind etc have also a major role here.
Regarding realism, though realism is there, it is not merely photographic realism, I think. Even at the time of handling spiritual or philosophical themes as you pointed out earlier, I usually adopt a way of expression which is accessible and convincing to the common reader.
G.N.Panikkar: So realism is the starting point, but very often you go to the level of philosophy. You have once said ‘every writer has to bear his cross’. Very well said! Would you elaborate?
Neela Padmanabhan: As most of the writers I am also a perfectionist who observes the contradictions in and the conflicts between idealism and realism in actual life, and hence always feels restless. Basicaly a writer is a rebel fighting against the establishment and all types of suppressions. Bureaucracy, technocracy and agonies of certain individuals caused by the self- styled leaders of the establishment are also naturally dealt with in some of my works. By and large, if some people fail to appreciate or understand this as art and try to see their own faces in them, the creative writer is helpless, and he too suffers. I am not an exemption and I too have had some bitter experiences. In fact, when we are engaged in writing, many factors are at work-self- introspection, self- awareness of one’s own problems and those of others, psychoanalysis, human behaviour, their strength and weakness etc. Hence, realism, poetic vision, philosophical musings and other various factors become the ingredients of novel. Still, if you ask me to specify any one factor, I may say that even though all the above three factors are present in my writings, it is the spiritual quest that has been going on, without ignoring the material questions that confront man as a member of society.
G.N Panikkar: It is said that as a Tamil writer your style is Sanskritised- something the Malayalees do not find objectionable at all. What is your response to this criticism?
Neela Padmanabhan: Compared to other Indian languages, only in Tamil such a question is posed. In Tamil’s ancient grammar Tholkappiam there is provision or sanction for the writer to fashion his own style of expression using even Sanskrit words. (Rules like Tharbavam and Tharsamam). I don’t deliberately Sanskritise my style. According to Karl Groves and Shakespeare the language they used is a bastard language. They have to convert it into original language for their use. You may also agree a creative writer can’t bind himself to a ‘standard language’. His style is his own creation. At the same time a writer cannot consciously and artificially cultivate his own style. If he does, his style will not endure. I hold the view that as a writer goes on writing in his own style, all this artificiality gradually drops out: he develops his own style in the course of time.The Thamilians’antipathy towards Sanskrit can be attributed to the forces based on the prejudices of caste, race, “religion” and politics. Since I have been living and writing in a region free from such prejudices and antipathies, I could go on my own way.
G.N.Panikkar: Besides novels, you write short stories and poems in Tamil and Malayalam. How are your short stories and poems received by the readers? Which form do you feel more at home, writing novels, writing short stories or writing poems?
Neela Padmanabhan: True, I have been writing novels, short stories and poems simultaneously. In the short story, I don’t have a free hand as in the novels as its scope is very much limited. Even if I include numerous details in the first draft of the short story, later on I omit them to tighten its structure. Hence my short stories may appear radically different from my novels. And my later short stories are shorter than the earlier ones. In my stories the plot is not so important as the form. In some of my stories the impact of direct experience is certain, and experiences that come on their own are avoided as far as possible. For example, the stories like Nagammava (Nagamma?), Vitta Kurai Thotta Kurai that come to us on their own from generation to generation from experiences not dealt with. But it is doubtful whether the experiences dealt with achieve direct communication to the readers in the first reading itself. It is but natural that new formulations in the form of the short story gain force while the individual metaphysics of Borges’s stories continue to dominate world literature. But I am fully aware that this cotemporary experience and the element of idealism should not affect the aesthetic quality and the tone of suggestiveness in my short stories.
G.N.Panikkar: I think many of your stories have been translated into other Indian languages, and foreign languages?
Neela Padmanabhan: Yes, my short stories have been translated into English and other Indian languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu etc. In Russian language, my stories Moham Muppathu Aandu(Lust of thirty years) and Perumai(Reputation) have appeared in translation. They have been published in Asia and Africa To-Day (6/1985) also. Moreover, my stories have been included in various anthologies of different languages. English translations of twenty stories which appeared in various literary and little journals have been collected together and published in book form entitled Incarnation(1987) which has been acclaimed by book- reviewers and the ordinary readers . In Malayalam, four short story collections of mine have been published; all the stories in them had appeared in various literary and popular magazines (nearly a total of 85 stories). These stories are not merely translations though some of them have the same plot as in my original Tamil. These may be called trans-creations or original stories of mine in Malayalam.
G.N.Panikkar: Then, what about your poems, i.e. writing poems?
Neela Padmanabhan: Regarding poems, as I have already mentioned I started writing them too from my early boyhood days when I began to write short and long stories. I express my view of life in a broad canvas in the novel and in a subtle style in the short stories. But certain sharp flashes in my inner world are expressed with utmost brevity in my poems; or so I think. Translations of some of these poems have appeared in English and Malayalam journals. The collections in English (Surrender-1982 & Poems by Neela Padmanabhan-2005) and Malayalam (Neela Padmanabhande Kavithakal-2003) were published. What I have said about my stories in Malayalam is applicable to my Malayalam poems too.
G.N.Panikkar: You have said that on an earlier occasion or two, you desired to stop writing novels or perhaps all writing. Do you still have the urge to continue your literary efforts?
Neela Padmanabhan: Even from the time of writing Thalaimuraikal 40 years ago, I had the feeling that I had become a spent force. Still, as days pass on, when my mind is filled with the experiences and pressure and pain of actual life, slowly the next story or novel begins to sprout. As this agony and state of mind continued, I reached the stage when I finished my latest novel Ilai udhir Kaalam. Now, though I am seventy I feel I have lived more than double that age. Still, in spite of my present attitude to take it easy, I am affected by the various contemporary problems, conflicts and contradictions of people around me. Hence the urge to create is there. But I feel that I have not the energy that I had in the past. In future, I may or may not continue my efforts in writing, but I am confident that I have done something sincerely without sacrificing literary merits for sake of cheap popularity. I can leave the world with the feeling of self satisfaction that I have done what I could by way of creative writing.
G.N Panikkar: You have translated from Malayalam to Tamil and vice versa. You have won another national award for translating Ayyappa Paniker’s Poems from Malayalam to Tamil. What is your opinion of translation of poems especially from Malayalam to Tamil and vice versa?
Neela Padmanabhan: I agree translating poems is more difficult than translating prose. There is always difference of opinion on whether to go for word for word translation or to simply bring the content of the poem in source language into the target language. We know, every creative writer has his own style and way of expression. The craft of writing differs from writer to writer, even when the themes are identical. If we simply transform fluently into another language by the target language’s standard style, it will be quite readable, and the translated work can be read as an original work of that language. A sincere translator should not neglect the peculiarities, especially the diction of the poet whom he translates. Personally, I always prefer the word for word translation not only of poems, but also of prose. On the whole, translating a creative work is equally serious and significant as the original writing. From one angle, it is more difficult. In original writing the writers have freedom, ease, and joy, but in translations they do not have it. In other words, the translator has to perform a much more difficult task than the original writer.
G.N.Panikkar: You write in three languages- Tamil, Malayalam and English. I have read some of your English poems as well. The short poem The Door has many levels of meaning. Why not we conclude this interview by your reciting of the original poem The Door in Tamil, Malayalam and English?
Neela Padmanabhan: That is good; I shall first read it in Tamil: Title: KAPAADAM
Vantha Naal muthal
Intha Naal varai
Koopathaal pada padathum
Next in Malayalam, Title: KAVAADAM
Vanna dinam mudal
Ee dinam varae
Last in English. Title; THE DOOR
Cried with grief
Rocked with pain
Swelled with joy
Festered with hate
Mellowed with love
Flustered with rage
Melted with devotion
Swayed with jealousy
And kept on knocking….
But the door
Is yet to open (Translated by R.K.Murthi)
G.N.Panikkar: This is a short poem which sums up entire human life, it also brings out, in a way, your approach to life. I am grateful to you, Mr. Neela, for having agreed to this interview, and speak to us at length and so frankly.
Neela Padmnabhan; Many many thanks.
Courtesy; All India Radio, Delhi.
Neela Padmanabhan(b 1938), Retired Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board; this year’s(2007) Sahitya Akademi Award winner for his Tamil novel Ilai Udhir Kaalam(Autumn); writes in Tamil, Malayalam and English. He has to his credit a total of 50 books containing novels, novelettes, short story collections, poetry collections and collections of essays; many of his books have also appeared in other Indian languages and foreign languages. Address: Nilakant, 39/1870, Kuriyathi bypass road, Manacaud, Thiruvananthapuram-695009.Tel; 0471-2476060.
G.N.Panikkar(b 1937), Professor of English and Malayalam writer; winner of Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for his Malayalam short story collection Neeruvukalkku Oru Geetham in 1982, writes both in Malayalam and English. He has to his credit about 50 books–novels, short story collections, books of criticism, collections of essays and English poems. Address:Pradeepthi, Pangode, Thirumala-P.O, Thiruvananthapuram-695006. Tel; 0471-2353205
Tales for all times
Bilingual writer and poet Neela Padmanabhan’s works, though rooted in contemporary events, chronicle the decades gone by
Master raconteur Neela Padmanabhan
It was five years ago that I first met Neela Padmanabhan. A poetry reading was in progress and in walked this tall, lean, man who looked serene, with his eyes radiating a down-to-earth charm. It was then – no thanks to one’s ignorance – that I learnt he was a prolific bilingual writer who had won over Tamil and Malayalam readers. And he lived right here, in the city.
In a writing career that has lasted more than four decades, Neela Padmanabhan has penned more than a dozen novels, short stories, essays and poems in two languages. Many of his works have been translated into several Indian languages, besides English; some into German and Russian as well. What is amazing is that Neela was not into full time writing for many years. He was an engineer at the Kerala State Electricity Board who served the public till he retired in 1993.
Sitting in the veranda of his house in Manacaud, surrounded by magazines and journals, it felt special to receive his hospitality and warmth as he spoke of things, mostly literary.
It was with ‘Thalaimuraikal’ (1968) – his first Tamil novel that spanned across three generations and translated into Malayalam, English and German – that Neela shot to fame. However, it is perhaps for ‘Pallikondapuram’ (1970) that readers in Kerala will remember him the most.
A modernist story that talks about the charming city of Thiruvananthapuram, the novel has been translated into almost all Indian languages. ‘The City Where God Sleeps’ recreates the city’s spiritual character, evoking its charming sights and smells through detailed and descriptive passages.
At the same time, Neela does not romanticise his themes. Rooted in contemporary events, his writings are great records of decades gone by. “A writer should present contemporary events. The provocation to write also springs from the present,” explains Neela.
The human condition has also proven to be equally inspiring or provoking. “Contradictions of human character is my preoccupation,” he says. Angst, frustration, poverty, reflection, helplessness all find their way into his heroes’ predicaments.
However, it would be unfair to classify Neela as an existential writer. He is not. Read his poems and short stories and you will see why. His verse sparkles with absolute humour, wit and satire. What appeals the most is his simple and straightforward style. “There is no need to complicate simple things,” he says. One couldn’t agree more.
As a translator, on the other hand, he takes utmost care not to let his own style influence the book. Translating the legendary Ayyappa Paniker’s verse into Tamil was a challenging exercise. “Translation should be able to do justice to the writer’s style to a certain extent,” says Neela. He did more than that and even won the Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Award in 2003.
A more recent accolade was the Sahitya Akademi award for his latest Tamil novel, ‘Ilai Udir Kaalam’ in 2007. The Akademi also published ‘Neela Padmanabhan – A Reader’ last year, acknowledging the writer’s rich contributions to Indian literature.
However, not one to rest on his laurels, Neela continues his literary pursuits with passion. To encourage new and young writers to develop their craft, he has set up a small fund that recognises talent and rewards it.
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