Sahitya Akademi Award

My Creative Experiences

-- Neela Padmanabhan

Previously on two occasions I have shared my literary experiences in this august assembly, once during the “Meet the Author” programme in 1993 (8th September) and next in 2004 (28th August) during the “Awardee’s Meet” as Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Prize winner.

As a man on the threshold of 70th year (my date of birth: April 26 1938) and have started writing since in early childhood even from my school days it is natural I have had plenty of past memories - sweet as well as bitter to recollect and narrate. But I don’t want to repeat them all. But as days rolled up one can review and reassess the past personal experiences on a different perspective and insight.

In my boyhood days I grew up listening to the folk-tales, songs and the life stories of my grandmother and parents in home and watching the plays and hearing the songs in a nearby theatre. While I was studying at school, I started reading stories, poems and the classics that I came cross. Simultaneously my raging appetite forced me to engage in writing too.

Though the official language of the Indian State where I lived is Malayalam I began to write in my mother tongue - Tamil. In spite of the rootlessness and search for identity, right from those my early days the problems and painful experiences of myself as well as others wrought the pattern of my art. Right or wrong I did not use a standard language in the place of my spontaneous native style where words, phrases and idioms of our spoken tongue and oral culture entered freely and naturally and this way I could express myself with masterly ease. It was my bent to be precise and to the point and I did not strive after an elaborate style. I dislike unnecessary flourishes. All these aspects lead to a particular style, which has my own individual mark.

As a writer I seek the joy of spirit or atmananda as I practise introspection and self-realisation through my writings, as John Burroughs says ‘a poem or work of imagination that failed us the joy of spirit would be of little value, but from the work of science we expect only the satisfaction which comes with increased stores of knowledge.’

Before coming to the award-winning novel Ilai Udir Kaalam means The Autumn (2005) I have to share with you my experience in connection with my previous novel Koondinul Pakshikal means Birds in the Cage (1995) which has come out 13 years ago. (This novel was selected for the Katha Bharathi Project of Central Institute of Indian Languages to translate into English and Hindi in collaboration with Sahitya Akademi). Though it is a rare personal experience difficult to be explained I shall try to do it briefly.

As you are aware, all human beings have indeed some aims or intentions to be fulfilled in this worldly life. We are all performing 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, to educate his children and equip them for their independent livelihood in future etc. More over, every individual has an affinity or inclination as born gift towards some field  – art form or some other genre. Though I have some obscure ideas on these truths previously as I mentioned earlier (para 5) I realized sharply and virtually only after writing this novel Koondinul Pakshikal. Frankly saying, the self after writing this novel is not the same before writing it.

As most of the creative writers I am also a perfectionist who observe the contradictions and the conflicts in between idealism and realism in actual life and hence always feel restless. This state of mind kindles and rekindles my creative urge to continue my writings for more than five decades in the past. But during the long processing in mind and actual writing times of this novel Koondinul Pakshikal my soul gets gradually an insight to face the men and matters in a philosophical manner- ‘as it is and where it is’ by which I experienced a peace of mind which was rare till that date. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I realized that I have more or less completed my mission of life. On attaining this tranquility of mind my creative urge came to a standstill and hence I had no desire to resume writing further.

Even from childhood I have a soft corner for old people. One can find it from my earlier novels like Thalaimuraikal(1968), Pallikondapuram(1970), Uravukal(1975) etc. But, not only in those novels, but also some of my earlier short stories, such elderly characters were handled by me when I was not one in among their age group. As I am acquainted with their problems in the eve of their life to a certain extent and as I keep writing they freely came with ease and established themselves in those works, I think so. But when I gradually reach their age I feel by my own personal experience as well as the experiences of other close fellow senior citizens there are still many things to be dealt with in a humanitarian and psychological angle.

Though their mind is still young their body and nerves refuse to co-operate with the mind. Even still, if some ones come forward heroically to be romantic, society will not allow it. It will become misadventure and paper news.    Many senior citizens who were in respectable positions and places are seen neglected by the younger ones - even their kith and kin, but they are compelled to bear silently all miseries without retaliation by suppressing their ill feelings for keeping the family prestige. Of course, some are rigid and adamant in their habits and not willing to adjust or compromise their age-old principles with the younger ones even in that stage, which create numerous problems. Attack of old age diseases like Parkinson, Alzheimer’s; especially Depression is a major factor to make their life hell. Because of these and such other factors, like in western world in our country too suicide tendency and arguing for legalizing mercy killing are in increase among the old people.

Now, I hope you might have understood the factors, which were provoked and prompted me to break my own vow and take my pen to write this novel Ilai Udir Kaalam. On the whole, old people also deserve affection and recognition. However, if any one feel to approach the old people with more understanding and love and if old people try to adjust with younger ones without tension because of this novel, I consider it comparatively more valuable award. I may conclude my words with this hope.

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Sahitya Akademi Award Ceremony held on 20th February, 2008.