Neela Padmanabhan (b. 1938) shot to fame with his Talaimuraigal (1968), a chronicle of three generations of a Tamil Chettiar family in Iranial with its Malayali ethos. Wielding a felicitous pen both in Tamil and Malnyalam, he is a prolific writer of long and short fiction. Padmanabhan posits a variety of situations drawn from his observation of life around and seeks to pinpoint the social truths arising from them. A master of emotional realism, Padmanabhan’s most recent novel Koondjnuf Pakshjkal (1994) takes us to the caves of dense forests to meditate on the fundamental problems that confront man during his earthly existence. In the course of a very active writing career spanning forty years, he has been able to create scores of unforgettable characters who are now part of Tamil literary consciousness like Diravi, Katyayani, Kathireasan, Bhogi.
Prolificity and popularity, however, have never tempted this creative writer to compromise on his ideals. A fine poet. Translator and essayist, Neela Padmanabhan has won several awards: iuding the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award and also the Sahitya Akademi Award in Translation. His writings have been widely translated into India and European languages.
Prema Nandakumar (b. 1939) has a first class academic career in Andhra University and afler her post-doctoral work, became an independent researcher and translator. Her translations of Subramania Bharati’s poems and the Tamil classic, Maniinekalai have won high praise. Her critical studies include Sri Aurobindo‘s Savitri: A Study, T V Kapali Sastri and Kulothungan: A poet of The day and Tomorrow.
Bi-lingual, she has been an intrepid reviewer, journalist and short story writer and has won several awards. During the last forty-five years, the Aurobindonian inspiration has led her to read, write and speak in for a here and abroad, with a commendable sense of balance and a strength of purpose on literature. re1iion and spirituality.
With the publication of Thalaimuraikal in 1968, Neela Padmanabhan Sad arrived in the world of Tamil letters. An intense personality who often resembles a touch-me-not flower Padmanabhan has not allowed prolificacy to come always in the way of quality. The despairing intellectual voice is ubiquitous in his fiction and poetry and is not easily smothered by his own feverish, fast-forward style. Nor has he coated himself with any particular school or ism, allowing his passion .i the moment to shape his structure. Perhaps this has helped him avoid becoming a caricature of himself. Hence, we are now able to cobble together boldly a significant selection for the discerning reader.
While familiarity with a multiplicity of languages is common enough in India, Neela Padmanabhan has gone further and mastered him Tamil and Malayalam wielding them with effective ease. He has en a voracious reader in Tamil, Malayalam and English, but has no time to dig deep in the classics in these languages. This has s been well in a way for him, as no weight of the past in terms: c diction or usage sits on his moving pen to prevent its electrical flow recording what he sees and what he considers to be the inner dimensions of his characters placed in unenviable situations in the course of certain contexts. The tensions brought on by the vestiges f revived tradition regarding social mores on the surface life of the middle class is his subject and he manages to convey the strains very ‘I through a style that is a combination of traditional story-telling Feverish stream-of-consciousness. Indeed, if one seeks a single to convey the theme of his novels, it would be “Disaccord”. Padmanabhan’s triumph lies in his ability to keep on with this theme and show its presence in a variety of situations playing the gamut from a close-knit Tamil family in rural Kerala to the caves of dense forests where man seeks isolation to come face to face with himself. Besides, Padamanabhan has preferred to stay within the conventional module of fiction. Not for him experimentation with
techniques, though he could have adventured in unknown pathways thanks to his closeness with the Malayalam language and his life-long interest in English writing. Again, he has remained within the perimeter of what he has seen and experienced, giving a tonal authenticity to his writing. He has mastered the art of photographing familiar situations and so one feels at home reading his fiction. There is never a dull moment.
Padmanabhan’s style that has a touch of the Malayalam milieu has also been a refreshing input for modern Tamil literature. Voices were indeed heard to murmur in the beginning but now the Tamil audience knows what to expect from Padmanabhan and is content to take him on his own terms.
A rough mapping can be done of Padmanabhan’s approach to themes in his fiction, thanks to his own zealous guarding of what he has written and what others have had to say about him. Three phases can be limned easily enough.
Phase I. Neela Padmanabhans recording of his immediate world, of what is happening within the family, during the first two decades of his writing career:
Phase II. The novelist has moved out of the immediate family environs and it is the world beyond the family which becomes the subject matter. Padmanabhan being a full-time engineer in the electricity department, the men and matters pertaining to the electricity department become the subject-matter for his writings. At the same time, Padmanabhan is holding a parallel career as a writer of fiction, poetry and essays. The people in the writer’s milieu and the state of publishing in India are taken up for critical recordation.
Min Ulagam (1976)
Vattathin Veliye (1980)
Therodum Veethi (1987)
Phase III. Neela Padmanabhan has at last moved into the region on fundamental questions that stare man in the face. It is in these ego’s that Padmanabhan’s talents can produce significant works, which can have a global impact. While his poetry has always had this touch f the eternal quest, it is only during the last ten years that he has been able to anchor it in his fiction.
Koondinul Pakshigal (1995)
Neela Padmanabhan wrote his first novel when he was hardly twenty. Age has never been a bar for creative ecstasy to flash through. Pa1manabhan himself has not been apologetic about Udaya Tharakai, which was published long after he had achieved fame with Thalaimuraikal. The subject is predictably a college romance with plenty of characters and inversions and a tense approach to the mutual traction of the sexes. Though originally titled as Udaya Tharakai morning star) by the novelist, it was serialized under the title Kat hale ON ask Kan Undo in Vanjinaadu during 1972-3, but the narrative ‘‘is cut down heavily when it was published as a book. The author also to snip away quite a good bit of the Malayalam content, which flavors the Tamil spoken in the region. Putting down on paper observations, desires, alnascharisms and disappointments in the form of a full-fledged novel must have given self-confidence to Padmanabhan to explore the possibilities of becoming a writer. He severed early about his flair for writing:
“It was in 1955 that I became fully aware of my talent. I did not think very highly of my literary skills. Nor did I underrate them. They were there; I could not ignore them. The impulse was there, the impulse to catch the beauty and ugliness of life and to bring them out in their struggle for controlling man.”
When seventeen, Padmanabhan saw the mangled remains of a Run over by a lorry. He set down his feelings immediately as ‘ Bathil Illai”. It was published several years later and remains proof i his definite flair for writing. Though an avid reader of good books in spite of the limited time he could scrounge from his office duties, Padmanabhan decided to write only about what he had seen and experienced in person. Not for him a zooming desire to imitate the English writers nor the stultifying weakness of loading his style with the received tradition he had imbibed by reading classics in Malayalam and Tamil. By deliberately not following the style of writers who studiously avoided caste names in an attempt to wish away the ground realities and preferring for himself the methodology of earlier writers like Kalki and Shankar Ram, Padmanabhan has also been holding up the mirror to the contemporary Tamil society with commendable accuracy.
The self-limitation of writing about the milieu with which he was most familiar made a beginning with his immediate family. Tbalazmuraikal is about the Tamil-speaking Chatters of Ernie. The community speaks of an emigration from Tamil Nadu to Kerala area long, long ago from Pusher (Poompuhal or Kaverippoombattinam), the great harbor-city immortalized in the ancient Tamil epic Silappadhikaram. Two lovely girls of their community had been desired
by the local king. The girls committed self-immolation and the community trekked to the far south and settled down in the Kanyakumari District, which was once part of the Malayalam-speaking Travancore State.
Thalaimuraikal deals with, three generations of this community in Geranial and the time of action may be placed in the early forties. The author belongs to the community and his clear-toned remembrance of things not long past stamps the narrative with logical realism. There are no sudden shocks or surprises. The original myth keeps coming back as streaks of memory to come to terms with the tragedy of the present. We watch the progress of the action through the childhood, boyhood and youth of Diravi. For this “watching” is Neela Padmanabhan’s critique of his community that holds itself back from progress.
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