Beauty of Tamil lies in its diversity: Ki.Ra.

Bare-chested and with just a piece of cloth tied to his waist, Ki. Rajanarayanan, the grandold man of Tamil literature, who turned 97 on Monday, truly exudes Gandhian simplicity.

Ki.Ra., as he is known in the Tamil literary world, has been living in Puducherry since 1989, sought to play down his achievements as the professor of folklore of the Tamil Department of Puducherry University, though he never had a formal education.

It was the then Vice-Chancellor of the University A.K. Venkatasubramaniam who invited him to join the university and during his time there, he recorded and collected 200 folk stories.

“My work was not confined to the regular curriculum or examinations. It was a novel effort and followed only by the St. Xavier’s College in Palayamkottai. But Anthropology and Sociology draw inspiration and content from folklore,” he said while recalling his days in the university.

A pioneer in penning stories in regional dialects and capturing the lives of the people of Karisal Bhoomi of southern Tamil Nadu in their authentic language, Ki.Ra. collected and recorded 200 folk stories of Puducherry.

“Recording the narration is important since writing them down will change the tone and original words used by the narrator. The beauty of the folk stories lies in their narration,” said Ki.Ra.

‘Correct’ form

The nonagenarian, who started writing only after he was 30, won Sahitya Akademi in 1991 for his novel Gopallapurathu Makkal depicting the Telugu people who had migrated to Tamil Nadu. He reiterated his conviction that the spoken language was the ‘correct’ form of language.

“Language had no letters when man started speaking it. Do we interact with our children in written form? We also do not use the written form of the language in our day-to-day conversation. Then why should we follow a written form of a language in writing,” asked Ki.Ra., whose first novel was rejected by critics on the ground of it lacking a clear form though the book continues to remain one of the greatest Tamil novels ever written.

Gopallapurathu Makkal was followed by Andaman Naicker.

For those who question the need for using dialects in writing since it could not represent the language as a whole, Ki.Ra’s explanation was that sweetness was the taste of mango even though there were different varieties.

“What will you call a person who seeks to destroy all variations to create a single variety? It holds the same for Tamil language also. Beauty lies in diversity,” said Ki.Ra., at a time when a common, unifying language debate is raging in the country.

No rules for prose

He said in Tamil the grammar was evolved only for poetry and prose was not confined by the rules of grammar.

“We are yet to evolve rules for prose writing,” said Ki.Ra., who was also actively involved in the communist movement.

He was included in the Nellai conspiracy case, but his name was dropped after the intervention of Tamil scholar T.K. Chidambaranatha Mudalaiar.

“He asked the then Chief Minister Kumarasamy Raja the logic behind including me in the case when I was in Coutrallam. You know all conspiracy cases were false,” he laughed.

While music has been an integral part of his works, Ki.Ra. is also a close friend of nagaswaram player Karukuruchi P. Arunanchalam, whose wife hailed from his native village Idaiseval.

“Whenever he visited his father-in-law’s house, he would join us. He was an excellent singer and will always be singing one song or another. It was through him that I got an introduction to Vilathikulam Swamigal, another great musician,” he said.

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