La. Sa. Ramamritham

My dad has been a big fan of La Sa Ramamritham (La. Sa. Ra) since he started reading his books a couple of years back. I think it started with this monthly magazine he began reading – தீராநதி when I was doing my undergrad. I know he enjoyed the articles and stories immensely because they used to sneak up in our phone conversations. And that is significant because I was 2500 kms away in Rajasthan, there were no mobile phones at the time and these phone calls happened very rarely from an STD booth I had to stand in a queue for over an hour in order to talk for 15 minutes maximum before the girl outside would start knocking impatiently. </SignificanceEstablished>

சிந்தா நதி

The first La. Sa. Ra book that appa bought was சிந்தா நதி – the Sahitya Academy award winning book containing autobiographical articles about the events and people in his life that La. Sa. Ra felt were important. Appa used to read from it to us when I was at home on vacation and I remember how his face used to light up when he knew a particularly beautifully written line was coming up.

La Sa Ra

La Sa Ra

This was the first La. Sa. Ra book that I read too and I was completely smitten. In a single sentence he could be both hilarious and deeply profound. When asked for advise on writing, this was one of his stinging comments – “நெருப்புன்னு எழுதினா பொசுங்கற வாசனை வரவழைக்கத் துப்பில்லன்னா எழுதாதே”. I think he was able to achieve this depth of perception in his writing mainly because of his style – the stream of consciousness narrative. His writings were celebrated, controversial and potentially “hip” for those times. There was also a complaint that it was not easily understandable, because he wrote down his thought process and they were not always linear. I have always been attracted to that style, I prefer writing that way myself – mostly leading to my sentences getting more and more convoluted like what happened here and here. But, I like it that way. I think this is the only way I make sense to myself.

The novels

I have read (and thanks to my dad, own) 4 out of the 6 novels that La. Sa. Ra has written – புத்ர, கழுகு, கல் சிரிக்கிறது and பிராயச்சித்தம். I read the latter two first – they are sequels. In பிராயச்சித்தம், the characters of கல் சிரிக்கிறது continue from where that story ended. கழுகு is a favorite among these four. It is structured as a non-linear narrative of Ambi’s life from the point of view of his mind – all events, people and situations in the book are structured like flashes of memory, the way he would remember things and not like how they happenned to him in real time. புத்ர was an especially difficult work to understand. You see, it starts with a severely anguished mother who curses her son that for the mental torture that he has given her, he should never have a male child and even if he does, the child should die immediately. The curse then proceeds to become its own entity and starts talking to the reader in the first person like it was just born, its creator was the mother and it exists in space and time. The entire first half of the book is very obscure to comprehend. But then the pieces start to fit together towards the end and the reader is left with some profound epiphanies of the subconscious.

கல் சிரிக்கிறது

Coming back to கல் சிரிக்கிறது, the primary story here is that of a moral dilemma. Something my dad often quotes from this book is the question – “what defines the point at which someone commits a crime?”. Is it the point at which the thought comes to you or is it only when you act on it? I felt, this particular thought process was perfectly captured in the movie ஆடுகளம் – when பேட்டைக்காரன் is riding his bike with the money from கருப்பு, there is this one long moment when he pauses at a crossroad deciding what he must do. This was the moment that defined his character for the rest of his life (in the movie). Would we have classified him as a villian if he had not acted on his thought?

“கல் சிரிக்கிறது. கல் சிரிப்பதை தெய்வம் சிரிப்பதாக எண்ணிக்கொண்டு, அந்தச் சிரிப்பிற்க்கு நமக்கு இஷ்டமான அர்த்தத்தை வர வழைத்துக்கொண்டு, தெய்வம் கொடுத்த உத்தரவாக எடுத்துக்கொண்டு காரியத்தில் இறங்குகிறோம். காரியம் முடிந்த பின் கல் தெய்வமாக மாறி, அப்போ தெய்வம் சிரிக்கிறது.”

This passage in கல் சிரிக்கிறது serves like something of an interior monologue (a technique La. Sa. Ra often uses) for a self aware protagonist who commits a petty crime (he steals jewelry from a temple) because he needs it and then for the rest of the story and his life tries to rationalize his actions by blaming an external agent – namely the deity that was smiling at him when he stole the jewelry thereby giving him permission – if you will. The story is mainly about this guilt and takes its inspriation from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment – a book that I have been trying to complete for a long time now.

A particular passage from that book – towards the end – summarises what I think were the existential, moral, ethical and spiritual confusions that La. Sa. Ra tried to portray in his works most of the time –

“இப்போது தான் எனக்கு நன்றாக விளங்குகிறது. நம் காயை நாம் நகர்த்துவதாக நினைத்துக் கொள்கிறோம். காய் நம் கையால் நகர்கிறது. அதில் தான் நாம் ஏமாந்து போகிறோம். காயை நகர்த்தும் நம் கையை நகர்த்துவது ஏதோ ஒரு சக்தி. அதற்கு ஆண்டவன் பெயர் சொல்லி அழைக்கிறாயோ, இல்லை வேறு ஏதேனும் அழைக்கிறாயோ, நிச்சயமாக நாம் இல்லை. அதை நாம் மறுத்தாலும் அதன் அகண்ட கறுணையில் நம் மறுப்பையும் அது ஏற்றுக் கொள்கிறது. அதுதான் அதனுடைய மகிமை, நம்முடைய ஆச்சர்யம்.”

While writing this piece, I came across this. And thusly, my day is made!