You can’t change even an earthworm

I got the belated news that writer Sujatha passed away on Feb 26th. The shock lasted for a long time and sent a feeling of something being snatched away from me. With deep reflection, I realised that it is a part of my childhood.

Because, I grew up on Sujatha. To say that I was his fan would be an understatement of ridiculous proportions. I lapped up everything he wrote. Sujatha once lightly commented that publishers would buy even if he were to sell his laundry bill. I would definitely have bought it if it came to print. I didn’t care whether it was deep, profound literature he wrote or trashy detective stuff. He wrote both. I used to sit hours together with my then childhood best friend Viswanathan pouring over the fine nuances of his serious novels. I used read his novels, criticisms, film reviews, interviews, prefaces to other books and virtually anything that he scribbled in print, except his laundry bill because he refused to sell it.

In one of the interviews, when asked who his favourite author was, he mentioned of one Sundara Ramasamy (Su-Ra). I got so excited that I searched every bookshop in town but was disappointed that not many bookstores stocked Su-Ra’s books. I couldn’t believe that the books of my most favourite writer’s favourite author are not available. Later, I managed to get a copy of one of his novels but couldn’t understand a line of it. It took a few more years and a lot more experiences before I could understand and appreciate the greatness of Su-Ra.

But this piece is about Sujatha. Actually is not about Sujatha but ‘my’ Sujatha, so the Su-Ra episode is important. I read Sujatha’s book Introduction to Computers that triggered my passion for Computers, which eventually pushed me into entering the IT field. I lapped up his detective fictions and wrote my own detective novels imitating his style. I watched the movies he liked, I read the books he read (whether I understood or not), and thought his thoughts. I found out that he used a Tamil word-processing software called Bharati and I went and picked up a copy of the software and even learned to type in Tamil.

A voracious reader himself and constantly at mockery of his own self and style, he redefined satire. A master of lucid prose and engaging narration, his writings had a sense of careless abandon. It’s almost like nobody really wrote them. He wrote about almost everything and I learned about all those things. Schools never taught me anything. My books were my schools, and Sujatha was the head master. I read his play about Euthanasia and spent long lonely evenings reflecting on it. I read his novel on Kidney transplant and I was deep in melancholy about those people. I read his super natural thriller and got scared. In a nutshell, he defined my childhood.

In the later years, when I grew up and grew out of Sujatha, I still retained my fondness for him. Reading his works once in a while brought the glimpses of my childhood back. I came to differ from his political and theological ideologies. At times, I even detested his all-knowing, condescending narration style. However, I could not turn away from him. He never consciously wrote serious literature but never claimed to. But he read serious literature and never failed to point to his readers where it lay. I was one of the lucky ones to look in that direction. If I am able to proudly boast of names such as Su-Ra, Aadavan, Indira Parthasarathy, Manushya Puthiran, Thi. Janakiraman, Pudumai Pitthan, etc., all towering literary personalities, it’s because of Sujatha. In a way, he was the cause for me moving away from him. The kind of attitude that said ‘I’m only a pseudo-literature and if you are looking for a real one, go away from me and go to so-and-so.’

That required spunk. He had spunk and much more than that. His unconscious serious works became classics of their own rank and today they are rated among the top in contemporary Tamil literature.

A few tributes I managed to read online were mostly about his screenwriting stints. I or any of Sujatha’s avid fans would hardly have anything to say about them because he wrote those scripts to suit the directors. But his books are what we are going to remember him for. Millions like me who grew up on him who had the good fortune to read some of the best in Tamil because Sujatha read them. They are going to miss him because their kids will not have Sujatha to tell them what to read. They are going to be terribly upset that without Sujatha, the new youth will be led to trashy stuff. The trashy stuff that doesn’t show them where the good stuff lies.

‘I started writing thinking that I’ll change the world. But as I grew up, I realised that you can’t change anything. Not even an earthworm,’ he had mentioned in his semi-memoir. He didn’t just change me. He literally raised me. If not the world, at least a couple of generations. Not bad for such an ambition.

Good bye Sujatha. Thank you for living in the same age as ours. We’ll boast to our grandchildren of what they missed.