Charukesi is the name of a beautiful ragam in Carnatic music, which is also the pseudonym of Viswanathan Subramanian, the well known bilingual writer, author, music/dance critic, translator and a columnist.
When I asked him why he chose `Charukesi` as his pen name, he said,
`Initially I was writing in my original name, but my good friend ‘Vadoolan’ said Viswanathan was a very common name and suggested this instead. I was not even aware then that it was a name of a popular raga!`
He was also not aware then that one day he would be asked to write music reviews! Though he had no formal training in music he picked up the knowledge over a period of time.
` I used to attend 3 to 4 concerts of Carnatic and Hindustani music every week. With the help of some reference books, I slowly picked up the format and began writing reviews`.
This multi dimensional writer who has completed 60 years in writing had his first article published in the then popular children`s magazine `Kannan` in their issue dated 15th April,1955, when he was just 17 years old . The favourable response and the princely sum of Rs. 5/- he received for the one-page article besides the encouragement he got from the editor `Aarvi`, motivated him to continue writing articles and stories aimed at children. In the initial years he specialized in writing humour-based articles on a variety of topics, which were published by Kannan, and `Kalkandu`. Charukesi fondly remembers the encouragement he received from the legendary Tamilvanan, editor of Kalkandu – a popular youth centric weekly. Once when Charukesi had attended a meeting in Salem at which Tamilvanan was the speaker, he found that after the meeting Tamilvanan had to jump out of rear window in the hall to escape the over enthusiastic youngsters who were trying to mob him!
A writer who was known for his humorous essays in Tamil, Charukesi got his first short story published in `Kalki` weekly in March, 1960. Kalki, particularly its editor K.Rajendran encouraged Charukesi to write on a variety of subjects covering medicine, literature, painting, politics, theatre, administration, industry, etc. Kalki’s Industrial Supplement brought out the industrial and business growth of Tamilnadu, every year . Charukesi participated in Maadham Oru Maavattam and Maadham Oru Nagaram features of Kalki and even did a serial on Top 10 collectors of TN. Looking at his penchant for humour Rajendran also encouraged him to write political satires. While contributing articles for Kalki, he continued to write short stories which were published by Ananda Vikatan, Kalki, Dinamani Kadir, Amudhasurabi, Kalaimagal, and Kumudham
When did the Tamil writer switch to writing in English as well?
“ During my stint in Pfizer in Ahmedabad between 1965-70, I had contributed a few articles for our company’s house magazine ‘Crucible’ which were well appreciated. That gave me the confidence to write in English. When I returned to Chennai, I tried my hand at writing for the Sunday Supplement of The Hindu. Two of my articles got published. Later on editor of Week End Express S. Viswanathan gave me an opportunity to review Tamil books in English. I was also encouraged to do interviews. Then a chance writing of a review of a play in Town Talk column in Economic Times, prompted its editor K.S. Latha offering me opportunities to write about the events or personalities of their choice every week. I was also contacted by The Hindu’s Friday Review Editor Ms. Geetha Venkatramanan to write not only music reviews but also on pother topics. Another editor who encouraged me was V. Ramnarayan of ‘SRUTI’.” So while I was continuing to write stories and essays in Tamil, I was also noticed as a writer in English.
Charukesi`s reputation as an excellent translator of books started with an assignment to translate Sudha Murty`s three books from English to Tamil. This was followed by many others: the diplomat R. Kannan’s voluminous book on CN Annadurai which he found challenging as original quotations in Tamil had to be inserted in appropriate passages, from 112 books! Equally challenging was Sathyamurthi `s Letters in two volumes. Gurcharan Das - `Difficulty of Being Good`; Devdutt Patnaik’s ` Jaya (Mahabharata)`; Peter Gonsalves p- ‘Clothing For Liberation’ ; `Lost Years of the RSS` by Sanjeev Kelkar; `When the Penny Drops` by R. Gopalakrishnan; ‘As I See It’ by Kiran Bedi and few more self improvement books for CBH Publications. He had also translated two books for Sri Ramakrishna Math last year – ‘Ancient Indian Greats’ and `Swamiji & Netaji`. Among the eight notable books he translated from Tamil to English are Guru Bhakti; Guru & the Disciple; Pathway Prasad’s biography ‘A Leaf In the Stream’; Gem Granites Veeramani’s biography; the biographies of Justice Karpagavinayagam and industrialist Palani G. Periasamy .
Charukesi`s published books include -Three collections of short stories for children – `Kakitha Padagu, Natpu Valarga and Oru Kilai Paravaigal. Two collections of humorous short stories – Thummalukku Kai Koduppom Irumalukku Kural Koduppom & Oru Nayamaana Kadhal; a serious short story collection titled ‘Nagai’. This is being translated into English by C.G. Rishikesh and is being released at a function to be held on 16th April in Chennai. His recent book of collection of articles in different Deepavali Malars and other special issues titled Mammootty Mudhal Manmohan Singh Varai was released last month in Malaysia by Kalaignan Pathippakam, Chennai Among the books published by Vikatan Publications, his book on Kanchi Mahaswami based on actual experiences by his devotees is in its sixth edition. His travelogue ‘Cheena Anubhavangal’ was serialized in Kalki and then was brought out as a book.
Apart from the prizes he won for his stories in Kalki, Kumudam and Kanaiazhi he highly values the `The Best Translator Award` he got from Kalaimagal magazine- instituted by Ka Sri Sri family. Ka Sri Sri himself was an outstanding translator who had translated into Tamil all the works of the famous Marathi writer V.S.Khandekar. `Ilakkia Veedhi ` honoured him with best review award of the year for his review of the novel Tharayil Irangum Vimanangal` by Indumathi.
Among the unforgettable experiences he encountered in life as a writer he recalls his visit to UP along with photographer Yoga to do a feature on the elections in 1984 for Kalki magazine. On the way to Delhi, when the train stopped at Bhopal station, Yoga felt a burning sensation in his eyes. They also found a lot of passengers getting into the train with bandaged eyes. When he learnt first- hand about the Bhopal Gas tragedy from the affected people, he did a special story for Kalki magazine.
Once when he was interviewing E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the well known Marxist leader, he heard an interesting anecdote about him. EMS was known to stammer while speaking, When somebody asked EMS whether he always stammered he quipped, ` No, I only stammer whenever I speak`.
Charukesi also remembers the humility of Manmohan Singh whom he had gone to interview in 1991for Kalki , when he had just become the Finance Minister. Not only did MS profusely apologise for a missed appointment the previous day but also walked with him up to the door to see him off, after completing the interview.
Born in a big family, Charukesi was the second son in the family. After his schooling in Salem he got a D.Com from the Indian Merchants Chamber. He joined Pfizer Ltd, the multinational pharmaceutical company as a general assistant in 1960 in Chennai and retired as the Officer-in- charge of the Chennai Depot of the same company in 1998. All through his working career he continued to write as a hobby. He became a full time writer after his retirement. A prolific writer he continues to pound away on his PC, both in English & Tamil, for at least 4 to 6 hours every day churning out interesting articles/stories.
Currently Charukesi contributes a weekly column in Dinamani, apart from writing for Hindu, Kalki, Mangayar Malar, Amudhasurabi and Madras Musings. He is also the Managing Trustee of the Devan Endowments which honoured two eminent writers/artists every year till 2013, besides organising Devan Memorial lectures in association with Madras Book Club. An active committee member of the Natyarangam of Narada Gana Sabha for several years he was recently elected to the executive committee of the Narada Gana Sabha.
Charukesi`s looks are deceptive. A humble and a serious man in person his sense of humour in his writings is palpable. He also packs a lot of energy in his thin, lean frame. A prolific writer, he has written over 8000 articles and a couple of hundred short stories in the last six decades.
A septuagenarian ( he is 78), he lives with his siblings in his own modest apartment in Abhiramapuram while continuing to write more than a dozen articles/stories every month . ‘Walking keeps me healthy’ says Charukesi. He loves travel, Hindi film music and reading books.
Edited version of this article appeared in Madras Musings issue dt. April, 1 -15,2016