Friday, July 8, 2016

Tamilvanan`s of Chennai-I - Brand tamilvanan

       A few months ago at a meeting of the South India Heritage series,  Lena Tamilvanan, the elder son of the legendary Tamil writer Tamilvanan,  talking about  his father ,  asked the audience,
“ How many of you know about Tamilvanan and have read his writings`. 

More than half the audience , comprising senior  citizens in their 60s and 70s raised their hands. A  clear indication of  the popularity of Tamilvanan in the `50s & `60s. `A master of all subjects`, as he was known, Tamilvanan had a huge following  among the Tamil reading youth of the time . The impact that he made on them through his motivational and inspirational writings was unbelievable.  He was almost a cult figure. Based in Mumbai, I was also one of those who got hooked on  his writings and adopted  his famous slogan  `Thunivey Thunai` ( Courage as companion), as a`Tharaka Mantram` of my life.  Even my autobiography  is titled  `Courage My Companion`.

Born in a large family of 16 children, at Devakottai in Tamilnad, Ramanathan alias Tamilvanan had to discontinue his studies because of his involvement in the `Quit India` movement  during his student days. He started his working life as general assistant in a  company making `chalk pieces`. His interest in writing got him a job as an Asst editor with  `Grama Oozhian` a magazine edited by Vallikannan. A voracious reader  he  was keenly interested in Tamil literature. This interest took him to Chennai in 1946, where he managed to get a job as an Assistant editor in a children`s magazine called `ANIL`. His column became so popular that he was called `Anil Anna`. While working he was also trying to improve his knowledge of Tamil  by learning at least 10 new words every day under the tutleage of  the  well known Tamil  Pandit V.Kalyanasundaram ( Thiru Vee Ka). The  Tamil word  `Vanan` meaning `a person who lives life` caught his imagination. He decided to combine his love for Tamil with  his zest for life and coined  the word `Tamilvanan` which he wanted to use  as  a pen name for himself. Prof Kalyanasundaram approved of his idea.  He did not know at that time that `Tamilvanan` would  soon become a household name among the Tamil reading public.

When S.A.P.Annamalai,  the founder editor of `Kumudam` weekly was looking for an editor in 1948,  to start a new Children`s magazine called Kalkandu,  he invited `Tamilvanan to come up with his ideas.The dummy prepared by Tamilvanan impressed him so much that he was immediately appointed as the editor of the new magazine.  Though he started as a writer for children, thanks to the total  freedom given by SAP , Tamilvanan  started targeting his writings towards the youth through essays and stories covering a wide variety of topics promoting general knowledge among his readers. The words `Thunivey Thunai`  , his `tharaka manthiram`  was featured prominently   on the front  cover of every issue of  Kalkandu. The Question  &  Answer feature that he started became a big hit so much so that he had to spend a lot of time at the Connemara library to find answers to the sometimes difficult questions posed by his readers. His Answers,  essays and generous sprinkling of useful `tidbits` in the magazine covered topics ranging from  media, religion, politics, literature,yoga, medicine, films and many more. His self improvement  essays giving tips  for improving life became very popular not only with the youth but the entire families. His detective serials appearing week after week, featuring an  unforgettable character like detective`Sankarlal` and his assistants `Kathirikkai` & `Manikkam` became famous. It seems the suggestion for starting a detective novel   came from a reader from Kerala called Sankarlal,  who wanted  Tamilvanan to feature  a super detective like `Sherlock Homes` In his stories. Tamilvanan not only acted  on the suggestion but also decided to call the detective  by the reader`s name –Sankarlal.

While he was gaining  popularity  as a writer/editor he found that he had to do something to improve his finances.  `Manimekalai  Prasuram`, named after his wife was started in 1956 to publish his own books.  While he continued as the editor of Kalkandu for 30 years until his death, he also  published over 500 books during his life time

 Tamilvanan was perhaps the only Tamil writer who consciously built a brand image for himself. Breaking away from the stereo type of a  Dhothi clad Tamil writer with a  Jolna pye and keeping in mind his youthful audience, he was always impeccably  dressed   in white trousers and white shirts in addition to donning a hat and dark glasses  . In fact over a period to time the Hat and dark glasses became his symbols.  It is said that if a reader sent a letter featuring only the hat and dark glasses marked Madras, on the cover, it would reach  him without fail.

He was as popular  as the film stars of those days. Whenever he went  to address any meetings, he was invariably mobbed by his enthusiastic fans. It was not unsual for him to exit through the back doors of the auditoriums after the meetings, to esacape  his  overzealous fans.
Like many  other writers, he also got the film bug. In his later years he tried to dabble in film production. He produced  two films , Tamil versions of two popular telugu films, titled `Pillai Pasam` and `Thudikkum Thuppakki`.  

Tamilvanan was very close to the top political leaders and film stars. Though he knew MGR  well as a friend, he did not hesitate to criticize him through his writings, whenever he felt that MGR was wrong.  This earned the wrath of MGR  and he filed a defamation suit for Rs.2 lakhs against Tamilvanan.  MGR realized that Tamilvanan would not bow down to the threat,  when he published the news as a cover story in Kalkandu. He quietly withdrew the suit. Another big controversary involved Tamilvanan challenging the importance given to `Veera Pandia Kattabomman` as a Freedom fighter, which took the Tamil literary world by storm.  He argued that Katta Bomman was actually known as `Ketty Bommu` and that `Pooli thevan` was the real freedom fighter of the time and not Kattabomman.

Tamilvanan was equally  popular as a speaker .His talks were always laced with humour and insightful ideas. Unfortunately for a man who wrote inspiring and motivational  essays  like  `How to live longer?` he never looked after his own health,  landing himself with a serious heart condition.  He took enormous risk, when he went to pay his respects to his mentor S.A.P Annamalai  on the Diwali Day in 1977, like he always did on every Diwali day though SAP had   offered to visit him  instead  of Tamilvanan visiting him. He was determined to pay his respects to SAP at his house,   much against the advice of his doctor and family .Unable to stand the strain he collapsed soon after he returned home after  the  fateful  visit and died. It was 10th November,1977 and he was only 51.  Among his four children, two of his sons Lena and Ravi had to discontinue their studies to carry on with their father`s legacy, against all odds. How they rose upto the challenge and kept the  brand `Tamilvanan`going makes for interesting story by itself. (To be continued)

Appeared in Madras Musings issue dt.1-15th July,2016

1 comment:

  1. It is a pity that in spite of his enormous fame and readership among the general tamil public, Tamilvanan could not become rich enough to leave a legacy to his children who had to fend for themselves. But he has been fortunate to have children like Lena and Ravi who could keep his torch glowing, continuing his talents of writing and publishing.

    I am one of those fortunate Tamilians who during their school life had the weekly KALKANDU deliver the choicest writings in lucid and impeccably simple, Tamil, the entire magazine composed of one man's writings! I was under the belief that Sankarlaal and Kaththirikai were real characters at least till I was 20 and that was the power of Tamilvanan's writing. I can record with gratitude that I could become a writer in Tamil because of three writers and Tamilvanan was one among them., the other two being Kannadasan and Jayakanthan.

    Eager to read your remaining portion next week. - Raaya Chellappa