Na. Pichamurthy’s (1900-1976) writings had a major influence on Tamil literature which witnessed a renaissance in his times. His contribution to Puthu Kavithai, a new vogue that brought about a poetic revolution in Tamil was far-reaching. He was foremost in freeing the Tamil short story from the confines of family and domestic happenings. A sizable part of his prose glides along with the live energy of poetic leaps. His short stories are a concerned criticism of the new trends seen in human life.
S. Thillainayagam retired from M S University, Tirunelveli as Professor of English. His doctoral thesis was on Q.D. Leavis’s Fiction and the Reading Publick. He has authored Feminist Literary Essays, edited Sundara Ramasamyin Thernthetutha Katturaigal for the Sahitya Akademi and translated A.K. Chettiar’s Annal Adichuvattil into English.
Exerting Arduously and Reaching the Sky...
Pichamurthy says writing is the bridge to inner life. This he said in a literary context, but meant that it would apply to any art as well. Following this, we must consider another of his pronouncements. He says God's world will appear where art culminates. To him, this act is 'exerting arduously and reaching the sky. As we observe his birth centenary, a man who speaks about art and life in this manner might appear to us and our contemporary writers alienated. His language will appear out of sync with our language. He is a man of a different era.
Na. Pichamurthy was born in 1900, the first year of the twentieth century. The family in which he was born had the history and the memories of one person of each generation of the past seven generations becoming a recluse. Only Pichamurthy's father Natesa Iyer put an end to this family tradition. Like Thiagaiyer, Pichamurthy was born in a Telugu Brahmin family that settled in Thiruvaiyam a few centuries ago. At home they spoke Telugu. Natesa Iyer was proficient in many languages besides Marathi, Tamil, Sanskrit and Telugu. He could also compose poems in these languages. Gave stage expositions of devotional stories to the accompaniment of music. Was well-versed in Sanskrit and Tamil literatures. It is said that it was he who established the 'Boys Company', then a reputed drama troupe of Tamilnadu. So the environment of Pichamurthy's family had music, literature and drama as its life-breath.
Natesa Iyer who put an end to the family tradition of one person of each generation becoming a recluse passed away when Pichamurthy was just seven years old. So the young boy could not get as patrimony any portion of the vast learning of his father who shone as a versatile exponent of several arts.
Yet, the disrupted family tradition did not fail to continue with Pichamurthy. Studied law. Married. Surrendered before Ramana Maharishi with the question, 'What should I do now? Please show me the way. Maharishi sent him back. Pichamurthy says in an interview when he was sixty years old: 'At the age of thirty-three I began to follow my personal moral sense. To anybody this moral sense is the natural way of life.' He points out the reason for his literary interest and the thirst for a moral sense in spite of losing his father at the age of seven, 'Whether we like it or not we cannot escape from being subjected to this biological principle. He has said on different occasions, 'To me as a Hindu spiritual quest takes the first place. Literature is only next to that. Literature is the mark of the achievement of a writer's vision... literature tries to express in words a condition of wordlessness. At this point the acme of the literary world and the acme of the spiritual world meet.
So, piecing all these together we can conclude that from Pichamurthy's point of view this personal moral sense is natural to anybody. He followed it. To him it was a spiritual quest. Writing came to him as an inheritance, as atoms of life. The word that literature takes as form is not important; the pride of the form is its lively energy. The aim of literature as well as a Hindu's spiritual quest is the journey towards reaching a stage of wordlessness through words. On another occasion he says, 'Life is important. I'll not say that literature is more important than life. But we must dedicate that life to something.
All these are the essence of what Pichamurthy's writings and life unearthed. The journey of his life of seventy-seven years always moved towards this ambitious achievement and reached fruition.
Pichamurthy says he had been writing ever since his college days. He adds that he first wrote in English and later switched over to Tamil. The Tamil public came to know his writings in 1933.
The time he put his first foot in the Tamil literary world was also the time when there arose a small renaissance in Tamil. That renaissance was not limited to Tamil literature. In that third decade of the twentieth century nationalism reached its peak in Tamilnadu. That was also the time when Tamilnadu gave countless heroes and intellectual giants not only to the freedom struggle but also to other domains of knowledge. The time was when Tamil and Tamil art life got a new impetus and flourished vigorously. Today, it is rather difficult to understand the character and spirit of that time. Because, ours is a time when people have taken it as a habit to live with values turned upside down. Then there were men who went to far off places to earn a livelihood, brought home huge wealth and willingly contributed that wealth to education, Tamil, literature and Tamil music. Now all these have changed into avenues for making money and gaining positions. That was a time when art devotees, without minding the society branding them as outcastes, saved from destruction the 'performing arts' of people considered to be socially low and gave them the status of art. That was a time when there were men who voluntarily dedicated their wealth and lives to their country, society, language and arts. Today, all these have turned topsy-turvy.
This environment was conducive to Pichamurthy who embarked on a journey of dedication.
Tradition all right, environment all right, self’s quest all right. Though all these combined together, Pichamurthy's beginning was not a divinely inspired one like Thirugnana Sambandar's. Sambandar, one of the canonised Saiva saints, started reciting Thevaram when he was but a suckling. Anyway Pichamurthy's also was an extra-ordinary one. The mental excitement caused by a portrait of Raja Ravi Verma became the story 'Mohini', first in English and subsequently in Tamil. Another story published in the same year (1933) was 'Sacrifice on the Altar of Science'. The story presented the danger of the robot Alpha created by man ruling man eventually. The Tamil version was published in 1933. It is not known when it was written in English. The development of science also has moralistic dimensions. Pichamurthy is of the view that science is not perfect in itself. This is his first story, for Tamil also first story. Then Tamil story had not yet learnt to free itself from the confines of family - at such a time the embryo for the first story of Pichamurthy was science. When were Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Ape and Essence published? When was George Orwell's 1984 published? When did the Europeans begin to think about this other side of science? Before Pichamurthy or after him?
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