A review of ‘Srirangam to Sivaji’

I just finished reading the short biography of writer ‘Sujatha’ (original name: S. Rangarajan). He is one of the top three writers for me in English and in Tamil. The other two being ‘Devan’ and P.G. Wodehouse. It is a matter of immense satisfaction that my favourite writer Sujatha had the same admiration for the writings of ‘Devan’ that I had. Devan’s full name was Mahadevan. His novels set in Tanjore – Mayavaram – Kumbakonam were masterpieces.

I did shed a few tears when I heard of ‘Sujatha’ passing away in 2008. It is hard for me to rate his books because I rate them highly – most of them at least. For starters, I would recommend the collection of stories based on his early life in Srirangam   – Srirangathu Devathaigal’.

The biography of Sujatha by Ranjan was an interesting read. Sujatha acknowledged with pride that Tamil was the only language, among Indian languages, whose letters could all be contained in a computer keyboard.

He had done a lot of work on the electronic voting machine, demonstrating its usefulness and reliability in front of all layers of the Indian judiciary. Yet, losing candidates routinely blamed and still blame them.

He has had many stellar personal qualities: did not cry over spilt milk; not an overbearing parent; did not dismiss nor was he disturbed by criticisms; took them well and lightly; was able to admire his critics’ stellar qualities and other strengths (remarkable).

For the most part, he was forward-looking. He loved technology and was a keen learner. He welcomed change. His range of interests was as impressive as was his depth in the many subjects that he touched upon – from science fiction to folk literature to the works of Azhwars, Thiruvalluvar and Brahma Sutram.

As is the case with most writers from India, poverty exercised him deeply and sights of the poor moved him. But, surprisingly, economics was one area he did not spend much time on.

While he was right to lament about the rising inequality and the de-sensitization of the rich and the upwardly mobile to sights of poverty and the poor, he did not connect technological advancements (which he was fond of) and inequality. There is strong causality from the former to the latter.

We admired his writings and they captivated us because he exposed to us our innermost fears, desires and vulgarities. He put them all out on paper. He knew all of us very well.

Equally, what this book confirms is that he knew himself very well. We should miss him for that.

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