Evergreen Devan

July 26, 2012 § 1 Comment


Reading Devan’s short stories was a rewarding experience for me,

when  I was a student in the school in the forties of the last century.

Yes, a rewarding experience, literally.

I need explaining this.

My paternal grandmother was fond of reading books. Her reading

habit was not confined to reading the prayer chants dedicated to the

various gods and goddesses, as what her contemporaries were

doing at that time, but to  include  in her reading schedule

modern Tamil fiction. She gradually got graduated from reading

the shilling shockers and penny thrillers to reading Ananda Vikatan,

and Kalki, the most popular weeklies of that era.

Soon, cataract interfered with her reading habit. She refused to go

for a surgery ,as it was her firm conviction not to interfere with what

had been ordained by Nature. She requisitioned my services at this

stage and I was commissioned to read for her the serials written by

the celebrated writers, Kalki and Devan in those illustrious weeklies.

‘Thuppariyum Sambhu’ by Devan was her hot favourite. My

grandmother, like an American grandma, believed that everything

had a price. She paid me one anna and a quarter for every hour.

This compensation went a long way those days, as it could fetch two

idlis and a masala dosa

This what I meant when I said reading Devan was a rewarding

experience for me when I was young. This was doubly rewarding in

the sense, I got initiated into the world of  Tamil literary fiction.

‘Thuppuariyum Sambhu’ was, perhaps, the first Tamil novel, with a

bungling , clumsy, common man as the hero, who  gate crashes

by accident into the world of mystery ,thrill and adventure with all

those very blundering qualities standing him in good stand and

accounting for his incredible success in solving crimes. My parents

used to very often call me clumsy and at that age, finding a kindred

soul in Sambhu, I felt proud and optimistic.

‘Thuppuariyum Sambhu’ is one of the masterpieces in Tamil fiction.

Till then, the Tamil fiction was a portrait gallery of inimitable

handsome heroes of noble birth, high learning and chivalry. No one

could have imagined at that time a lowly bank clerk with a face

looking crowded  by  such a prominent nose would have kept the

readers  on their toes every week .Devan, perhaps, hit the jackpot

when in the very first episode Sambhu found the diamond necklace

in the cashew nut cake !

There was no stopping him after that!

I do not know whether those Hollywood guys who produced

Inspector Jaques Clouseau in 1963  could have been familiar with

Sambhu. When I saw Peter Sellers as Clouseau, he strongly reminded

me of our own Sambhu in his injured-innocent looks and other

mannerisms. I recollect in yet another movie, Peter Sellers

imitated the Indian accent while speaking English in the most

brilliant manner.

Later, when I got acquainted with Charles Dickens in the college, I

found  there was a good deal in common between Devan’s

characters set in the Tamil milieu and Dickensian portrayals of the

Victorian era.

Eccentric and at the same time pathetically comical and helpless,

many of them provoke our sympathy and laughter at one and the

same time. The common temptation of a Devan reader is to compare

him with P.G.Wodehouse, the British humourist of the 20th century.

No doubt, both of them are great humourists. But the comparison

stops here. Wodehousian characters like Lord Elmsworth, Bertiee

Wooster, Psmith (with ‘P’silent) and the innumerable spinster aunts

are stylised,  one-dimensional and static  caricatures

indicating no evolving at all, with the progress of the story and they

are predictable. They look like frozen victims caught in a time warp

Devan’s  characters,on the other hand,  are not stagnated but evolve

gradually, drawing strength from their inner potential and

experiences, evidence for which we see in his ,what  I would consider

as his masterpiece ‘Mr.Vedantham’

Maybe, a hard-nosed literary critic would not agree with me in

calling a romantic and sentimental novel belonging to the popular

genre as a literary masterpiece. In fact, we learnt to throw such

literary jargons such as ‘popular writing’ and’ literary writing’ after

westernization. Even in the west, such literary classifications came

only afterthe Industrial Revolution, when the privileged classes kept

their identity alive by such critical branding. So Dickens, because he

was a great hit with the working classes, was called a ‘popular’ writer

and Virginia Woolf ,who had selected readership called ‘a serious

writer’. It may be pertinent to ask at this juncture, whether

Shakespeare was a popular writer or an ivory tower bard condemned

to be read only by a few? Even during the period he lived and wrote

he was extremely popular with the masses. ‘Sweetest Shakespeare,

Fancy’s child’ says John Milton, one of the most learned among the

English poets. So such categorizations as ‘popular writing’ as against

‘serious’ writing’ is of recent origin in the west and imported by the

self-styled intellectual elite to convince themselves of their  own

literary credibility.

In the thirties and forties of the last century, the Tamil critics, fed on

a  fat diet of western literary  criticism, and totally ignorant of our

own  Indian poetics, held the view that any  work with a

readership  of more than five hundred, could not be considered as

‘literary’.

Kalki and Devan, as popular editors of two very popular Tamil

Weeklies had a huge following, a fact that did not go well with the

estimate of these elitist eggheads. Their novels were dismissed by

them as ‘popular writing’ as if ‘popular’ is a dirty word synonymous

with pornography.

Devan wrote  “Mr.Vedantham’ as a serial to cater to the hungry

needs of thousands  of middle- brow readers belonging to the urban

middle- class. As a non-proprietry editor of a popular weekly Devan

had two commitments; one, to himself that he could feel proud of

what he had written and two, that he had to have an eye on the

circulation of the weekly, conforming to the laws of magazine

economics. Studying all the novels that Devan wrote in this context,

one could say he had done a remarkable job by arriving at the golden

formula  to provide good reading for his readers and with

commendable literary flair.

This novel describes the struggles, travails, disappointments and

ultimate  success of a rural middle class Brahmin youth Vedantham.

By narrating his story, the author provides subtle, insightful details

of the social, cultural and economic structure of the Tamil society

during the forties of the previous century.

The Brahmin community, caught between two stools of culture

that were at variance at each other during the colonial rule. opted

for their survival by adopting the benefits of a western education

by forsaking their own cultural mores that led to their social

degradation. This is beautifully illustrated by some of the Brahmin

characters portrayed in this novel.

But Vedantham has not set forhimself very big ambitions like

achieving wealth and power to reach the top of the social hierarchy

but, he just dreams of becoming a good journalist  and get married

to his aunt’s daughter, whom he loves. The story centres around this

simple theme and within this frame, Devan introduces a panoramic

picture  of various characters representing  different cross-sections

of the Tamil society, each one distinctive in his/her own way.

Two brothers, Swamy and Singham play a very significant role

in Vedantham’s life. Both are aggressive, egoistic, unbending and

at the same with hearts of gold. They feel too proud even to accept

expressions of gratitude from their beneficiaries. Such characters

may belong to the category of vanishing species in the present

context of values, the bottom line of which assures that there cannot

be  free lunches.

Devan was at his creative best in some of his later works like

‘Rajathin Manoradham’, in which the mundane experiences of

constructing a middle class family dwelling brings into focus all

the cultural aspects of such a venture and narrated with such a

delightful humour that only Devan could.

A comprehensive study of all Devan’s works should be undertaken.

 

Reading Devan’s short stories was a rewarding experience for me,

when  I was a student in the school in the forties of the last century.

Yes, a rewarding experience, literally.

I need explaining this.

My paternal grandmother was fond of reading books. Her reading

habit was not confined to reading the prayer chants dedicated to the

various gods and goddesses, as what her contemporaries were

doing at that time, but to  include  in her reading schedule

modern Tamil fiction. She gradually got graduated from reading

the shilling shockers and penny thrillers to reading Ananda Vikatan,

and Kalki, the most popular weeklies of that era.

Soon, cataract interfered with her reading habit. She refused to go

for a surgery ,as it was her firm conviction not to interfere with what

had been ordained by Nature. She requisitioned my services at this

stage and I was commissioned to read for her the serials written by

the celebrated writers, Kalki and Devan in those illustrious weeklies.

‘Thuppariyum Sambhu’ by Devan was her hot favourite. My

grandmother, like an American grandma, believed that everything

had a price. She paid me one anna and a quarter for every hour.

This compensation went a long way those days, as it could fetch two

idlis and a masala dosa

This what I meant when I said reading Devan was a rewarding

experience for me when I was young. This was doubly rewarding in

the sense, I got initiated into the world of  Tamil literary fiction.

‘Thuppuariyum Sambhu’ was, perhaps, the first Tamil novel, with a

bungling , clumsy, common man as the hero, who  gate crashes

by accident into the world of mystery ,thrill and adventure with all

those very blundering qualities standing him in good stand and

accounting for his incredible success in solving crimes. My parents

used to very often call me clumsy and at that age, finding a kindred

soul in Sambhu, I felt proud and optimistic.

‘Thuppuariyum Sambhu’ is one of the masterpieces in Tamil fiction.

Till then, the Tamil fiction was a portrait gallery of inimitable

handsome heroes of noble birth, high learning and chivalry. No one

could have imagined at that time a lowly bank clerk with a face

looking crowded  by  such a prominent nose would have kept the

readers  on their toes every week .Devan, perhaps, hit the jackpot

when in the very first episode Sambhu found the diamond necklace

in the cashew nut cake !

There was no stopping him after that!

I do not know whether those Hollywood guys who produced

Inspector Jaques Clouseau in 1963  could have been familiar with

Sambhu. When I saw Peter Sellers as Clouseau, he strongly reminded

me of our own Sambhu in his injured-innocent looks and other

mannerisms. I recollect in yet another movie, Peter Sellers

imitated the Indian accent while speaking English in the most

brilliant manner.

Later, when I got acquainted with Charles Dickens in the college, I

found  there was a good deal in common between Devan’s

characters set in the Tamil milieu and Dickensian portrayals of the

Victorian era.

Eccentric and at the same time pathetically comical and helpless,

many of them provoke our sympathy and laughter at one and the

same time. The common temptation of a Devan reader is to compare

him with P.G.Wodehouse, the British humourist of the 20th century.

No doubt, both of them are great humourists. But the comparison

stops here. Wodehousian characters like Lord Elmsworth, Bertiee

Wooster, Psmith (with ‘P’silent) and the innumerable spinster aunts

are stylised,  one-dimensional and static  caricatures

indicating no evolving at all, with the progress of the story and they

are predictable. They look like frozen victims caught in a time warp

Devan’s  characters,on the other hand,  are not stagnated but evolve

gradually, drawing strength from their inner potential and

experiences, evidence for which we see in his ,what  I would consider

as his masterpiece ‘Mr.Vedantham’

Maybe, a hard-nosed literary critic would not agree with me in

calling a romantic and sentimental novel belonging to the popular

genre as a literary masterpiece. In fact, we learnt to throw such

literary jargons such as ‘popular writing’ and’ literary writing’ after

westernization. Even in the west, such literary classifications came

only afterthe Industrial Revolution, when the privileged classes kept

their identity alive by such critical branding. So Dickens, because he

was a great hit with the working classes, was called a ‘popular’ writer

and Virginia Woolf ,who had selected readership called ‘a serious

writer’. It may be pertinent to ask at this juncture, whether

Shakespeare was a popular writer or an ivory tower bard condemned

to be read only by a few? Even during the period he lived and wrote

he was extremely popular with the masses. ‘Sweetest Shakespeare,

Fancy’s child’ says John Milton, one of the most learned among the

English poets. So such categorizations as ‘popular writing’ as against

‘serious’ writing’ is of recent origin in the west and imported by the

self-styled intellectual elite to convince themselves of their  own

literary credibility.

In the thirties and forties of the last century, the Tamil critics, fed on

a  fat diet of western literary  criticism, and totally ignorant of our

own  Indian poetics, held the view that any  work with a

readership  of more than five hundred, could not be considered as

‘literary’.

Kalki and Devan, as popular editors of two very popular Tamil

Weeklies had a huge following, a fact that did not go well with the

estimate of these elitist eggheads. Their novels were dismissed by

them as ‘popular writing’ as if ‘popular’ is a dirty word synonymous

with pornography.

Devan wrote  “Mr.Vedantham’ as a serial to cater to the hungry

needs of thousands  of middle- brow readers belonging to the urban

middle- class. As a non-proprietry editor of a popular weekly Devan

had two commitments; one, to himself that he could feel proud of

what he had written and two, that he had to have an eye on the

circulation of the weekly, conforming to the laws of magazine

economics. Studying all the novels that Devan wrote in this context,

one could say he had done a remarkable job by arriving at the golden

formula  to provide good reading for his readers and with

commendable literary flair.

This novel describes the struggles, travails, disappointments and

ultimate  success of a rural middle class Brahmin youth Vedantham.

By narrating his story, the author provides subtle, insightful details

of the social, cultural and economic structure of the Tamil society

during the forties of the previous century.

The Brahmin community, caught between two stools of culture

that were at variance at each other during the colonial rule. opted

for their survival by adopting the benefits of a western education

by forsaking their own cultural mores that led to their social

degradation. This is beautifully illustrated by some of the Brahmin

characters portrayed in this novel.

But Vedantham has not set forhimself very big ambitions like

achieving wealth and power to reach the top of the social hierarchy

but, he just dreams of becoming a good journalist  and get married

to his aunt’s daughter, whom he loves. The story centres around this

simple theme and within this frame, Devan introduces a panoramic

picture  of various characters representing  different cross-sections

of the Tamil society, each one distinctive in his/her own way.

Two brothers, Swamy and Singham play a very significant role

in Vedantham’s life. Both are aggressive, egoistic, unbending and

at the same with hearts of gold. They feel too proud even to accept

expressions of gratitude from their beneficiaries. Such characters

may belong to the category of vanishing species in the present

context of values, the bottom line of which assures that there cannot

be  free lunches.

Devan was at his creative best in some of his later works like

‘Rajathin Manoradham’, in which the mundane experiences of

constructing a middle class family dwelling brings into focus all

the cultural aspects of such a venture and narrated with such a

delightful humour that only Devan could.

A comprehensive study of all Devan’s works should be undertaken.

 

Reading Devan’s short stories was a rewarding experience for me,

when  I was a student in the school in the forties of the last century.

Yes, a rewarding experience, literally.

I need explaining this.

My paternal grandmother was fond of reading books. Her reading

habit was not confined to reading the prayer chants dedicated to the

various gods and goddesses, as what her contemporaries were

doing at that time, but to  include  in her reading schedule

modern Tamil fiction. She gradually got graduated from reading

the shilling shockers and penny thrillers to reading Ananda Vikatan,

and Kalki, the most popular weeklies of that era.

Soon, cataract interfered with her reading habit. She refused to go

for a surgery ,as it was her firm conviction not to interfere with what

had been ordained by Nature. She requisitioned my services at this

stage and I was commissioned to read for her the serials written by

the celebrated writers, Kalki and Devan in those illustrious weeklies.

‘Thuppariyum Sambhu’ by Devan was her hot favourite. My

grandmother, like an American grandma, believed that everything

had a price. She paid me one anna and a quarter for every hour.

This compensation went a long way those days, as it could fetch two

idlis and a masala dosa

This what I meant when I said reading Devan was a rewarding

experience for me when I was young. This was doubly rewarding in

the sense, I got initiated into the world of  Tamil literary fiction.

‘Thuppuariyum Sambhu’ was, perhaps, the first Tamil novel, with a

bungling , clumsy, common man as the hero, who  gate crashes

by accident into the world of mystery ,thrill and adventure with all

those very blundering qualities standing him in good stand and

accounting for his incredible success in solving crimes. My parents

used to very often call me clumsy and at that age, finding a kindred

soul in Sambhu, I felt proud and optimistic.

‘Thuppuariyum Sambhu’ is one of the masterpieces in Tamil fiction.

Till then, the Tamil fiction was a portrait gallery of inimitable

handsome heroes of noble birth, high learning and chivalry. No one

could have imagined at that time a lowly bank clerk with a face

looking crowded  by  such a prominent nose would have kept the

readers  on their toes every week .Devan, perhaps, hit the jackpot

when in the very first episode Sambhu found the diamond necklace

in the cashew nut cake !

There was no stopping him after that!

I do not know whether those Hollywood guys who produced

Inspector Jaques Clouseau in 1963  could have been familiar with

Sambhu. When I saw Peter Sellers as Clouseau, he strongly reminded

me of our own Sambhu in his injured-innocent looks and other

mannerisms. I recollect in yet another movie, Peter Sellers

imitated the Indian accent while speaking English in the most

brilliant manner.

Later, when I got acquainted with Charles Dickens in the college, I

found  there was a good deal in common between Devan’s

characters set in the Tamil milieu and Dickensian portrayals of the

Victorian era.

Eccentric and at the same time pathetically comical and helpless,

many of them provoke our sympathy and laughter at one and the

same time. The common temptation of a Devan reader is to compare

him with P.G.Wodehouse, the British humourist of the 20th century.

No doubt, both of them are great humourists. But the comparison

stops here. Wodehousian characters like Lord Elmsworth, Bertiee

Wooster, Psmith (with ‘P’silent) and the innumerable spinster aunts

are stylised,  one-dimensional and static  caricatures

indicating no evolving at all, with the progress of the story and they

are predictable. They look like frozen victims caught in a time warp

Devan’s  characters,on the other hand,  are not stagnated but evolve

gradually, drawing strength from their inner potential and

experiences, evidence for which we see in his ,what  I would consider

as his masterpiece ‘Mr.Vedantham’

Maybe, a hard-nosed literary critic would not agree with me in

calling a romantic and sentimental novel belonging to the popular

genre as a literary masterpiece. In fact, we learnt to throw such

literary jargons such as ‘popular writing’ and’ literary writing’ after

westernization. Even in the west, such literary classifications came

only afterthe Industrial Revolution, when the privileged classes kept

their identity alive by such critical branding. So Dickens, because he

was a great hit with the working classes, was called a ‘popular’ writer

and Virginia Woolf ,who had selected readership called ‘a serious

writer’. It may be pertinent to ask at this juncture, whether

Shakespeare was a popular writer or an ivory tower bard condemned

to be read only by a few? Even during the period he lived and wrote

he was extremely popular with the masses. ‘Sweetest Shakespeare,

Fancy’s child’ says John Milton, one of the most learned among the

English poets. So such categorizations as ‘popular writing’ as against

‘serious’ writing’ is of recent origin in the west and imported by the

self-styled intellectual elite to convince themselves of their  own

literary credibility.

In the thirties and forties of the last century, the Tamil critics, fed on

a  fat diet of western literary  criticism, and totally ignorant of our

own  Indian poetics, held the view that any  work with a

readership  of more than five hundred, could not be considered as

‘literary’.

Kalki and Devan, as popular editors of two very popular Tamil

Weeklies had a huge following, a fact that did not go well with the

estimate of these elitist eggheads. Their novels were dismissed by

them as ‘popular writing’ as if ‘popular’ is a dirty word synonymous

with pornography.

Devan wrote  “Mr.Vedantham’ as a serial to cater to the hungry

needs of thousands  of middle- brow readers belonging to the urban

middle- class. As a non-proprietry editor of a popular weekly Devan

had two commitments; one, to himself that he could feel proud of

what he had written and two, that he had to have an eye on the

circulation of the weekly, conforming to the laws of magazine

economics. Studying all the novels that Devan wrote in this context,

one could say he had done a remarkable job by arriving at the golden

formula  to provide good reading for his readers and with

commendable literary flair.

This novel describes the struggles, travails, disappointments and

ultimate  success of a rural middle class Brahmin youth Vedantham.

By narrating his story, the author provides subtle, insightful details

of the social, cultural and economic structure of the Tamil society

during the forties of the previous century.

The Brahmin community, caught between two stools of culture

that were at variance at each other during the colonial rule. opted

for their survival by adopting the benefits of a western education

by forsaking their own cultural mores that led to their social

degradation. This is beautifully illustrated by some of the Brahmin

characters portrayed in this novel.

But Vedantham has not set forhimself very big ambitions like

achieving wealth and power to reach the top of the social hierarchy

but, he just dreams of becoming a good journalist  and get married

to his aunt’s daughter, whom he loves. The story centres around this

simple theme and within this frame, Devan introduces a panoramic

picture  of various characters representing  different cross-sections

of the Tamil society, each one distinctive in his/her own way.

Two brothers, Swamy and Singham play a very significant role

in Vedantham’s life. Both are aggressive, egoistic, unbending and

at the same with hearts of gold. They feel too proud even to accept

expressions of gratitude from their beneficiaries. Such characters

may belong to the category of vanishing species in the present

context of values, the bottom line of which assures that there cannot

be  free lunches.

Devan was at his creative best in some of his later works like

‘Rajathin Manoradham’, in which the mundane experiences of

constructing a middle class family dwelling brings into focus all

the cultural aspects of such a venture and narrated with such a

delightful humour that only Devan could.

A comprehensive study of all Devan’s works should be undertaken.

 

 

 

 

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