Tamil writer KRA Narasaiah. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
K.R.A. Narasaiah, a Tamil, was born in Berhampore and speaks Telugu. He was a marine engineer who became a writer. His maiden short story was a starred one in Ananda Vikatan. Nephew of the famous writer Chitti Sundararajan, Narasaiah never imagined in his younger days that he would author celebrated books such as ‘Kadalodi,' ‘Madras Pattanam,' ‘Cambodia Ninaivugal,' ‘Aalavai' and recently ‘Lettered Dialogue' (in English).
“My inspiration is my brother, Prof. K.R. Krishnamurthy, who is an ardent admirer of Subramania Bharathi. He has also written a book, ‘Kanavil Kanda Bharathi.' He was influenced by my uncle, Chitti. At that time, I was hesitant about writing. That is why I wrote just two stories even for the hand-written magazine, Vinayaka, although I had a burning desire to write.
“While I was sailing on INS Vikrant, as a marine engineer along with 1,800 sailors, I began contributing in English to a cyclostyled magazine that was being circulated. I was a voracious reader and ‘Sinking of the Bismarck' and books on marine life fascinated me. I also loved to read Nicholas Monsarrat. When the ship arrived in (Mumbai) India in 1960, I had the chance to read Ananda Vikatan, which was introduced to me by a group of Tamil friends. It was an eye-opener. Jayakanthan was writing almost every week.
“The turning point came when I sailed on the ship, Govinda Jayanthi, in 1964. I wrote a 13-page short story and posted it to Ananda Vikatan from Rashbihari Avenue post office in Kolkata. Titled, ‘Theipirai,' it was set in Vietnam, describing the miserable life in Saigon. When I landed in Tuticorin about five weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the magazineVikatan stating that my maiden story had been accepted. It was published as ‘Muthirai Kathai.'”
There was no looking back as Narasaiah wrote about 100 short stories forVikatan and a dozen of them bore the stamp of ‘Muthirai Kathai.' He remembers one story in particular, based on a lecture by Swami Chinmayananda on the 13th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Titled ‘Athu Mudivalla,' it spoke about death not being a solution or an end.
When Lakshmi Krishnamurthi, daughter of freedom fighter S. Sathyamurthy, toyed with the idea of starting a publishing company for quality Tamil books under the brand name, Vaachagar Vattam, Narasaiah participated in the discussion and it was on Lakshmi's suggestion that he wrote on a mariner's life. ‘Kadalodi,' the title, was suggested by Chitti and he became ‘Kadalodi' Narasaiah. Incidentally, ‘Kadalodi' is catalogued in the U.S. Library of Congress. While it was condensed in the Tamil digest Manjari, SAP in ‘Arasu Badhilgal' inKumudham cited it as a significant contribution to Tamil literature.
Vaachagar Vattam was the offshoot of Velli Vattam, Friday Circle, where intellectuals met and discussed various issues. It was a curious mix of people from all walks of life, musicians, academics, industrialists, writers and artists. Kalasagaram Rajagopal, who was working for S.V. Sahasranamam as art director for his stage plays, joined the group and did the cover designs of these books. (Artist and sculptor Kalasagaram Rajagopal, passed away recently in his late 90s).
Outstanding works from Rajaji, Thi. Janakiraman, Chitti, La. Sa. Ramamirtham Sa. Kandasamy and others were published from Vaachagar Vattam.
Narasaiah recalls an incident, when Rajagopal sculpted the bust of the famous Tamil writer B.S. Ramaiah. He asked young Narasaiah who the sculpture looked like. Narasaiah retorted that Ramaiah looked exactly like the sculpture and everyone burst out laughing.
Narasaiah has met a host of popular Tamil writers such as Ku.Pa.Ra., Na. Pichamurthy, Salivahanan, Tiruloka Seetharam and Vallikannan, but his meeting with Va.Ra. was special. He met him in Chitti's AIR office, then on Montieth Road.
Narasaiah also remembers meeting Neelakanta Brahmachari, freedom fighter, on his train journey to Pune.
Narasaiah was also deeply interested in history. After being posted at the Visakhapatnam Port Trust as chief mechanical engineer, he was sailing to Maldives, Narasaiah met Sardar K.M. Paniker on the deck. He advised Narasaiah to write on theMaritime History of India. He began reading up on maritime history and when he was posted in the U.K., got the opportunity to visit the museum and utilised the leisure for gathering references.
After his retirement in August1991, Narasaiah was commissioned to prepare a compendium on the major ports of India, by the Indian Ports Association.
State Govt awards
For his books, Narasaiah has won awards from the Government of Tamil Nadu consecutively for three years, which is no mean achievement.
“I came in touch with Palaniappa Brothers, publishers, in 2002. They printed my books in Tamil and in 2006, my collection of short stories, ‘Sollonaap-peru,' won the award. The following year, it was ‘Kadal Vazhi Vanigam.' The Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department and the Fort St. George Museum were the sources for this book. In 2008, ‘Madras Pattanam' won the State Government's award for documenting the authentic history of the city.”
In 1991, Narasaiah left the National Institute of Port Management in Uthandi, Chennai, and was asked to take up the post of Director of Maritime Institute in Vanuatu Island. In the meantime, an offer from the World Bank came asking Narasaiah to join a mission to Cambodia for an Energy Rehabilitation Programme. Narasaiah was the only Asian in the five-member group that was assigned the job of rebuilding the port and dredging the River Tonlesap.
For his recent book, ‘Lettered Dialogue,' Narasaiah selected over 50 letters exchanged between writer Krithiga and Chitti out of over 500. When he met Chitti and Krithiga in 1992, they urged him to compile the letters with his commentary. In 2009, Meena Swaminathan, daughter of Krithiga, handed over all the letters to Narasaiah and requested him to bring out the book on the correspondence between the two intellectuals.
“It was a challenging task,” admits Narasaiah, “because it was very difficult to choose the letters and put together the selected portions in a readable form with comments, so that the lay reader could follow the thought process of these two stalwarts.”
Narasaiah was close to Thi. Janakiraman and Sujatha when they were in Delhi and continued to interact with them even after they left the Capital. Narasaiah regards Jayakanthan as one of his admirers and mentions that Jayakanthan had even named a character in his novel ‘Parisukku Po' as Narasaiah.
Narasaiah is currently doing research on Subramania Bharathi. Let's wait for a volume on the poet's life and literature presented in a refreshingly new angle.