A Jan 1955 article on the Demise of Kalki

    By N. KAILASAM, M.A.

    The last two months have witnessed the genuine grief of the entire Tamil
    people at the passing away of Kalki (Sri R. Krishnamurti who had endeared
    himself to them in many ways and was pre-eminent in the fields of
    journalism and literature. Though too near to him in point of time, I feel
    I was sufficiently remote from him in other respects to enable me to
    attempt an estimate of his position in the world of Tamil Letters.

    point of time and association, these maybe called the ‘pre-Anand a Vikatan’,
    periods might again be termed the period of preparation and apprenticeship,
    the period of great achievements, and the period of greater achievements
    and consolidation. Of these, the first was mainly taken up by his efforts
    towards popularising the constructive programme of Mahatma Gandhi in the
    South, though his literary output was not negligible.

    Kalki’s activities with the pen covered a very wide range touching almost
    every known literary form, from a mere humorous sally to a novel of immense
    dimensions. These included, among others, essays in light and serious
    veins, art and literary criticism, biography, the short story, the lyric
    and the novel, and in each one of these he excelled.

    But Kalki’s contribution to the cause of Tamil journalism and literature
    can be best understood only in the context of the circumstances that
    prevailed during his early days. When he entered the field, the periodical,
    as it is understood today, virtually had no existence. Towards the removal
    of each one of the factors that contributed to such a state–linguistic,
    psychological, political and social, he individually laboured more than any
    other. As this is untimely related to the bigger question of his
    contribution to Tamil literature, it will be dealt with at length.

    When Kalki took up the pen, literature in Tamilnad was groping its way. The
    language, as the result of a neglect and a conservatism bordering on
    orthodoxy, was in a state of languor. The English educated section of the
    people looked upon every new venture with an air of contemptuous scepticism,
    which was equalled only by the ‘jealousy’ of the pandits. The early
    pioneers, of whom Kalki was the most notable, had to demonstrate to one
    section the great though latent potentialities of the language as an
    efficient medium of thought and communion in the modern world, and at the
    same time convince the other section that the language, though possessing
    an ancient literature, great and considerable must, to be alive,
    continually breathe the fresh air of constant association with the life of
    the people and be nourished by the live language and thoughts of the masses.

    The output in Tamil prose upto the end of the last century could ill
    compare with that in other languages, or its own poetical one. Of course,
    as everywhere else, the reason was that prose suffered badly in comparison
    with poetry in respect of brevity and the possibility of easy committal to
    memory. But the predominant reason seems to have been a notion that the
    writing of prose called for* *no great gifts, or, if at all, only an
    inferior kind of gift. To get over this psychological ‘pull’, the few who
    tried their hands at prose made the style as strange and remote from life
    as poetry was in form. That is, what the piece lost in form, they hoped to
    make up in style. The result was a language stiff and formal; studied and
    artificial; hard upon the tongue and harsh upon the ear. By bringing the
    language of literature nearer the live language of the people and by giving
    it flexibility and strength, and simplicity and spontaneity, Kalki
    completed the task earlier begun by Bharati. Between them, these two great
    masters of prose and poetry, respectively, proved that there was almost
    nothing in the world of human thought and knowledge that could not be well
    and thoroughly expressed in Tamil, and what is more, in a manner
    understandable, and acceptable to all.

    The Tamil Journal owes its present stature to a great extent to the efforts
    of Kalki. Kalki did not write, but *spoke *through the printed page to the
    people. His easy way of presenting the most difficult problems of the day
    gave the people of Tamilnad a grounding in the fundamentals of politics and
    economics, which enabled them to take their proper place in the national
    movement. Kalki realised to the full the potentialities of the serial story
    in enlisting and maintaining a flow of regular subscribers; and exploiting
    this to the full, he played the Pied* *Piper with his pen, turning the
    thousands of his readers into children at his heels. Following his example,
    many young and efficient writers have come up with the result that the
    periodical has become part of* *the scheme of things in every Tamil home,
    and the two journals in the shaping of which Kalki had no mean share,
    namely, the ‘Ananda Vikatan’ and the ‘Kalki’, together with the ‘Kalai Magal’
    remain today the supreme expression of everyday life.

    Inseparable from Kalki’s work as a journalist is his career as a
    pamphleteer. Mention has already been made about Kalki’s prose style. Under
    the magic of his hold, his pen became a camera, a brush, a lute, a trumpet
    and a sword. The colours of the rainbow, the stillness of the southern
    breeze, the majesty of the mountain, the speed of the storm and the roar of
    the surf, all unfolded themselves as Kalki veiled his pen. With this in
    hand and backed by a prodigious creative vigour, he adventured into many
    lands and explored new regions, finding new delights and unearthing fresh
    ones. Vigorous in their inspiration and uncompromising in their directness,
    his editorials, when they concerned the world and the nation at large, were
    analytic and instructive and always actuated by a patriotic fervour. To
    undo many an injustice, to redress a grievance, to focus public attention
    upon a point, to raise memorials to the great dead and a score of other
    good causes, he acted as ‘the bell-ringer who was up first” and called
    others. During the three general elections, he woke up the people to a
    sense of duty and virtually led the voters to the Congress box.

    But with problems ‘domestic’ and nearer home, it was not rarely that he
    lost the objective outlook upon things, and allowed his fancy to become a
    law unto itself. With him every difference became a ground for controversy
    and every controversy tended to grow into a quarrel. The Kalki of the
    controversies is a controversial figure indeed. Whether it was the ‘Rajaji’
    question or the Tamil Isai (music) movement, the question of the film
    footage or the problem of the Travancore Tamils, the Prakasam Ministry (of
    Madras) or the Parulekar Report, he jumped into the fray with unhesitating
    zeal, the moment his sympathies got roused. Once inside, he scarcely looked
    to see where his opponent stood and continued the battle long after the
    enemy quit–defeated or disgusted. His indictments often over-shot the mark;
    for he allowed himself to be diverted from the normal literature of reason
    by the currents of passion.

    Kalki stands on ground which is his, for he was a supreme master of that
    craft by any standard. Whatever be his subject his brush moves with ease
    and sureness over the canvas. His short stories, a good number of which is
    of world class, abound in fine specimens of character study and are
    purposeful without being tediously moralising.

    Of his* *novels, ‘Kalvanin Kathali’ and ‘Parthipan Kanavu’ are perfect
    specimens of harmony and symmetry from the artistic point of view. The
    former is a tragedy drawing its material from modern middle-class life. It
    tells the story of an innocent and noble youth whom circumstances turn into*
    *a thief and his love for a village girl which does not culminate in
    marriage. Convincingly told, this story brings to our mind at his* *best,
    both in point of style and technique. This* *Hardy element can be traced in
    some of his later novels also, as a subtle undercurrent. But with Kalki
    there is a greater balance between the individual and the circumstances,
    and the unseen cruel hand of Fate does not play so crushing a role. The
    result is that they are far less pessimistic in their tone. This is only in
    keeping with Kalki’s own philosophy of life, that man can and must raise
    himself by his own efforts–a philosophy which he amply proved in his own

    In ‘Parthipan Kanavu’ Kalki makes his first entry into the field of
    historical romance. Having for its background the South India of the
    PallavaPeriod, it tells of the sense of curiosity and the craving for
    which prompted the early Tamils to cross the ocean, found empires and
    spread the Tamil art and culture in distant lands. Running through it like
    a thread is the love story of Prince Vikrama of the Chola Dynasty and
    Kunthavai, the daughter of the Pallava. Subdued in tone and delicate in
    refinement, these novels display a rare dignity that silently proclaims
    their greatness.

    ‘Alai Osai’ is a social of big proportions. Gripping though in its interest
    and abounding in dramatic situations, this story, in common with ‘Ponnivin
    Selvan’, its successor, a historical, has distinctly the ‘periodical’ label
    stamped upon it. An abundance of intricacies in* *the plot and a tendency
    on the part of the author to be carried away by the ease and swiftness of
    his invention, are the other drawbacks of these two great novels.

    ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, the last of his novels, would suggest that, due to
    considerations other than literary, the author has to abandon part of the
    original structure of his plot. The characters at first seem to be heading
    for a particular kind of climax, but in unwilling obedience to the dictates
    of their creator, appear to have built up another. An Occasionally long
    description that slightly overburdens the narrative at places, and some
    artificiality in the dialogues, especially of those of high rank, are other
    snags which this novel shares with ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham’, the author’s
    greatest and most mighty creation. These minor faults pale into nothing
    before the majesty of these two works in which the author scales lofty
    heights of imagination.

    ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham’ besides, is a novel without an end; it slowly fades
    off to the Horizon and eternity. Sivakami’s last dance at the temple of Sri
    Ekambara Natha is not merely an ‘Ananda Natanam.’ (Dance of joy) but it is ‘
    Anantham’ (endless). And as Mamalla sway wipes his tears and wends his way
    home, removing himself at each step further and further away from her in
    point of space, so we, the readers, seem to recede farther and farther in
    point of time. The words ‘Thalaivan Thall’, together with the rhythmic
    sound of Sivakami’s steps, seem to echo in the reader’s ears with slowly
    diminishing intensity.

    One feels that no study or estimate of Kalki would be complete witbout a
    reference to Scott, who first broke the ground for the historical novel.
    Both had absolute possession of the materials they were using–a complete
    knowledge of the history of the place and time. Both had admittedly a
    genius for vitalising the past. Both the authors mainly concentrated upon
    the picturesque externals, though the inner life of those periods did not
    altogether escape Kalki.

    When the history of the Tamil literature of the first part of the twentieth
    century comes to be written, three names will be found towering over the
    rest. They are those of Dr. Swaminatha Iyer, Bharati, and Kalki.
    “*Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man*” – Nobel
    laureate, Rabindranath Tagore
  • Thank you so much Vijay for sharing.

    Dear Thiru,

    pls see whether we can make some mention in our home page itself.

    rgds/ sps

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