Human traits — Devan’s forte

May 18, 2017 at 9:14 pm

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The narrative showed an inherent sense of humour, making his middle-class characters jump out of the pages

Paying tribute on the 80th birth anniversary of ‘Devan,’ veteran journalist V. Gangadhar wrote in his column in The Economic Times (The Comic Genius of Tamilnad) that ‘Devan became the ‘star’ of the magazine Ananda Vikatan producing serials. “The comic ones made readers roar with laughter, the more serious ones tugged at their heart strings. Devan’s forte was portrayal of middle class life. His heroes were ordinary men who were basically good and honest, but erred because of force of circumstances. The plots were not complicated. But then, Devan lived and wrote in an era when life itself was not very complicated,” Gangadhar went on to observe.

Tiruvidaimarudur R. Mahadevan, whose pseudonyms other than ‘Devan’ may be a dozen or more, used several names for his humorous essays and short stories, like ‘Arem,’ ‘Sambadhi,’ ‘Dasarathi,’ ‘Chinnakkannan,’ etc. But he was popular only through his serious writing under the pen name ‘Devan.’ Of course, his Thuppariyum Sambu is always remembered as his biggest contribution to humour writing. He broke the tradition of portraying the hero as handsome and intelligent as Sambu was bald with a prominent nose and a dhoti worn high above the ankle.

Resemblance in Clouseau

After ‘Sambu’ Natarajan, ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy gave his soul in presenting this character on the stage for several decades. The well-known Tamil writer Indira Parthasarathy said, “I do not know whether those Hollywood guys who produced Inspector Jaques Clouseau in 1963 could have been familiar with Sambu. When I saw Peter Sellers as Clouseau, he strongly reminded me of our own Sambu in his injured-innocent looks and other mannerisms.”

“Devan, despite being Kalki’s contemporary, was a man of the next generation. He sought to portray the world and its inhabitants in a realistic manner. He created characters, which had distinct and different characteristics. His current affairs round-up, especially his weekly reports on the World War, was comparable with the best in contemporary journalism,” wrote Ashokamitran in his article ‘Kalki and Devan’ in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine in 1997.

According to Sujatha, ‘Devan’ was one writer whom he admired most during his college days. “For the younger generation, let ‘Devan’ be an introduction. When humour writing is said to have dried up, he equalled P.G. Wodehouse in Tamil. This genre of writing would be given an important place in the history of Tamil literature. For the young writers of today, I recommend my list of Devan’s works — Sriman Sudarsanam, Mr. Vedantham, Justice Jagannathan, Chinna Kannan Kathaigal, Rajathin Manoratham, few episodes of Thuppariyum Sambu and Gomathiyin Kathalan. It is also important to remember the Mallari Rao Stories he wrote for Ananda Vikatan’s special Deepavali editions,” said the writer, a trendsetter in fiction writing himself.

While delivering his maiden Devan Memorial Lecture in 2012, under the joint auspices of the Madras Book Club, Indira Parthasarathy said: “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 and the innumerable spinster aunts are stylised, one-dimensional and static caricatures… Devan’s characters, on the other hand, evolve gradually, drawing strength from their inner potential and experiences, the best example being is what I would consider as his masterpiece — Mr. Vedantham.” Concluding his speech, Indira Parthasarathy revealed what Devan wrote once: Mr. Vedantham was a serial to cater to the hungry needs of thousands of readers belonging to the urban middle class.

“As a non-proprietary editor of a popular Tamil 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,” observed Parthasarathy.

Dr. S. Pasupathy, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Canada and a distinguished alumnus awardee of IIT, Chennai, once expressed his happiness while presiding over a Devan Memorial Day function that there are a large number of fans of the great writer among the Tamils in North America. He said that ‘Devan’s works enjoy so much popularity that poems on him have been written too. One of them was by a Professor of Mathematics and another by Ananthanarayanan, a Professor in McMaster’s University, Canada. Prof. Pasupathy himself had written a poem on the books he enjoyed reading and quite a bit of it was devoted to Devan.

Recalling an incident, Devan’s nephew ‘Annam’ Viswanathan said that when Devan was returning via Mowbrays Road, a crowd of DMK volunteers blocked his car as a party meeting was to be held.

Someone informed Anna that it was Devan’s car that was stopped. Anna told his followers, “Clear the way. Devan of Ananda Vikatan is in the car.”

In a rare handwritten letter, addressed to his close friend and Tamil writer Ta.Na. Kumaraswamy, from Djakarta on 23.4.1953 while on his five-nation tour (5 Nadugalil 60 Naal) Devan wrote: “My dear friend, I am now here for the past four days. I have already seen Borobudur and Prambaram temples over a dozen. It is all like a dream to me. Some unknown power has pulled me here and is making me see these things. The country is poor but there is plenty to eat. All are available, cost alone is prohibitive. Vegetarians are rare. I think there are half a dozen including us two from India. Men are hard working. Many names are from Sanskrit: Purvasaraka, Priya Uthama, Brahmano, Sooryano, Visnu, Hithavano, Gunadharma, etc. I met one ‘Pathanda’ and I asked him to quote a Sanskrit verse. God! What diction! — R. Mahadevan.

Professor’s testimonial

This writer could lay his hands on a certificate that Devan had from his School Headmaster N. Paramasivam on 15.12.1936, in which the HM says, “He took active part in the literary associations as well as in the scout movement.” Devan’s English Professor at Government College, Kumbakonam, M.R. Rajagopalan, in his testimonial writes thus: “He was well above the average of his class in English and was awarded a scholarship on the results of a competitive examination. He made several interesting contributions to the Kumbakonam College magazine both in English and Tamil.’

In The Hindu of October 24, 2003, T.S. Pattabhi Raman, a reader from Coimbatore, wrote in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ column: ‘Remembering Devan’: “The most striking feature of Devan’s writings is that his characters were drawn straight out of real life and as such any reader could easily identify himself with them. How many Tamil-knowing women of today have had the pleasure of reading Devan’s Parvathiyin Sankalpam? In this superb work, Parvathi, after freeing herself from the oppression of her evil husband, labours hard to become a reputed writer and blossoms into one finally. Thus, the idea of women’s emancipation got a major literary boost even as early as in the mid-1950s from the immaculate pen of Devan.’

Devan’s Gomathiyin Kathalan was made into a feature film by T.R. Ramachandran and two of his novels Mr. Vedantham and Sriman Sudarsanam were made into tele-serials by director Sridhar. All his novels, except perhaps Lakshmi Kadaksham, were staged as plays for benefit performances.

Enduring stories

May 5, 2017 happened to be the 60th death anniversary of ‘Devan’. To mark the solemn event, Devan Endowments donated funds to Annai Special School, run by a city-based Karunai Trust for special children, for naming the physio-therapy room after the writer. Charukesi recalls in this article the salient features of Devan’s writings commented upon by writers, reviewers and readers. Devan’s works are being read by his ardent Tamil-reading fans even after more than half a century of his passing away.

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