Category Archives: Obituaries

Tamil writer Rajam Krishnan passes away at the age of 90

I DO not fully subscribe to the view that works of fiction are all products of imagination. I, at least, internalise real life “visions”, let them play on my heartstrings and bring them out as literary compositions… I keep going in search of new arenas and new experiences.”

– Rajam Krishnan, interview in The Hindu, April 1, 2004

Tamil writer Rajam Krishnan passed away at the age of 60. Her death is reported in The Hindu, the Deccan Chronicle, the Times of India, and the New Indian Express.

Rajam Krishnan was born in 1925 in Musiri, in the state of Tamil Nadu, and was married at the age of 15 to her husband, an employee of the British colonial government. She had little formal education and appears to have been largely an autodidact.

Rajam Krishnan was known for the lucidity of her writing, and for the extensive field work that went behind it. A review by Ambai, of Krishnan’s 2002 novel Uthara Kandam says,

Turning fieldwork into fiction has been attempted by very few writers. This is because this involves travel, preparing field notes and then weaving a story around it. But there is one writer who has done this for many, many years and she is Rajam Krishnan.

Krishnan’s husband worked in the railways, and they travelled extensively for his work. She drew on these experiences for her writing- the novel Mallam Malarndandu is based on her experience of meeting Chambal valley dacoits, and Alaivaai Karayile was based on living with the fisherfolk in Tuticorin. Krishnan’s work profiled women, largely – she was deeply concerned with injustice and sexism. She also wrote about other injustices that she encountered, in the lives of common folk – prisoners awaiting trial, labourers, criminals, fisherfolk. Her works are considered to be part of the modern Indian feminist school- she wrote about the practices that militated against devadasis and on female infanticide. Krishnan was also an avowed Gandhian.

Krishnan wrote extensively – novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and some autobiographical works. Susie Tharu and K Lalitha say that the prodigiousness of her output is matched, only perhaps, by Tagore. In addition to writing, she translated novels from Malayalam to Tamil.

She has won a series of awards – the NewYork Herald Tribune International Award (1950), the Sahitya Akademi Award (1973) for the novel Verukku Neer (Water for the Roots), the Soviet Land Nehru Award (1975) for the novel Valaikkaram (Wrist with Bangles),  Kalaimagal Award (1953) and Thiru. Vi. Ka. Award (1991).

Padma Narayanan and Prema Seetharaman had a good introduction to her work (in English) in the Literary Review – the Hindu’s erstwhile literary supplement. There’s also a generous profile of her in Susie Tharu and K Lalitha’s edited volume, Women Writing in India.

At the age of 84, without legal heirs or financial support, Krishnan fell ill, so the Tamil Nadu government bought the rights to all her books. She died following a long bout of illness.

Her books are widely available in Tamil. You can aso listen to a number of recordings of her work on her Library of Congress page. She’s the subject of a PhD thesis that compares her work with Doris Lessing (by V Geetha).

Some of her novels are available in translation: When the Kurinji Blooms is available in English and Hindi, Lamps in the Whirlpool in English,

Turaga Janaki Rani passes away

Telugu writer Turaga Janaki Rani passed away on October 16, 2014, at the age of 80 years. The only English-language newspaper to report it was, of course, The Hindu – a short obituary is here.

In addition to being a well-known writer, she was also a radio artist with the All India Radio and was nicknamed “Radio Akkaya” . She won an award from them for being the best broadcasting artist in 1991 and 1992, and hosted a popular programme for children called Balanandan.

She was from a family known for writing – her grandfather was Telugu writer Gudipati Venkatachalam (known as “Chalam”) and a collection of letters between them titled “Maa Tatayya Chalam” (My Grandfather Chalam) is available for download here (in Telugu).

She was also close friends with two other noted Telugu women writers – Ramadevi, and Abburi Chaya Devi. The latter writes a little, about their childhood together, in a book called Women Writing in India, edited by Susie Tharu and K Lalita for the Feminist Press.

In an interview with Malathi Nidadovulu in 2002, she said that in addition to writing she translated works from English to Telugu as well – translations of stories by JB Priestley and O’Henry, in particular, that were published in a magazine called Telgugu Swatantra. As a translator for childrens’ books for Pratham Publications, she won an award in 2011 from the Bala Sahitya Parishat in Hyderabad.

Very few of her writings are available in English translation. I’m listing the few that I could find below.

You can also located books in the original Telugu here and here.

Poet Theresh Babu Pydi passes away

Telugu Dalit poet, Theresh Babu Pydi (known as “Pydishree”) passed away yesterday. He died of liver disease. A biography by Susie Tharu in the anthology, Steel Nibs are Sprouting, Dalit Writing from South India suggests that he adopted the pseudonym to avoid associations with his caste and religion, and so that more people would read his work. The son of a carpenter and an agricultural labourer, he was educated in a local school but worked in the fields until he was published by Telugu daily Andhra Jyoti. He then won a scholarship to work in a research centre, Amruthavani, did his masters, and worked with All India Radio as an announcer. Soon after, he returned to publishing under his own name.

I couldn’t find any of his works in English translation, but he has published several volumes of poetry in Telugu: Sharasandhanam (Aiming Arrows) in 1995; Alpapeedanam (Depression in the Ocean) in 1999; the epic poem, Hindu Mahasamudram (The Great Hindu Ocean) as a recording in 1999 and a book in 2010, and Nalugu Prapancham (Fourth World) in 2010. He was the AIR National Poet in 2007. If you understand Telugu, you can hear him recite Hindu Mahasamudram on Soundcloud. And you can find a translated excerpt of the same poem, by K Satyanarayana, in the same anthology I mentioned earlier. Additionally, a documentary he made, called ‘Me and My Wonderful World’, is available online (with English subtitles).