From Shencottah, I learn that La Sa Ra passed away (nearly a week ago). After reading his blog, a search in the 31 October, 2007, Hindu Tamilnadu page got me a short note titled Tamil novelist dead:
L.S. Ramamritham, veteran Tamil novelist, died here on Tuesday, his 92nd birthday, after a brief illness.
He is survived by his wife, four sons and a daughter.
Born in 1916, Mr. Ramamritham was a native of Lalgudi and one of the writers of the ‘Manikodi’ era. He had worked in Punjab National Bank for 30 years, and settled in Chennai after retirement.
He authored 300 short stories, six novels and 10 collections of essays. ‘Putra’ and ‘Apita’ are among his notable works. A recipient of several awards and honours, he won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1989 for ‘Chintanadi,’ a collection of autobiographical essays.
I first read La Sa Ra when his Chinta Nadhi (Thought river) was serialised in Sunday edition of the Tamil daily Dinamani called Dinamani Kadir. In the literary edition of the same newspaper (I think that was called Thamizh Mani), I have also read several essays by him; I particularly remember one in which he reminisced about Manikkodi writers, in which group, he was one of the youngest: he ended that essay with the memorable sentence அவர்கள் ஸதஸ்ஸில் நான் யார்? ஒரு கோழிக்குஞ்ஞு (Who am I in that court? A mere chicken). On more than one occasion, in some conference or other, I have felt the same way, and always thought that La Sa Ra summarised all asepcts of such an awe inspiring experience in a single sentence.
La Sa Ra’s writings, irrespective of whether they were fiction or non-fiction, were full of autobiographical elements; by a similar token, his non-fiction, I always felt, carried a bit of the fictional element too. He never hesitated to write about poverty — in fact, some of the most moving pieces of his writing are those essays and short stories where he describes the humiliation of poverty.
La Sa Ra also wrote a great deal about food and music, both of which, I enjoyed a lot. Unlike the other Tamil writers I knew and read at that point, La Sa Ra did not hesitate to write a heavily Sanskritised Tamil or to introduce English words in his writing; I think that is one of the reasons why there were always complaints about the difficulty of his writing style (and, some even went to the extent of accusing him of elitism).
As I noted in these blog pages several times in the past, La Sa Ra was in some respects a Tamil Raja Rao; like Raja Rao, he was heavily influenced by the Sanskritic (and, to some extent, also Brahminic) tradition; like Raja Rao, he believed that the writing process is more akin to meditation; like Raja Rao again, he believed in the potency of the written word: if Raja Rao called it mantra, which can materialise thoughts into objects, La Sa Ra’s famous sentence was நெருப்பு என்றால் வாய் வேக வேண்டாமோ? (If you say fire, shouldn’t your mouth be baked?).
La Sa Ra is probably the last of the Tamil writers who can (and, more importantly, want to) write a four page piece (It was called ஷன்கு புஷ்்பம — Clitoria ternetea்) which is a meditation on meditation itself. He might probably be also the last writer who wrote so much about the process of writing itself. He will certainly be missed. Equally certainly, he would be remembered and read for a long time to come — and, I believe, this certainty would have pleased him.