TAMIL NADU: A Literary Voice of the Village Falls Silent

V B Ganesan

MELANMAI Ponnusamy, a doyen among the progressive writers in Tamil Nadu and a Sahitya Akademi awardee, passed away in Chennai on October 30 after a brief illness. He was the founder of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artistes Association (TNPWAA) in the 1970s.

Hailing from Melanmarai Nadu of Virudhunagar district, Ponnusamy studied up to Class V and thereafter along with his younger brother Karikalan went to Thanjavur where the duo supplied sweetmeats to shops. After some time, they went back to their native village where they opened a grocery. He lived in the village till the fag end of his life.

He bagged numerous prizes from popular magazines and an award from the Sahitya Akademi. Ponnusamy wrote 17 novels and 20 books were published as collection of his short stories. Despite such popularity, he lived as a dedicated Communist until his death and proved everyone that it is the organisation which identifies, nurtures people like him to rise to great heights. His microscopic depiction of the valiant struggle of the downtrodden will live forever.

The South and North Chennai district committees of TNPWAA organised a memorial meeting on November 15, where eminent writers, editors, film directors and journalists paid homage to the veteran writer. Mylai Balu, senior journalist of 'Theekkathir', presided over the meeting.

India has lost a genuine literary voice from the village," veteran journalist P Sainath said about Ponnusamy. 

Kumaraguruparan, an artiste and journalist in 'Theekkathir', recalled his long association with Ponnusamy. Pon. Murthy from 'Kalki' magazine shared an anecdote that Ponnusamy once submitted a short story in a competition held by a magazine, along with a note that he would not accept any omission or change in his write-up by the editors. The story won the first prize in the competition.

Street theatre activist Pralayan paid homage to Ponnusamy, stating that he was a thorough organisational person who acknowledged that the organisation alone identified and nurtured him. He grew with it and became a pillar of the organisation.

'Nakkeeran' publisher Gopal recollected that Ponnusamy insisted that his magazine should write against the proposed four-lane highway in the country which he felt might be a death knell to villages. Gopal said that his attachment to village life was well known in the mainstream media. 

Sasikala of 'Kalai Ilakkiya Perumandram' said that Ponnusamy described the hard life of simple folks with microscopic detail. AS Elangovan, the regional head of Sahitya Akademi, recalled his simple and elegant way of describing the rural life. Film Director Sasi acknowledged that it was Ponnusamy who introduced him to the life of dalits in a powerful way.

Tamizh Magan of 'Ananda Vikatan' spoke about his association with Ponnusamy. 

Era. The. Muthu, TNPWAA joint secretary, recalled his deep affinity towards the organisation. Su. Venkatesan, TNPWAA general secretary, said that Ponnusamy taught the next generations how a writer should work within the organisation. He also said that even when the mainstream world was gaga over his writings, he was forthright in his political conviction. He was the one who brought the rural life in vivid detail into Tamil literature. His stories were prescribed as texts in many universities in Tamil Nadu. His writing was a direct reflection of village life. 

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