Human pysche was her canvas
Novelist R. Choodamani had the ability to get into the mind of her characters
There was a time, when women writers were very popular and proved that they could write serious novels, novellas and short stories. In turn they received awards, prizes and accolades. R. Choodamani in Tamil (Choodamani Raghavan in English) was a writer par excellence. I was an avid reader of her writings from my school days. Her novels and short stories used to appear in almost all the Tamil magazines like those of her contemporary writers — Anuthama, Lakshmi and Rajam Krishnan to name a few.
Choodamani stood out by writing mostly on the inexplicable inner feelings of the characters. Her first Kalaimagal Narayanaswami Iyer Award Novel in 1957, Manadukku Iniyaval (Sweet Heart), was a poignant tale with a cripple as its central character; she is a young girl confined to a wheel chair. This young girl is teaching the underprivileged children to keep herself engaged. However, she is frustrated when she sees them running, playing and laughing all of which are all denied to her. The anger comes through in Choodamani’s description. She is surrounded by characters that either try to comfort her or cheat her as she is wealthy. She is very rude to a poor girl, whom she insists should attend her tuition class on a cyclonic day. There is a catharsis that changes her attitude to life.
Choodamani’s exposure to outside world and life was literally through her windows and books only. Her physical infirmity confined her within home; but amazingly, that did not narrow her vision in looking at the world and fellow beings in all their true colours.
One cannot but be surprised by her foresight in her award winning play, ‘Iruvar Kandanar’ (Two Witnessed), published in Ananda Vikatan. Shantha, a young widow and her younger sister, Vyjayanthi whose marriage is about to take place, happen to witness a scene; it is another young friend at her advanced stages of pregnancy who suddenly develops labour pains. The scenario creates a deep impression on the siblings; Shantha imagines the the happy scene of the mother with the baby whereas the pain moves Vyjayanthi, who wants to offer comfort to the woman. How their visions clash and create conflicts in the family is depicted through a taut script.
Three novellas by Choodamani are still green in my memory. ‘Pinju Mukham’ (Tender Face) is the story of an extremely sophisticated and beautiful young lady. Married, she requests her artist friend (another elderly woman) to draw a child’s face from her oral description. The young lady mentions her own child that died unexpectedly. But, later when the artist friend understands that the death of the child was not unexpected but intentional gives her a shock. Is the young woman an innocent mother or a ruthless murderer?
‘Magalin Kaigal’ (The Daughters’ Hands) is a story about an affectionate and affluent father. Her two daughters, Sowmya and Mandakini, show him that love is beyond wealth and position. The narration here is beautifully done as one of the daughters is married to a rich man while the other is married to a middle-class young man, much against her father’s wish. The physical touch normally is considered to be an expression of emotions. Choodamani captures the father’s feelings when he experiences the same care and love when the daughters touch him to relieve his pain on two different occasions. Also he realises that the happiness of his two daughters is the same although they are financially far apart.
‘Mangai BA’ is a novella on a devadasi girl who wants to become an educated woman as poverty and ignorance alone push one into the oldest profession. Though her mother showers affection on her, the young daughter detests her and pursues her education with the help of a housewife, who takes classes for the students. How the girl cherishes her education and achieves her aim to graduate is the crux of the novella.
Choodamani penned several short stories almost all of them carrying some message or subtle emotions. In Anniyargal (Strangers) Sisters, who have a close bond, fall apart as time changes their attitude to life, taste and preferences. In ‘Thanimai Thalir,’ ( a girl child is left with her grandparents till she grows up because the husband feels she would be a nuisance. Years later, the parents invite her back, but the girl now aware of the reason refuses to join them.
Choodamani’s characters are not stereotyped. They are young, old, intelligent, stupid, rich, poor, educated and illiterate. The novels, skits and the novellas I have mentioned in my write-up are all from memory. In other words, I did not revisit the works. They have been so deeply embedded in my mind.
Focus on emotions
Human life revolves round emotions, thoughts, actions and reactions. Few writers have touched these as effectively as Choodamani did — through a vocabulary, which was precise but never harsh. Undoubtedly, in spite of a major health handicap, Choodamani made her life more purposeful than many who are blessed with several good things in life.
Choodamani’s pen did not stop writing till her last days. By living in the hearts of her fans, she has attained a glory, which honours and awards cannot equal. And her final act of benevolence and regard for mankind made her life even more meaningful.