Devibharathi, a Tamil author, on his Sahitya Akademi Award-winning book

The evenings in Udayampalayam were made for storytelling. During the summer holidays, Devibharathi would spend time in the village, where his periamma, or aunt, would lay a mat on the ground and read stories to the kids. She related several of them, including the story of the married mosquito and fox and the tree whose branches sprouted clothing. The kids used to cry out in laughter over the horrible things that Periamma would make up. She did not share her narrative with them, though.

In Udayampalayam, the evenings were ideal for telling stories. Devibharathi would spend time in the village during the summer holidays, where his aunt, or periamma, would lay a mat on the ground and read stories to the children.

She told several of them, such as the tale of the tree whose branches sprouted clothes and the married bug and fox. Periamma used to make up terrible things, and the children would cry out in amusement. She did not tell them her story, however.

He says that the opinion ‘The most personal is the most creative’ (popularised by filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar speech), is not always true. “A writer’s job is to find out about lives he knows nothing of,” he says, stating examples of his political novel Natraj Maharaj and the deeply-researched Noyyal, which spans 100 years.  “Neervazhi Padooum is my only novel that can be termed somewhat personal,” he adds.

His father, uncle, aunt, and mother are the main characters in the book. “It tells the tale of the people of Udayampalayam, their struggles, their accomplishments, and their failures.The author states, “More than anything, it has a sense of virtue that some characters uphold in the end. Savithri, who is based on his real-life childhood friend, is one of his favorite characters.”

The primary protagonists in the narrative are his mother, father, aunt, and uncle.It narrates the story of the inhabitants of Udayampalayam—their hardships, successes, and setbacks.”More than anything, it has a sense of virtue that some characters uphold in the end,” the author writes. One of his favorite characters is Savithri, who is modeled after a friend from his real childhood.”

Devibharathi finds inspiration in the Kongu landscape of which he is a part. He notes, “Udayampalayam, for instance, the village where my grandfather grew up, has a dialect, culture, and tradition unique to the region,” emphasizing the need for any literary work to be rooted in the culture of the reader in order for it to be effective.

When he first started writing, Devibharathi, who was in Government service, used a sturdy typewriter at work. “I then graduated to the laptop, but I never wrote by hand,” he says, “In the end, what matters is that we write, no matter what the tool.” Devibharathi’s most productive hours as a writer are at the dead of night. “I write from 2am onwards, when the rest of the world sleeps. There is absolute silence at that hour; even the birds do not stir.”

Devibharathi dedicates the 2022 edition of Neervazhi Padooum, published by Thannaram Publications, to writer and translator N Kalyana Raman, thanking him for bringing his writing to an English-speaking audience. Harper Collins published a compilation of the author’s short stories, Farewell, Mahatma, which he translated. He continues, “The publisher is set to bring out the English translation of my novel Nizhalin Thanimai as well,” noting that the Sahitya Akademi will translate Neervazhi Padooum into 21 Indian languages in addition to English.

Devibharathi’s understanding of the human psyche can be attributed to the life he leads. “I live in a village, I see the suffering of people up close, especially women. I have seen so many of them cry alone,” he says. Does he foresee hope for humankind? “Like writer Sundara Ramaswamy said, I too believe there will come a time when every person will live in peace. It may not be the case now, but such a time will arrive.”  

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