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Ki Rajanarayanan, Tamil Writer and Sahitya Akademi Winner, Dies at 98

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Credits: Kanimozhi Twitter handle

Ki Rajanarayanan, the veteran Tamil writer and Sahitya Akademi winner popularly known as Ki Ra, died due to age-related issues at Puducherry on Monday.

He was 98.

Born on September 16, 1923, in Idaiseval, near Kovilpatti in Tamil Nadu, Rajanarayanan dropped out of school in seventh grade. In 1958, at the age of 35, he published his first short story titled Mayamaan which became a success. He moved to Puducherry, where he was appointed as professor of folklore at the Pondicherry University in 1989.

While he continued writing stories based on karisal kaadu (arid and drought-hit lands near Kovilpatti), his stories focused on their folklores, hardships, and beliefs. His most noted works include Gopalla Grammam and its sequel Gopallapurathu Makkal that talked about the people and village Gopalla.

Rajanarayanan won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1991 for Gopallapurathu Makkal. His works dealt with the migration of people in south India. Ranging from essays to novels and short stories, he had over 30 literary works to his credit.

In 2003, filmmaker Amshan Kumar directed the Tamil film Oruththi which is based on Rajanarayanan’s short story Kidai. The film was subsequently screened at the International Film Festival of India.

Speaking to Silverscreen India, writer Stalin Rajangam said, “He had a big role in democratising Tamil literature. The writing was unilateral, which focussed on certain upper communities and regions, and majorly centred around Thanjavur or Tirunelveli regions. In that backdrop, Ki Ra’s writing was the key to bring the different colours of the Tamil lands in literature. Though there were writers who tried to establish different voices, Ki Ra diluted the rigidity of one voice and brought in many.”

According to Stalin, Rajanarayanan democratised Tamil literature in terms of “language and life”. “Even an uneducated man would be able to understand his works. They were simple. Ki Ra’s success was to show simplicity in a grand way. There was depth in his writing. His works made others believe that they can also write their experiences,” he said.

Rajanarayanan was known for candidly writing on sex instead of stigmatising it.

“His style of writing was also simple and his stories would include matters that were considered taboo. He explored sexual relationships in villages and working classes, took a comical take on sex, which are very common in rural areas. Ki Ra took such elements of villages and wrote how entwined such matters were with human lives,” Stalin said.

Rajanarayanan was a follower of the Communist Party of India.

Stalin added that Rajanarayanan curated a dictionary called Karisal Vattaram Sol Agaradi, which compiled “unique words, phrases and proverbs”. The dictionary paved the way for similar ones to be made for other regions as well, he added.

“Something that no one knows is that the hit Tamil film Muthal Mariyathai (1985), is said to be inspired from a story written by Ki Ra. Though it is not completely based on his story, the film credits’ thanks Ki Ra. The film is said to be inspired from a point about the human sexual relationships in villages, that is taken from his story,” Stalin said.

Many took to social media to condole the death of the writer.

DMK MP Kanimozhi wrote that the death of the writer was a great loss to Tamil Nadu.

On Tuesday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin announced that Rajanarayanan’s last rites would be conducted with state honours. In addition, Stalin also announced that a statue of Ki Ra will be erected in Kovilpatti on behalf of the state government and the Panchayat Union Middle School at the late writer’s native place, Idaiseval, will be renovated with an auditorium that will feature Ki Ra’s pictures and works.

The late writer is survived by two sons.

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