A Bestselling Legacy

“Sujatha” Rangarajan, the most recognizable Tamil writer around today, turns seventy next Wednesday. In an evocative, nostalgic piece in Anandha Vikatan, he talks about his multifacted career and his legacy, signing off wiith the “The love of my fans is my Nobel prize” line, stung perhaps by the lack of recognition as a serious writer.

Employing a racy narrative laced with dry humor and writing in conversational, easy to understand Tamil – a mixture that quickly became his trademark – Sujatha is a prolific writer. His works span different genres: science fiction to middle class angst; classical poetry to courtroom dramas. In a culture full of home brewn creators that pride themselves on their indigeneousness, Sujatha stood out for his use of Western style rhetorical devices and literary technique. A small town boy that grew up to be an engineer, well traveled, hard working and no communist leanings: Sujatha does not fit the profile of the average Tamil writer. Continuing on the differences, he is well read – he can quote ancient Tamil poetry and Saul Bellow in the same breath – and his books are always bestsellers. He dabbled in script writing too, writing screenplays and dialogues for a few Tamil movies.

A sound knowledge of writing techniques and the ability to employ them well; a voracious literary appetite; an immense love for his craft: Notwithstanding all this, Sujatha’s works never rose above passably good. Constrained perhaps by writing in a language whose public prefers magazines and newspapers to serious fiction, Sujatha sacrificed quality for quantity: his books were interesting reads, but never great. Flitting from genre to genre, he mastered none, succeding only partly in his attempts at straddling popular fiction and serious writing.

He did not win literary awards, but he sold books. A lot of them. And that is nothing to sneer at, for not all Bellow fans can be Bellow.

Link to the Bellow tribute page at the New York Times through The Middle Stage.

7 thoughts on “A Bestselling Legacy”

  1. and one of the few Tamil writers who will respond instantly to your email critquing one of his stories :-). why should it bother, tell me, this lack of recognition from the literary world?Does it really matter all that much?

  2. It shouldn’t matter at all – if you are sure of what you want. Sujatha (I might be wrong here) seems like he craves for critical recognition – he is usually critical of bestsellers (comparing them to banana peels), and it must rankle when you are judged as a producer of something you disdain.

    Of late (from his Vikatan articles), it appears that his skin has grown thinner – almost every week he takes a dig at Tamil critics for being ready to find fault.

  3. Just last week he said something in one of The Hindu articles about ” Thank god I had the sense to keep my day job”.

    I remember being completely turned off by that – I am come on, how much more successful do you have to be commercially to be able to do that. Well, if he retired like 10 years ago, I guess that point is moot.

    Still if he really believes what he said then a part-time writer really should not wait for all those Indian equivalents of the Nobel! He should be pleased with his fan-following.

  4. I have sensed this in him too – he is never that enthusiastic about recommending writing as a profession. Maybe out of goodwill, because he has struggled a lot, or because he is not the encouraging sort.

    I think his birthday is on the 3rd of May…, and I just realized the 3rd is Tuesday, not Wednesday.

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