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K.S. Sivakumaran's columns!
Sri Lankan Thamil Literature

a rationalist of a fine order 

by K.S. Sivakumaran

A.N.KanthasamyThirty six years ago - to be exact on February14, 1968 - a leading light among  Sri Lankan intellectuals from the Thamil community passed away  leaving a remarkable legacy to the left- inclined rationalists of the next generation. He belongs to the generation of writers from Yaalpanam (Jaffna) in the calibre of the late A.S. Muruganantham, Mahakavi (R.Rudramoorthy), Naavatkuliyoor Nadarasan (K.S. Nadarajah),  and others who are with us, like S.Velupillay (Su.Vae), R.Ambikaipahan (Ambi ).Sadly though, his contribution to Lankan Thamil Literature has easily been forgotten and not highlighted by those who have attempted to write short accounts of the development of such a genre. Anthony Jeeva, a prolific writer, columnist, promoter and dramatist has faithfully recorded some of the achievements of the late ANK and the e-zine Pathivukal has compiled a brief dossier on the important contributions of this bilingual and sharp social critic. I would suggest that the readers of this column refer to these sources for authentic information on ANK. My association with ANK was very brief - from 1961 to 1968 - and was not very close as I was just then developing an interest in contemporary Thamil literature. In other words I was in the formative stage of understanding the medium and therefore not on even keel to understand him fully.However with little communication I had with him, I could see then that he was different from other Thamilian writers in Colombo at that time. As I was then totally immersed in western literature at that time and was thus being introduced to contemporary Thamil literature, noticing that ANK was fully informed of what was happening in the west, I began to admire him for his forthright views on many matters.

The late Sillayoor Selvarajan ( poet, critic, actor and versatile exponent in many fields (Pal Kalai Venthar - Master of many Arts), hi friend the late M. S. M. Iqbal ( a voracious reader and literary enthusiast ), Ramanathan and  'Rainbow'  Kanagaratnam were my friends in the early 1960s, who opened up a window for me to enjoy Thamil literature. Later I came under the influence of the late K.Kailasapathy and through him I came to know K.Sivathamby, R.Murugaiyan, Mahakavi, Pramjee Gnanasundaram, S.Ganeshalingan,  Ilankeeran (Subair) Dominic Jeeva, K.Daniel, N.K.Ragunathan, Neervai Ponnian, S.Agasthiyar, Kavaloor Rasadurai, M.Sameem, the late H.M.P.Mohideen and others who were in the vanguard of  leftist  'progressive ' thinking and writing. 

A little earlier, in the late 1950s, I had known S.Nadarajah ( Sovanna Nadarasa) nee Navaliyoor Nadarajah, Saravanamuttu ( Radio Maama), S.M. Kamaldeen, Siva Saravanabhavan (Sitpi), Kanaga Senthinathan, N.Somakanthan (Eelathu Somu ), M.Thalayasingam, S.Ponnuthurai and a few others. Thus, I should say, that I had a feeling that I could stand aside and see and learn the profitable aspects of these writers to enrich my understanding of Lankan Thamil Literature.

The reason why I stated the above is to establish a context of the period in the process of my learning through which I began to evaluate them and their work for the benefit of the uninitiated readers. Having said that, let me focus on ANK and how I saw him  as a person and writer. I am not trying to write a biography of the late talented writer, but to recollect memories of him.

In 1960, Ilankeeran edited and published a monthly literary magazine called  "Matagatham". I was  writing a series of introductory articles on western writers like Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Giovanee Verga and Jean Paul Sartre. Having read my piece on the existentialist writer Albert Camus, ANK has evinced interest in meeting me. In fact, when reviewing the first issue of 'Matagatham'  in  ' Sri Lanka' ( a publication in Thamil by the Department of Information ), he had referred to my article and said something charitable on my writing. ANK was then working as a Thamil translator in the department under Mudaliyar Kula Sabanathan ( a writer and folklore elucidator). So, one day, Sillayoor took me to the department to meet ANK. I was really a 'podian' (adolescent  not matured enough to rub shoulders with people like ANK ). As soon as I saw him first I began to like him. He was refreshingly zestful, nattily clad, well groomed with a little bump of hair ( like the Yankees or cowboys of that time), full of smiles and a 'sexy' voice( meaning musical). He greeted me as if I am an equal and encouraged me to write. That was my pleasant encounter with ANK.

When his play 'Mathamatram' (religious conversion) was staged as a  provocative play in Colombo, I wrote a review of it for the Tribune' ( edited by the late S.P.Amarasingam ) and spoke about it in the ' Arts This Week ' programme compiled by Vernon Abeysekera over the English service of the then Radio Ceylon. At that time I was working as a Thamil translator in the department of the Local Government Service Commission in Colombo. ANK visited me and discussed the 'Tribune' review. He spoke about Bertrand Russell, Ingersol, Abraham Kovoor and other rationalists and educated me. All this happened 40 years ago.

Later, we used to meet at public cultural and literary events and enjoyed stimulating conversation. I think his contribution as a novelist, poet, playwright and exponent of life's secrets, A.N.Kanthasamy spelt out an ideal of rationalism. He was a thinker and openly put forward his points of view without fear or favour. That was his strength.

Let me conclude my reminiscences with the following details about him. They are not comprehensive, but important ones. He is understood to have written nearly 60  short stories. I have not read all of them. His 'Itatha Uravu' (Blood Relationship) is understandably his best  writing in he genre. His poem in ' Noaku' (edited by the late E.Ratnam , a translator and a playwright), his novel ; Mana Kann' (The Eye of the Mind ' - a socio-psychological fiction, his play 'Matha Matram', his interpretation of a major epic in Thamil, Silapadikaram are well known works by him. Like most writers and artists sex was one of his studies. He  used pseudonyms like  Ravindran, Thirumalai Kavirayar. He had worked in many capacities and was a rounded person.

In conclusion, one must not fail to mention the care and protection Ladis Veeramani (an actor, playwright,producer and  'Villu Paatu '' practioner) and his wife provided to ANK during the last stages of his life. ANK was single  for greater part of his productive life. I hope some literary critics or university students do a research paper on A.N.Kanthasamythe rationalist 


To help readers understand the significance of A.N.Kanthasamy, I wish to highlight, belated though, the following information:

K.S.Sivakumaran'Pathivuhal ' had been consistently collating all the information possible on A.N. Kanthasamy, the indomitable literary figure of the last half a century. For instance, it is currently serializing his novel, 'Manakkan'. It also includes a remarkable poetic portrayal of ANK by another versatile writer, poet, critic, broadcaster and master of many arts, the late Sillayoor Selvarajan. In fact, on several occasions, 'Pathivukal' had been consistently spotlighting on ANK, which is welcome. Yet another piece of information is that a student from the university of Yalpanam (Jaffna) has done a research on ANK as her thesis. She is Juvana. Congratulations to her. Hopefully, 'Pathivukal' will publish this work. One other facet of A.N.Kanthasamy was that despite odds and obstacles, he  ' never said die'. He was a positive thinker as evidenced by his psychological insight in his book, ' Vettiyin Rahasiyangal ' ( The Secrets of Life ). It was a valuable opportunity given to me  by 'Pathivukal' to recollect my impressions and assessment of the indefatigable, the late A.N.Kanthasamy.

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