THIRUVANANTHAPURAM TAMIL SANGAM SHOWERS ITS LOVE ON VARALOTTI I was invited by Thiruvananthapuram Tamil Sangam (TTS) to deliver a talk on “Love For Fellow Human Beings In Short Stories.” TTS is organising a monthly meet called “Kathai Velai” (Story Time) to discuss the short stories of writers. Every month a writer will be chosen and some of the stories written by him will be discussed. Last month my book Visaranai (short story collection) was chosen for discussion. That was their 99<sup>th</sup> Kathai Velai. So for their 100<sup>th</sup> Kathai Velai, I was invited along with a few other, more distinguished writers to talk. I was made to sit on the dais next to Neela. Padmanabhan, a big name in the literary circles. Very recently his novel “Ilai Yuthir Kaalam” had got him the much coveted Sahithya Academy Award. I had to talk to him in whispers as we were right on the stage. A lean man in his late sixties with a white beard and an unmistakable writer’s look, Neela. Padmanabhan is without any pretensions. He gave me the liberty of calling him on the phone anytime. Well, I can write about how the meeting proceeded from one subject to the other, how the speakers spoke, how the audience responded, what was the menu.. and so on. Instead I will describe a few touching, magic and defining moments as experienced by me. 1 I started my presentation quizzing the audience about the most unique feature of Tamilnadu and Tamil culture. I helped them saying that it is the oldest culture around, Tamil being one of the oldest languages which did not lean so heavily on Sanskrit as other languages do No, I said. All wrong answers. I told them Tamilnadu might enter the Guiness Book of World Records for the devious record of being the only place on earth where it requires the force of law to make people learn their own mother tongue. The only culture where still people are actively debating whether their own mother tongue or the language of some past colonial rulers should be the medium of instruction. In Tamilnadu you can get away with accusing a man of impotency, a woman of her chastity, any one of her dishonesty. But you cannot get away with accusing a Tamilian that he did not know English. 2 It is naïve to think that the writers who write moving, touching stories are not themselves moved. When I narrated my short stories, The Promise and The Challenge (You Can’t Read This Without Crying..) at the precise moment, I could not speak. I did not want to risk an emotional breakdown. But the audience understood my silence and my tears far better than my words. 3 We were hopelessly running late on that day. We started the programme almost an hour behind the schedule. So every speaker was asked to cut down his speaking time. While my predecessor did not pay heed to this request, I promptly cut down my presentation by half. Even then I was not sure. In the last five minutes of my speech I stopped and asked the Chairman, whether I have a few more minutes. Before the Chairman could answer the audience shouted at me to go ahead and talk for whatever time I wanted to. Even a standing ovation could not have given me that kind of happiness. 4 I heard a touching story from one of the organisers. The former treasurer of the Association, in his late sixties, had read my book, Jannal and was carrying it to the market one day to be handed over to some other official of the association. But as he got into the auto-rickshaw he complained of chest pain and asked the auto driver to drive to the nearest hospital. But he passed away before the auto could reach its destination. His hands were gripping my book Jannal during the final moments of life. What did he want to tell me? What was his comments on my stories? How am I going to know? 5 We had a late, simple luch around 245 PM. Another writer friend and I drove to the museum to have a glimpse of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. I have seen enough of them. But every time I see them I am sure something is happening inside me. RV uses very dark colours which are not so clearly contrasted. But this gives a kind of clarity and beauty to the pictures. In a way painting and writing are almost the same. The art-form is the same, only the medium and the instruments are different. Good writers do not use strong words. They use very simple words but yet could convey very profound feelings. Another painting which disturbed me the most was entitled “Shyness”. It was not by Raja Ravi Varma. It was by some other artist. Sorry, I forgot the name. This was also done in very dark colours without much of contrast. A scantily clad woman standing by the side of a lamp defies the very concept of shyness by the feelings she has shown in her face. In the same room there were a few nude paintings. But they were not impressive. The softness and the mild fear shown in the womans face is highly disturbing. After we came out of the museum, I told my writer friend to wait for me and ran back to see that painting again. One has to see it to believe what I have written here.