The Devil’s Thread Twisted Slightly

The Untellable Humiliation of N.D. Rajkumar at a Sahitya Akademi Event

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N.D. Rajkumar is among the finest living Tamil poets. Navayana published a selection of his poems translated into English by Anushiya Ramaswamy, in December 2010. It is called Give Us This Day a Feast of Flesh. What follows is an account of the manner in which Rajkumar was recently humiliated a Sahitya Akademi event where he had been invited as a speaker. (Rajkumar’s account in Tamil has been translated into English by Ramaswamy.)

A list of people who have expressed concern and outrage over what happened to Rajkumar is given at the end of his statement. To read a feature on the world of Rajkumar by Navayana’s publisher S. Anand on the digital daily Scroll, click here.

On 16 November 2014, during the National Book Week, as part of the Sahitya Akademi’s Book Exhibition in Nagercoil, where I live, I was invited to speak on the topic, “My Poetry and I”. As I have great respect for the Sahitya Akademi, I accepted the invitation and attended the event. During the introductory speech, the respectable Isaac Samuel Nayagam, who teaches at the Department of Tamil, Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, introduced me thus: “In the tradition of Kannadasan, Mu. Mehta, Vairamuthu, and others, the magical poet N.D. Rajkumar would now speak before you.” He then took his seat.

I began by saying: “The respected Isaac Samuel Nayagam introduced me as being of the same tradition as KannadasanMu. Mehta and Vairamuthu [all respected Tamil poets, past and present]. I would like to humbly suggest that I do not place myself in the same literary tradition. I function in a radically different literary field. I have no opinion on their literary work. Fine. Let me now begin to speak on my topic…” Immediately, five members from the audience stood up and shouted deeply hurtful imprecations at me, humiliating and silencing me. One of the five, the advocate Radhakrishnan, president of a charitable organization named after the late chief minister Kamarajar, as well as an outfit called Sivaji Charitable Organization, stood up and made a fist at me. Pointing his finger at me in a threatening fashion, he asked whether I would be able to leave the hall safely after having ‘insulted’ Kannadasan. The others with Radhakrishnan also stood up and shouted threats, not allowing me to continue with my speech.

Feast of Flesh

I did not criticize Kannadasan or even speak about him. I merely pointed out that I did not belong to his tradition. I requested in a calm, soft voice that I be allowed to speak on the topic given to me. Yet, they kept shouting threats at me, creating such a racket that I could not speak. I turned to the organizers and asked them to provide me with the appropriate environment so I could speak. But they, ignoring the rioters, came up on the stage, grabbed me and forced me to sit down.

The short story writer Hassan, who was there in the audience, went up to one of the organizers, Muhilai Raasapandiyan, and told him that he should allow me to deliver my speech, and that it was wrong to invite an artist and then humiliate him in this fashion. But Raasapandiyan, taking no notice of the troublemakers, insisted that I take my seat. When I persisted in my demand that I would finish delivering my speech regardless, Radhakrishnan and those with him threatened me with harm.

It was shocking how the Sahitya Akademi acted: they not only refused to grant me the respect they would give a fan club president (like Radhakrishnan), they were also out to humiliate me. While all this nuisance was going on, the two writers on the stage, Lakshmi Manivannan and Nada. Sivakumar, expressed no concern on my behalf.

Manivannan, who spoke after me, began by addressing the troublemakers as his childhood friends, claiming a relationship with them by describing how he knew them from his schooldays, and then immediately transitioned into his speech by saying, “ However much N.D. Rajkumar might have his faults…” After leaving the stage, I asked Manivannan to tell me what he found to fault in me. Refusing to listen, he left claiming that he had a poetry reading to do. I felt completely humiliated and angry. In a little while, I was forced out of the hall. Already, Manivannan has been making extremely negative comments about Muslim artists, Dalit artists and feminists. Recently, the Tamilnadu Kalai-Ilakkiya Perum-mandram [the Tamilnadu Greater Organization for Arts and Literature] held a conference on the book, Caste Today. On this occasion, when I spoke about the ways [the non-brahminic] middle castes function politically against Dalits, Manivannan grabbed the mike and heckled me: “Yes, I am a Nadar; after dining in my house, you dare criticize me?” The audience froze in horror.

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Rajkumar in the film Madhubana Kadai (The Liquor Shop) for which he wrote the lyrics, acted and sang

I don’t know how to describe the actions of Nada. Sivakumar who at the end of the function, accepted from Radhakrishnan—the man who started the fracas and humiliated me—a personally given prize. His name was not even on the programme. The next day, in the Dinathanthi newspaper—incidentally run by Nadars—it was reported that Radhakrishnan gave the vote of thanks. The Tamil edition of the Hindu, on 18 November 2014, without even asking me about this terrible event, wrote a piece from the twisted point of view of Lakshmi Manivannan. Despite my being the aggrieved party, the reporter did not even bother to interview me.

My dear fellow-artists who have transcended caste and religious sentiments, if such a terrible humiliation were to befall you, I leave it to your imagination as to how you will respond.

N.D. Rajkumar

19 November 2014

We encourage those among the readers who know people at the Sahitya Akademi to ask them to issue an apology to Rajkumar, and a statement on why things turned out the way they did in Nagercoil. Here’s a list of writers, artists, intellectuals in solidarity with Rajkumar:

—Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Meena Kandasamy, Theodore Baskaran, Ivan Kostka, Sudhanva Deshpande, Umakant, Janice Pariat, Anand Patwardhan, Kalpana Kannabiran, K. Satchidanandan, Dr Manisha Bangar, Nathaniel Roberts, Manisha Sethi, Oishik Sircar, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Gitanjali Kolanad, Rupa Viswanath, Nilanjana Roy, Kiran Kamal Prasad, Arjun Choudhuri, Devaki Khanna, Omair Ahmed, Subhash Gatade, Sunalini Kumar, Chaman Lal, Malathi Raghavan, Amita Kanekar, Melvin Durai

(Those wishing to add their names to this list may drop a mail to anand AT navayana.org)


Comments:

  • bhasha singh says:

    its shameful. it should be condemned. it is happening across the country and it is deeply linked with rise of rightwing growth

  • Rajni Kant Mudgal says:

    I am really shocked to read such a great humiliation of Rajkumar that too when he was invited to speak by Sahitya Akademi. Immediate action should be taken against Secretary of Sahitya Akademi. Not only this, both the newspapers should publish apology to Rajkumar. If these newspapers do not publish apology, it is fit case to complaint to Press Council of India.

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