The noted Tamil writer and Sakithya Akademi awardee passed away on Friday at the age of 73.

To know Prapanchan is to love him In remembrance of the late celebrated writer
news Remembrance Saturday, December 22, 2018 - 11:38

Sometime in early 2000s, Muralitharan, a young journalist then working with Tamil edition of India Today (and who would later become my husband), came back from an interview, looking downcast. Ashokamitran, the noted Tamil writer he had interviewed, had casually told him how the Tamil society had ‘yet to give him his due.’ Almost impulsively, I told him, “If nobody had done it till now, we should.”

Both of us were in our early twenties, and not aware of the responsibilities that decision would entail. The task looked daunting, until Prapanchan, the celebrated writer, joined us. He was fascinated by the idea and what followed were a series of meetings at his house in Peter’s Colony, Royapettah. Prapanchan got many names involved, and set the ball rolling. The event turned out to be a huge success, with Asokamitran’s contemporaries including Sundara Ramasamy and Paul Zacharia attending it. And of course, there was Prapanchan – the man who was always open to ideas and conversations.

To us, Prapanchan, who passed away on Friday at 73 after a long battle with cancer, was more than a writer. Despite the difference in terms of age, experience and work, he never made us feel less equal. His Peter’s Colony house is where we would often land during our courtship period, a safe place that exuded warmth. The house was modest yet welcoming, and had books stacked wherever possible. We could spend hours there, reading a book or listening to him. Prapanchan loved words – both spoken and written. “Everyone has words. We have been destined to understand us through words. Or we have been condemned to. I am filled with words. Hence I love to speak,” Prapanchan would say.

In the countless hours we spent at his home in Peter’s Colony, Prapanchan would regale us with stories of all kinds – of people he had come across, of humiliations he had to face, the hardships of being a full-time writer, of history, of fellow writers and much more. Once he told us a little story about the ash-like scar on his forehead. “As a baby, when I did not cry, my parents were worried and burnt my forehead. The scar remains. But doesn’t it look good now?” he asked. Every experience was a tale he relished to tell. Every tale had a wry sense of humour. Prapanchan had the uncanny ability to laugh at himself. He was that rare human being who never compromised on the values he cherished.

From those countless hours, we learnt some best lessons of life. From those countless tales, we drew inordinate strength to face adversities that would soon follow. Prapanchan made us believe in ourselves, when he allowed us into his space. Unknowingly, he gave us the strength to face and tide over the opposition to our marriage. At Prapanchan’s place, we also had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best names in Tamil literature and sometimes, share a meal with them.  

Prapanchan had a very refined taste for life. He took great care to look impeccable and dressed his best. His life was at times difficult but when it wasn’t, he made sure his friends were involved and he celebrated it. Occasionally, Murali and I will get a call asking us to join him for a meal at the Saravana Bhavan nearby. We would later figure out that he had received some honorarium or royalty.

To every writer and film maker visiting him, Prapanchan often gifted a book and encouraged them to read. He had only one condition to anyone requesting to borrow a book from him: “Don’t bring it back,” he would say.

Almost every work of Prapanchan spoke against social atrocities and stood up for the ordinary. He was emphatic in allowing the voices of the marginalised find themselves in his works. Yet in person, Prapanchan was a very soft-spoken person who managed to touch every life that he came across in his own inimitable way.

To a friend who had visited him during his last days, Prapanchan had complained of ‘being treated like a patient,’ an idea he detested. To him, life was all about living to the fullest. He relished it like a fine drink. Even cancer couldn’t stop him from doing it.

To know someone like Prapanchan is to love him.

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