An ancient door. A bunch of kids who swing on it playing ‘train journeys.’ The door is taken away by a debt collector. The girl whose family lost the door sees it in the scrapyard and hugs it.
Ki Rajanarayanan popularly knows as Ki Ra wrote one of the best short stories in Tamil based on the first two lines of the previous paragraph. It remains the most famous short story in our family. What he brought into immortal short story was, the smell of the land where the story takes place, the black soil, an arid, hot and humid place known as Karisal Kaadu (black soil), the joy of the children, their expression, their innocence and the pain of losing the favourite toy train, the door.
Ki Ra who won the sahitya academy award for literature wrote entirely about the soil and the people who eked out a living in very harsh conditions. But his stories conveyed an underlying humour as is evident from another short story – naarkali (chair). A simple storyline again, a family decides to make two chairs one for them and one for their uncle (the discussion on what wood should be used to make the chair, is one of most interesting dialogues we could ever read in a sort story) and then the trouble starts. Neighbours borrow the chair to perform final bathing rites for the deceased and wake them at all odd hours. After few moths they send the chair borrowers to their uncle’s place who after going through the same fate decides to give the chair permanently to the village for performing final rites.
Though ‘Door – கதவு’ – remains my favourite, ‘Chair – நாற்காலி’ – is perhaps more popular. I have translated both stories into English and – Chair – is the most viewed blog of your truly, read (viewed?) more than twice as much as the second most viewed blog. He had written many short stories, but these two would get into any top twenty short stories list in Tamil.
He is perhaps most known for the two novels he wrote, both happening on the same black arid land, ‘Gopalla Village (கோபல்ல கிராமம்)’ and ‘The People of Gopallapuram (கோபல்லபுரத்து மக்கள்). Two of the best classics written in Tamil. I am sure both are available in English and I strongly recommend reading both to understand why he is held in such high esteem by literature lovers of the land.
Ki Ra was born in 1923 in Idaiseval, a small village. He dropped out of school and was part of the communist movement in India before he started a career in writing when he was thirty. I could not say he wrote prolifically but produced an amazing array of short stories, novella and novels. He worked as a professor of folklore in University of Pondicherry.
Rayangala Shri Krishna Raja Narayana Perumal Ramanujam Naicker, the name, he shortened to Ki Rajanarayanan but known to his readers as Ki Ra died last week. With his passing, we have lost one of the doyens of Tamil literature.
RV has written an homage to Ki Ra in his blog Silicon Shelf. You can read it here கி.ரா. – அஞ்சலி – சிலிகான் ஷெல்ஃப் (wordpress.com).
You can read my translation of his story Kathavu (Door) here. The Door – கதவு – Ki Rajanarayanan.
And my most viewed/read blog, his story Naarkali (Chair) here. Chair – நாற்காலி – Ki Rajanarayanan.