Acclaimed writer Balakumaran, whose works were a link between serious and populist writing in Tamil, died on Tuesday. He was 71 and is survived by two wives, a son and a daughter.
Balakumaran took pride in his writing style. He once told an interviewer from the now-defunct magazine Subamangala, “I have even surpassed T. Janakiraman when it comes to style. I will be read for another 200 years.”
He created strong women characters, probably cast in the mould of his mother, whom he adored. Balakumaran was known for portraying liberated women in his works. He had a strained relationship with his father.
“Few writers have succeeded in making men understand what lies at the bottom of the heart of women as him,” said poet Magudeswaran.
“A man cannot remain undisturbed after reading about Neela in Netti Bommaikal and Savitha in Yaathumaki Nintrai Kaali, ” said Mr. Magudeswaran. Among his numerous fans many were women who venerated him.
“He could have matched what Ashokamitran achieved in Tamil literature. But he chose to write in popular magazines and in the process his style also assumed a transformation. We can call him the layman’s Janakiraman,” said writer Kalapriya, who has worked closely with Balakumaran since the days of the magazine Kachatathapara.
Balakumaran’s first short story Vazhimayakkam, in which the hero dies of sunstroke after meeting his writer friend, was published in the magazine.
“I used to argue with him whether such a drastic end was necessary in the story. But he strongly believed that he was right. In fact he possessed a great skill when it came to approaching a storyline,” said Mr. Kalapriya.
It was Mercury Pookkal, his first novel, dealing with events revolving around a strike in a prominent industrial unit in Madras, and notable for its portrayal of a trade union leader through the character Gopalan, that established him as a great stylist. The nuanced conversations between the characters about sex, illegitimate relationship and guilt elevated the novel to the level of being one of the best works of fiction in Tamil writing. It won him the Ilakkiya Chinthanai award.
Writer Maalan recalled how Balakumaran came out with the title ‘Mercury Pookkal’ in a flash in the midst of a conversation during an autorickshaw trip from the office of late humorist Saavi on Poonamallee High Road. His writing style was intoxicating, Maalan said.
Balakumaran’s second novel Irumbu Kuthiraigal had its origin in the days he worked in TAFE, the tractor manufacturing company. Balakumaran was also actively involved in union activities. Instead of tractors, the novel depicts trucks, Maalan said. “We had made an experiment by opting for space in a popular magazine. This set off a debate on whether it was the people who were averse to serious writing or that popular magazines were denying them an opportunity to read serious writing,” said Maalan.
He recalled how Balakumaran did a good job as a reporter when he was assigned to cover the death of actor Shoba for the magazine Thisaikal.
Born in Pazhamaneri in Thanjavur district, he moved to Chennai and completed his schooling in the city. “Later he acquired stenography skills and joined TAFE,” said Maalan.
His novel Thaymumanavan was translated into a tele-serial and he directed the film Idhu Namma Aalu, starring Bhagyaraj in the lead role. “It evoked protests from the Brahmin community and he collected signatures from me and other writers to present his case before the review committee of the Censor Board,” said Maalan. He added that they moved away from each other after Balakumaran became a devotee of Ramsurat Kumar, a sanyasi in Tiruvannamalai.
He wrote the dialogues for Mani Rathnam’s award-winning film ‘Nayakan’ Shankar’s ‘Gentleman’, ‘Kaadhalan’, and ‘Jeans’. More importantly, he wrote dialogues for Rajini starrer ‘Baasha’. He worked as the associate director for ‘Punnagai Mannan’ and ‘Sindhu Bhairavi’ directed by K. Balachander.