Sunday, 25 September 2016

Portrait of a Forester as a Fiction Writer

Tamil writer Aattanathi with his book 'Naaraai...Naaraai - Photo by A.Raja Chidhaparam

The memorable Tamil poem Naaraai... Naaraai... Sengaal a poet named 'Sathimuttra Pulavar' of the bygone era, depicts his poverty, as he requests the bird Sengaal Naarai (Pelican ibis) to carry a message to his poor wife. The bard asks the bird to inform her that it had seen him bare-bodied, shivering in a biting cold in the Pandya country one evening. The poet, who hailed from Sathi Muttram near today's Kumbakonam, came to the Pandya country to meet king Maran Vazhuthi, sing paeans on him and receive gifts from him. But, a Tamil short story titled after the song's line Naaraai... Naaraai... depicts a bird-loving pair's care for their feathered friends.

Naaraai... Naaraai..., a new short story collection, has been written by Aattanathi, a city-based retired forest ranger and Tamil fiction writer.

A short story of the same title, which is one among the thirteen in his book, narrates the story of Muthupandi and his wife Vallikannu – the bird-loving pair at the Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary in Tirunelveli district.

When I felt an urge to write a story on the passionate bird lover Muthupandi, I took a trip to Koonthakulam to meet him. As I told the bird-watcher the purpose of my visit, he was so glad and took me to the spots, where I could see hundreds of migratory birds. I followed him even to the nests on the black babul trees at the lake and was amazed to behold the eggs and chicks of different migratory birds. Muthupandi also gave me an account of how he and his wife, despite severe criticism from their kin, cared for their feathered friends. I was moved to tears when the bird-watcher informed me that his wife died after catching bird flu” says Aattanathi, who is also the author of other Tamil books, Vanam, Avala Ival and Pasumai Valayam

When there was little water in the lake, the couple spent their money everyday to buy fish for the hungry birds and nestlings. The villagers laughed at the birdwatcher's wife, when they learned that she pawned her Mangal Sutra to obtain money for buying fish to the birds. Vallikannu's fondness for the chicks is known from a scene in the short story, where she is said of kiss-feeding water to a sick nestling.

I was amazed, when Muthupandi revealed his knowledge on birds by informing me the names of numerous birds as Spotted sandpiper, White stork, Large flamingo, Blue-winged teal and so on. He also detailed me the habits of different migratory birds from different countries” avers Aattanathi, whose natural name is Dhandapani.

Nevertheless, another short story Anbin Vazhiyathu in the book throws light on his artistic skills in fiction, as he follows an innovative method of narrating the plot. The story, which begins from the capture of a 'rogue', 'marauding' elephant to its being converted into a Kumki, is told from the animal's perspective, as the elephant itself is narrating the story !

The writer, who demands justice for the pachyderm, says:

While I was working as a forest ranger, I simply took part in my duties of driving away the wild elephants into the woods. But as a writer, in an age of disturbed man-animal co-existence, I feel that I should do something for the cause of wild animals, whose forest homes are encroached by modern man ”

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

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