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Vol. XXVI No. 07, July 16-31, 2016
The Tamilvanans of Chennai – Part II
There is an old adage in Tamil, Thaai ettadi paanja, kutty padinaru adi payum. Freely translated it means if the mother jumps 8 feet, the child will jump 16 feet. Brothers in arms, Lena & Ravi, the multifaceted sons of the legendary Tamil writer Tamilvanan have proved the adage right by taking the legacy of their father to greater heights, Lena as a writer and Ravi as a publisher.
When Tamilvanan had a heart attack and died at the age of only 51, Lena and Ravi had to discontinue their studies temporarily to take over the reins of the business their father had so assiduously built over 30 years. While Lena, with a Master’s degree in Tamil literature, followed the footsteps of his father as a writer, Ravi, a qualified Chartered Accountant with a sharp business acumen, took over the family‘s publishing business, Manimekalai Prasuram.
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Lena remembers that he was only 23, studying Law and already married when his father passed away. While his father was still alive he had written a few essays in Tamil which were published in Kalkandu, the magazine targeting youth, which his father edited. His father not only appreciated his writing but also rewarded him with a small honorarium. He never imagined that one day this small brush with writing would land him an editor’s job; when S.A.P. Annamalai, the founder editor of Kumudam andowner of Kalkandu magazine, would invite him to take over the editorship of Kalkandu, on his father’s death. Lena was very apprehensive about stepping into the larger than life shoes of his father, but seeing the confidence that Mr Annamalai had in him, he accepted the challenge. Though initially the circulation dropped from 1,80,00 to 1,40,000, it picked up when the readers found that Lena was ‘a chip of the old block‘ and could dish out informative and inspirational issues of Kalkandu week after week, just like his father had done for 30 years. Within four years the circulation reached 2,20,000. Lena never looked back and was to continue as the editor of Kalkandu magazine for the next 37 years, until he retired in 2014.
Lena ensured the continuity of Brand Tamilvanan, not only by wearing dark glasses like his father, but continued with the features made popular in Kalkandu by his father. He also introduced new ideas in the magazine. His one page essays on self improvement were lapped up by a whole new generation of youth.
His travelogues, based on his visits to all continents (except Antartica) not only were read with great interest by his readers but also earned him a prestigious Award from Tanjore Tamil University as the Best Travelogue writer in Tamil. The Q&A feature covering all subjects began to appear under a new title ‘Junior Answers’. He also wrote short stories and novels. ‘Meendum Sankarlal’ a series featuring the fictitious detective Sankarlal made popular by his father, was well received. When one of his well-wishers asked, ‘When do you get the mood to write?‘ he replied, “There is no question of mood. When I put the pen on paper to write, the ideas simply flow.”
Lena has been as popular asa speaker as he is a writer. His speaking assignments have taken him to all the countries where Tamils reside, winning him a legion of friends and admirers worldwide. He is also associated with the family‘s publishing business as the Chairman of the editorial board of Manimekalai Prasuram. Apart from helping in editing the books published by Manimekalai Prasuram, he also helps Ravi in choosing the books to be published.
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Ravi Tamilvanan, younger than Lena by just 15 months, is responsible for making the 60-years-old Manimekalai Prasuram one of the top Tamil publishing houses in Tamil Nadu. While his father started the publishing business only to publish his own books, better business sense has made Ravi extend the reach to other authors.
Ravi recalls an incident in his life when he was just 10. When his father one day brought home a big bottle of Quink ink (Don’t say ink, say Quink’), Ravi remarked, ‘appa, by the time you finish writing with this ink, you would have earned a lakh of rupees, no?’. His father was impressed with his son‘s business acumen and hugged him. In later years, his father would encourage him to give his views on some of the financial issues he was concerned with. He had so much confidence in Ravi’s ability to manage a business that he asked him to supervise the running of a family restaurant, located in their own complex in Anna Nagar, when the original owner handed over the restaurant to his father as settlement for some money owed. Ravi was still in college then and remembers managing the affairs of the restaurant, after returning from college every evening. Business was obviously in Ravi‘s blood. No wonder Manimekalai Prasuram has published over 10,000 titles over the years for 6000 authors. 3600 titles are still active on the sales list.
While both brothers travel abroad regularly, Ravi’s trips are strictly business trips to launch new books, organise exhibitions and sale of books. Among the hundred countries that he has visited, Sri Lanka is one of Ravi‘s favourite destinations. He is proud of the fact that he has helped Sri Lankan Tamil writers to publish over 450 books.
Manimekalai Almanac covering 95 years (1926-2020), is very popular among astrologers. Equally well known is the Directory of ‘Who’s Who’ ‘of Tamil Nadu, providing contact details of well-known people from different walks of life published by the group. Among the many awards Ravi has won from the industry, he values the honorary doctorate that he got from the Washington Tamil University the most.
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Both Lena and Ravi have inherited their father‘s qualities of charming people with their simplicity, sincerity and friendliness. They are both highly focused and work hard to achieve whatever they set out to achieve. On a visit to their home, I was amazed to see a joint, well-knit family, living in complete harmony. In thesedays when nuclear families are the norm, where even children don’t want to stay with their parents, it is heartening to see two brothers’ families living together under the same roof even after their marriages forty years ago.The contribution of their respective spouses cannot be under-estimated in this successful joint family experiment.
The brothers take the projection of unity in thought one step further. Every day, through a prior understanding, they dress in the same colour outfits, when they go out. Unlike their father who never looked after his health and died young, right from their younger days the brothers have been health freaks. In their early sixties now, both brothers have serious work-outs every morning; Lenaplays badminton and Ravi plays tennis. When someone asked Lena, “While you look very fit for your age, how is it that, your father who preached the world how to live longer died young?” Lena replied, “What my father achieved in 51 years of his life was much more than what many people achieve in 100 years.”
I am sure the brothers will achieve far more than what their father did.
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