Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 8, August 1-15, 2021
I was shocked to know about the demise of the multi-talented Pavithra Srinivasan.
Between 2002 and 2005, we interacted a lot on Ponniyin Selvan, South Indian history and music – largely over email.
I was a student in the US with unlimited access to the internet. Pavithra was pursuing her CA (if I remember right – her father was a CA) and she had no access to internet at home. She would access her email when she was at her father’s office. We were using emails as if they were inland letters. I would send her an email and would get a response (a detailed one) a few days (sometimes a week) later.
I started writing only because of the unlimited opportunity internet provided to express oneself. Pavithra was one of the few who egged me to write. I remember sending several short essays on music to her. Encouraged by her positive feedback – I even found the courage to post them on e-groups such as maraththadi and Raayar Kaapi Club. We even wrote some stories then. There was one particular story with a sad ending. She responded by writing a sequel and making it a happy ending. Unfortunately, I lost those transcripts for good when I lost my yahoo mail. (After several years of non access – I could only recover the ID – but the emails were lost for good).
She would type up portions from fictional work that were related to music and send them across. (You couldn’t click pictures with a mobile and send them across on whatsapp then. Even digital cameras were rare). I remember reading Kothamangalam Subbu’s magnificent description of Shanmugasundaram’s playing during the temple procession – thanks to Pavithra’s effort in typing it.
One fine day – a surprise package arrived in the US. It had a book neatly gift wrapped. It was Sujatha Vijayaghavan’s novel Arangam – based on Carnatic music. The book was out of print then. Pavithra had taken a photocopy of the entire book and got it hard bound. She had beautifully decorated the front page as well and signed it as ‘Madhu’. It was the name she liked to call herself as.
The novel Ponniyin Selvan had played a significant role in my life. When I had the opportunity to choose an Engineering college, I chose to go to Thanjavur – thanks to Ponniyin Selvan. When e-groups were a rage, I had started one for Ponniyin Selvan. There were several enthusiastic participants – young and old! Sometime in 2003, the e-group decided to meet up at the Marina. I was still a student in the US. Pavithra would send me a detailed account of the meeting in multiple instalments. The group also decided to embark on a ‘Ponniyin Selvan Yathirai’ – tracing the route of Vandiyathevan. This initiative drew a lot of attention and press coverage too. The group visited several places over a span of 3 or 4 days.
On return, Pavithra wrote a detailed travelogue. She had also sent me a detailed account of every person on that trip in a private email. Some of those people she had referred became close friends for life. That travelogue drew huge praise.
She had started translating Sivakamiyin Sabhadham in an e-zine named zine5. She was also contributing to Indian Express. Tamil print magazines such as Amudha Surabhi were requesting her to contribute on travel and history. Arguably, she was the celebrity writer in our group.
I graduated in 2003 and immediately came back to India. I met Pavithra a few times. Between 2003 and 2005, as part of a group, we visited several places including Pudukottai, Trichy, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam. In July 2004, our group visited Mamallapuram on a full moon day. We spent the night chatting and singing by the beach with the moon in full glow for company.
By then, a smaller group within the group, viz. Kamalakannan, Lavanya, Krupa Sankar and I had the motivation to travel almost every week. We would visit temples along with Dr. Kalaikkovan and other scholars of the Dr.Rajamanikkanar Centre for historical research. Pavithra did not have the luxury of joining the trips every week. When she would join on rare occasions, it was natural that she felt a little distanced.
In August 2004, we started varalaaru.com. We would enthusiastically write for the monthly. We would freely criticize each other’s articles. Sometime in 2005, after a trip that Pavithra had joined, she wrote a travelogue that was published in a Deepavali Malar. I found a few errors in the article and as an impulsive reaction, I called Pavithra up and shared my criticism as I would to any article that would appear in varalaaru.com. It did not occur to me that there was already a gap between us and it kept widening over the years and more importantly it was not an article that was published in varalaaru.com in which I was part of the editorial panel.
Just as I was keeping the phone down, I realised what I had done. But I just let it sail through. I now realise I should have called her back and explained.
Our interaction ended abruptly.
Many years later, in 2018, when I met the writer/artiste Sujatha Vijayaraghavan at her place, she gave me a signed copy of Arangam. A lot of warm memories with Pavithra came rushing back to me. I pinged her on Facebook and I told her that despite having a signed copy of the novel, I found the photocopy version more special.
We generally chatted catching up on our lives – just like old days. We realised that although we didn’t talk to each other, we had kept a decent track of each other. I was quite aware of her accomplishments (I am glad I could complement her on those wonderful miniatures at least once) and she had been following my pursuits as well. The following New Year, I sent her a copy of a calendar I designed and she promptly acknowledged receipt.
Little did I realise that it would be my last interaction with her.
Adieu my friend!
– Lalitha Ram
* * *
In the year 2017, there was a message on facebook from my favourite author and storyteller, wishing me for my work on west Madras. That was who Pavithra Srinivasan was – so giving and ready to appreciate and encourage someone abundantly. We planned to meet at Royapuram station (there are two miniatures based on the station), I was awestruck by the original miniatures which she had bought with her. I was so hesitant (since it would be the first exhibition of the miniatures) to ask for a display of those at the Madras Literary Society, but she graciously said yes and confirmed a date too. And her mother and she, with the support of MLS staff, put together the exhibition. The staff still talk about both of them and how they were so kind and did a special tour of the exhibits for them, apart from one exclusively for our senior members and visitors with special needs.
During one of our calls, akka (as I always referred to Pavithra) mentioned an idea for a heritage storytelling workshop which we could organise at the MLS and it happened later that month with good participation. She had made handmade return gifts for all who attended, which was her beautiful gesture to anyone who touched her life. She loved working meticulously on handmade miniature gifts and new year cards. She then came all the way to Anna Nagar for a talk by a mutual friend, after which we visited the remains of the 1968 IITIF fair – she took pictures of the entrance mural of the exhibition and it was added to her to-do miniature list. That marked the start of many visits around Madras.
Another unforgettable recent conversation with her was about the Madras mini diaries and the short stories on Madras that she worked on, and how it could actually be a game for children. We had planned a discussion for next week which alas, will never happen now. An online workshop was planned for next month too.
More than a friend, she was a sister, my goto person for anything about Ponniyin Selvan, organic farming, miniatures, board games, anything about Madras art or anything I was working on for kids which needed a fresh perspective. I will treasure what she wrote for our travelling Nam Madras logbook on why, when and how #madrasinspired her, the last line so typical of her style of writing.
In her words,
“But all shall live on in words, and art.
After all, this is history alive and well, isn’t it?”
(Pavithra Srinivasan, October 9th 2020 #madrasinspired)
– Tripurasundari Sevvel
* * *
The news of the passing away of Pavithra Srinivasan last week was not only sudden but shocking and unexpected. And flooded my mind with a wave of nostalgic memories.
From 1993 to 2013, our printing press regularly brought out a women-centric magazine called Eves Touch. As it’s editor working with only a group of freelancers, I found Pavithra to be a very dependable, reliable and dedicated freelance journalist whom I regularly approached to do cover stories, events and features, sometimes at very short notice. She always accepted assignments cheerfully and submitted them promptly with photographs and other paraphernalia well within deadlines. Her writing skills, her flair for the language, the homework she did to do a story were of high standards and her submissions always passed through the critical assessment of my Consultant Editor, S. Muthiah, who would simply toss away a piece if it didn’t meet his expectations.
In the years that I had known her, I had only met her only a half a dozen times, but the ‘connect’ between us was strong and sustained. I regularly followed her on social media as well, where she showcased her interests and talents so passionately, be it her blogs, her translation of Ponniyin Selvan and Sivakamiyin Sabadham, Jeffrey Archer or her miniature artwork. I will cherish her handmade greeting cards which she would send me for special occasions.
– Bina Raju