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Vol. XXX No. 8, August 16-31, 2020

An Eminent Son of Pondicherry

by P. Raja*

Sometime in the evening of July 06, 2020, a local daily called me over phone and requested me to help them with the literary details of Mannar Mannan. As a historian of Pondicherry I have in my files all the relevant details of every local writer, both living and dead. I flipped open the relevant file and informed them of the dozen prestigious awards he had received and the fifty one books he had authored. Amazing indeed was his literary output. “Is he nominated for a new award?” I asked the lady at the other end. Her reply was heart breaking. Mannar Mannan passed away at 2:40 in the afternoon.

Mannar Mannan.

A popular writer and an excellent orator he was quite often seen in the literary arena, either at a book launch or to speak about the unknown aspects of his renowned father, Bharathidasan, himself an eminent poet and dramatist, and an ardent admirer of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati. Born as Gopathi, he chose to be known as Mannar Mannan, a Tamilization of his Sanskrit name. Having participated approximately in 10,000 programmes he was not seen on any stage for more than three years. Old age began telling on him and he was ailing. He was 92 when he took off.

Mannar Mannan with his father.

A poet, fictionist and radio dramatist, his essays alone have crossed 1,400 in number. As a son of this divine soil and as a lover of his native town Pondicherry, he has written extensively on its literature and culture, and also about its eminent men and women. But what actually shot him to fame was his monumental biography of Bharathidasan – Karuppuk kuyilin Neruppuk Kural.

Incarcerated for 49 days for rigorously participating in the anti-Hindi agitation, he narrowly escaped death when he supported the ideals of Periyar and began a movement in Pondicherry. And when All India Radio started its branch station in Pondicherry in 1968, he joined it only to make use of it to spread his message wider. It was here he brought several revolutionary changes. At a time when only popular figures were invited to perform, he fought for the rights of the local writers and artistes who were yet to make a name. He magnanimously donated his palatial ancestral home in Perumal Koil Street to be made into a government museum in honour of his father, and preferred to live in a rented house.

Saddened by the death of his beloved wife, Savitri, in 1982 he spent all his leisure hours in making his father’s museum a centre for research. Several researchers working on the oeuvres of Bharathidasan find it fruitful to consult these archives. After his retirement in 1988, Pondicherry University honoured him with the post of consulting radio journalist and he guided many illustrious students, who are making their mark today in various broadcasting centres.

He spearheaded the movement to change the name Pondicherry into its ancient name Puducherry and succeeded in it. He was also instrumental in instituting Kalaimamani and Tamilmamani awards in Puducherry. To cap them all he made all efforts to establish a Tamil Sangam in Puducherry and when he was made secretary, did his best to ensure that it had a place of its own. In short he played a major role in encouraging local writers in all possible ways.

I still distinctly remember the day I met him in Pondicherry AIR station. That was in July 1978 when I was making a mark as a creative writer in English and on assignment, and that was my first one, I went to present my short story. When I was not sure of whom I should meet, Mannar Mannan came to my rescue. When he asked the purpose of my visit and I told him the reason, his face lit up and he said: “Surprising! We used to invite writers from Chennai for all our English programmes. I am glad to see a local writer writing in English and that too short stories”.

(The writer is a bi-lingual fictionist and historian of Puducherry.

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