Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 8, August 1-15, 2023
— by R.V. Rajan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
What to do post-retirement is a question that haunts some when nearing retirement age. Many take up hobbies they had no time for during their period of employment. Two ex-bankers – famously known in the Tamil literary world as the Kuvikam Twins – not only pursued their passion for writing but also established a forum to help budding and veteran Tamil writers foster their creative talents.
The Twins are Sundarrajan & Kirubanandan, ex-employees of Bank of Baroda, and old friends. Their work over the past decade to engage and reward Tamil writers has created waves in the community. Both were pursuing writing as a hobby while employed and spent much time interacting with each other over their ideas apropos Tamil literature. It was in 2013 that Sundararajan – who had actively participated in the computerization of branches of his bank and was quite tech-savvy – initiated an e-magazine dubbed Kuvikam. The name was an inspired one, for it was cleaved from the names of four popular Tamil magazines – Kumudam, Vikatan, Kalki, and Kungumam. A newly-coined Tamil word, Kuvikam brings together the concept of Focus and Gathering Together . In the beginning, the magazine contained articles written by Sundarrajan himself. Soon enough, it grew so popular among readers that writers began submitting their articles and stories for publication a few issues later.
In 2015, Kirubanandan joined hands with Sundararajan to establish a new literary platform called Kuvikkam Ilakkiyavaasal, aimed at nurturing literary interest among like-minded individuals. The platform achieved this by organizing monthly physical meetings with renowned speakers, followed by group discussions. Sundararajan says, “[The] Inspiration for this venture came from similar meetings of Ilakkiya Sinthanai, a pioneering Tamil literary forum headed by Shri Paa. Lashmanan and Ilakkiyaveedhi. It was founded by the well-known and dedicated literary stalwart Iniyavan who passed away a few months ago. The third organization that kindled the idea was Virutcham.”
Azhakiyasingar of Virutcham – who also happens to be the Kuvikam Twins’ mentor – has been involved in the Tamil literary field for over 30 years. He is well known as the Editor of the quarterly magazine Navina Virtcham. As a publisher he has brought out over a hundred books under his banner – Virutcham Veliyeedu, covering modern poetry and short stories.
The first Kuvikam Ilakkiyavaasal meeting took place in April 2015 at Srinivasa Gandhi Nilaiyam in Alwarpet. The speakers at the event were Tirupur Krishnan (Editor of the monthly Amudhasurabhi), Va Ve Subramanian (former Principal of Vivekananda College), and the poet Jayabaskaran. The session was attended by 50 people. Subsequent Kuvikam Ilakkiyavaasal meetings were held at various locations across the city until Srinivasa Gandhi Nilaiyam offered a regular slot on the 3rd Saturday of every month, where the meetings are currently held in collaboration with Ilakkia Sinthanai. In 2017, one such talk by Mr. Sreekumar on the subject Print on Demand sowed the idea of publishing books for friends. The publication wing of Kuvikam – called Kuvikam Pathippakam – into existence in July 2017. With equally tech-savvy Kirubanandan helming the initiative, Kuvikam Pathippakam offers writers the chance to realize their dreams of seeing their work published at an incredibly low cost. Once the manuscript is sent to him, Kirubanandan converts the text into book format (DTP) and also provides the cover designs required for the book. This service is provided pro bono by Kirubanandan. The writer pays only for paper and printing costs. The use of the Print on Demand facility makes the cost of publishing affordable to many aspiring authors who have taken to self-publishing their books with the help of Kuvikam Pathippakam. So far around 170 books of over 70 writers have been published. Though Kuvikam does not have a distribution network nor does it offer marketing services, a good number of copies are sold at book release functions organized by the authors or Kuvikam. The books published by Kuvikam are also sold at the Virutcham Stall at the Chennai Book Fair under a tie-up between the Kuvikam Twins and Azhagiasinger.
Kirubanandan’s flat at T. Nagar fell vacant in February 2018. It was converted into an air-conditioned space dubbed Kuvikkam Illam, which hosts a library, an audio-visual room for short films and documentaries, as well as a meeting room to conduct weekly meetings called Kuvikam Alavalaaval. This cozy venue can accommodate only around 25 people. The Sunday literary meetings held here feature group discussions, book reviews, screening of documentaries, etc. A few drama rehearsals were also held at the Illam. The same year another idea was born. A Book Exchange program was begun with the catchy slogan – Leave behind what you’ve read and take any book you’d like. So far, more than 500 books have been collected under this scheme, which takes place at the Illam as well as Virtucham Stall at Chennai Book Fair, thanks to Azhagiyasingar.
During the pandemic when physical meetings were not possible, Kuvikam switched over its weekly meetings to the Zoom platform, calling it Inaiyavazhi Alavalaaval (Internet conversations) every Sunday evening. Kuvikam became a pioneer in conducting online literary meetings in Tamil. The number of attendees has crossed 170 and still counting. The hallmark of this program is the variety. This was followed by another informative and interesting program, Mahakaviyin Mandhira Chorkal, which takes place every Wednesday. Prof Va Ve Su enlightens the audience on the literary, spiritual, and nationalistic nuances of the works of Bharathiar. The 100th episode of this very popular program was held in the first week of April and it is surely marching towards the 150 mark.
In 2021, Kuvikam began a monthly print magazine, Kuvikam Kurum Pudhinam (Kuvikam Novellas.) Each issue contains three novellas, of which two are selected through a competition process while the third is chosen by the editors from translations and abridged versions of classical works. Currently, 150 friends have subscribed to this edition. The money collected (Rs. 1,200 per annum) is being spent entirely on prizes for the top three stories and for all other works published. In May 2022, Kuvikam started a 15-minute podcast that was released every week along with the Sunday Alavalaaval. Chathurbujan, a popular writer with a golden voice, was roped in as its anchor and 60 podcasts have been released so far. All Kuvikam events – including the online Zoom meetings – are recorded and the videos are uploaded on YouTube. A huge collection of over 400 videos is available on its channel, Ilakkiyavaasal. The information in these videos can be a single source of literary information in Tamil for researchers and knowledge seekers.
July 2022 onwards Kuvikam began to identify the best story of the month among all the pieces published in leading print and web magazines. Sponsored by Mrs. Sivasankari the eminent writer, this project has been aptly named Sivasankari-Kuvikam Sirukathaith Thervu. The same year, the Prabha Rajan Talent Foundation (PRTF) also provided an opportunity to conduct a Short Story Competition. The Foundation provided the funds while Kuvikam executed the project. Over 300 entries were received for the competition. The prize distribution and the release of a short story collection titled Solakkaatu Bommai – containing 30, carefully curated tales – was held at the Tenth Anniversary of PRTF on 15th January 2023.
Starting the meetings through Zoom during the pandemic has helped Kuvikam to conduct three meetings per week, which would have been impossible in the physical format. Besides, Zoom meetings offered opportunities for Tamil writers in other parts of the world to participate in Kuvikam activities, thereby widening the reach of Kuvikam programs. These days, physical meetings are held as hybrid meetings with an online option, for the benefit of people living in various parts of the country and the world. Besides all these activities there is a Whats App group called Kuvikkam Illakia Thahaval, which offers opportunities for the Kuvikam family of 200 writers to exchange their views and also share news of their literary activities and achievements. Kirubanandan says, “Out of the 200, there is a core group of 30-50 dedicated Kuvikam friends who are very active, and others in the outer circle silently watch programs and videos. Except for Kurum Pudhinam, there are no subscriptions for anything else!” I was surprised to learn that Kirubanandan and Sundararajan find joy in meeting the expenses of running Kuvikam from their personal contributions.
Answering a question about the division of responsibilities between the two, Sundarrajan said, ”There is no watertight compartment. I look after the web Magazine, Zoom Meetings, podcasts, new ideas, and planning. Krubanandan looks after the Padhippakam, physical meetings, posters, and YouTube Channel”.
Raya Chellappa, an ex-banker and popular writer himself, has this to say about the Kuvikam Twins – “If Kuvikam is a Clock, then it has two hands: one is called Sundararajan and the other, Kirubanandan. The big hand sometimes acts as a small hand and the small hand becomes the big one. They always act in unison with military discipline. A really marvelous combo of literary acumen and technical execution!”
People are attracted to Kuvikam through word-of-mouth publicity. The initial programs like – Hear stories / Read stories, as well as the other events organised by the group, have attracted a good number of people. Kirubanandan’s presence in book exhibitions and Pathippakam (publications) also brings people closer to Kuvikam.
What the Kuvikam Twins have done in the last ten years to bring together Tamil writers and establish a forum to freely express views in person and in writing, is commendable. In fact, many popular Tamil magazines have drastically cut down on the number of short stories they publish and Kuvikam is stepping into fill the void. Kudos to the Kuvikam Twins for their devotion to Tamil literature.
Readers of MM who are interested in joining the Kuvikam group can write to ssrajan_bob.yahoo.com or email@example.com