S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Gentle Rebel

Gnani: an appreciation

By Charukesi

Gnani Sankaran, a fiery writer of gentle demeanour, passed away at Chennai on 15 January 2018. He was 64, and had been suffering from a kidney ailment.

It was exactly four years agoin February 2014that I requested writer and ideologue Gnani Sankaran to review a book of essays by the octogenarian Tamil writer Indira Parthasarathy for Tamizh Puthaka Nanbargal, a group that met once a month to review the works of living Tamil authors and interact with the author.  Gnani accepted my invitation without any hesitation.  In the course of his speech, he mentioned that in the beginning of his career as a budding journalist of a local daily, his maiden interview was with the doyen of Tamil literature, Indira Parthasarathy.  (Incidentally, in the recent Hindu Litfest 2018, Indira Parthasarathy dedicated his Lifetime Achievement Award to Gnani who had just passed away.) 

I do not remember when I met Gnani first, but at he straightaway endeared himself to me.  He was frank in his speeches and writings and did not mince words while expressing his views or opinions.  He never hurt his readers or viewers with harsh words.  This was evident in his popular column ‘O Pakkangal’ he wrote at different times for Vikatan, Kumudam and Kalki, which carried his commentary on society and politics. When he disagreed with one magazine, he continued his comments in another without any fear or favour.  That was the quality of his remarks

While he was running his own monthly ‘Dheem-Thari-Kita’, I was asked by the late Balyu of Kumudam subscribe to it, to encourage Gnani in his new venture.  I obliged immediately and enjoyed reading it month after month, until it folded up for want of financial support.   The emblem or logo of the magazine was the powerful pair of eyes of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharati with his up-twirled moustache below. Gnani zealously protected its copyright. 

Gnani’s contribution to Tamil theatre was laudable; besides running his own experimental theatre group Pariksha, he introduced Badal Sircar, Vijay Tendulkar and other eminent playwrights to the Tamil stage, besides Tamil playwrights Indira Parthasarathy, Ashokamitran and Na. Muthusamy.  Pariksha had a decent run before it folded up, and Gnani was trying to revive it before he fell ill. I came to know of his enormous interest in theatre, when he staged Tamil plays for thirty consecutive days in the mini hall of Narada Gana Sabha, when the late R Krishnaswamy of the sabha insisted on a play a day. Gnani loved challenges.

Gnani used to have a stall in the Chennai Book Fair where he conducted opinion polls on social and political themes.  He would announce the results on the concluding day of the Fair.  These were interesting probes into the minds of the public to elicit their views on important issues.

Gnani had friends in all political parties, but he had no enemies despite his frank criticism of their announcements or actions. He was respected for his sharp opinions.  He made a documentary on Periyar E.V. Ramasami Naicker for Doordarshan as he was convinced of the leader’s role in social reform.  He was a rebel in the real sense of the word but did not show off. 
At any meeting, Gnani came to your seat if he noticed you among the audience and greeted you with a warm handshake. He was so simple and cordial.  I attended a few of his popular meet-the-author ‘Keni’ meetings at his home in K.K. Nagar.  He would talk about the author matter-of-factly and leave the platform for him to reveal his thoughts. 

Despite having to undergo dialysis on alternate days, Gnani cheerfully attended most important functions in the city, never complaining of discomfort.  

Gnani was a rare kind of journalist. He would never argue, but place his points gently.  He was a regular invitee to television channel debates, where he was always brief and to the point. 

Gnani’s demise is a loss to journalism and Tamil theatre. His political comment, marked by decency and depth, will be missed.

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