Restrained, yet rich

Print edition : September 30, 2016

Ku Azhagirisamy was perhaps one of the very few modern Tamil writers who were well versed in both classical and modern Tamil literature. While his essays advocated the richness of classical Tamil, his neatly crafted stories highlighted the immense possibilities of the modern idiom. Noted for their humaneness, dignity and realism, his stories are always a delight to read. “Two different estimates” is a fine example of Ku Azhagirisamy’s literary prowess.

Set in a village in the 1940s, it deals with the settling of a loan taken by a small farmer from the local landlord. Almost the entire story is structured on conversations between the two. Two different tones—reflecting the social status of the individuals—are maintained with remarkable precision. The author successfully reverses the stereotyped perception of harshness and servitude; instead, the exchanges brim with unusual warmth and friendliness. The use of flashback—after the death of the landlord—not only lends naturalness to the story but also reveals the true nature of the protagonists. The cow, fodder, milk and buttermilk are all clever tropes that enhance the credibility of the narrative. Another challenge is that there is no antagonist in this story; hence, there is neither a conflict to resolve nor any tension to defuse. Yet, the story redeems itself by mirroring a rare kind of nobility and the ethos of an era. The last two lines of the story are masterly. The author seems to be affirming that it is human, after all, to have such doubts. As for the reader, it leaves plenty of room for introspection—in the end, the sheer grace of the magnanimous act overrides all other considerations.

The challenge of the story lay in its seeming simplicity. The writing is remarkably restrained, devoid of artifice or flourishes. The teasing tenor and the easy flow of the conversations had to be maintained. The exchanges had to reveal not only the social hierarchy but also the gentle humour that coursed through. Above all, one had to work really hard to appear effortless. Such was the artistry of this gifted writer.

Dilip Kumar and Subashree Krishnaswamy