Tamil Literary Garden awards a 'labour of love'
Debra Black The Tamil Literary Garden project is one of a kind, the only international organization devoted to the promotion of Tamil literature and...
Think of it as the Booker Prize for Tamil literature. That's how Appadurai Muttulingam explains the Tamil Literary Garden Awards, which recognize the best and the brightest of the year's Tamil literature from around the world. The international awards, based in the GTA, are the brainchild of Muttulingam, a local and internationally acclaimed writer who left his native Sri Lanka decades ago.
The 75-year-old retired chartered accountant, who spent much of his career working for the United Nations and the World Bank, first came up with the idea of an award for Tamil literature in 2001. A The awards were a "labour of love" motivated by the desire to maintain a language that is 2,300 years old. Muttulingam, who now makes his home in Markham, was fearful, as were others, that not only the Tamil language but also its literature would fade into obscurity.
He wanted to do something to prevent that, especially since many of the best examples of Tamil literature were burned in a fire at the Jaffna Public Library in Sri Lanka in 1981.
Muttulingam and a group of four friends came up with the idea of the yearly awards to celebrate and preserve Tamil literature. The group is also responsible for publishing English translations to allow everyone can enjoy the works. The awards ceremony takes place in June in Toronto with all the glitz and glamour of the Booker and Giller prizes, Muttulingam says.
This year, the Literary Garden will honour a number of international Tamil writers, including Nanjil Nadan, whom the awards committee named its recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012. His work captures the life and culture of Nanjil Nadu � an ancient Tamil region. His win was covered by India's The Hindu.
The short list of other award winners � for poetry, fiction and non-fiction � will be announced closer to the event.A Muttulingam, a well-known writer within the Tamil community, grew up in a tiny village in northern Sri Lanka, one of seven children. There was a common well in the middle of the street, and no street names or house numbers, he recalls. But the village did have mail service. Envelopes came addressed with elaborate descriptions of where a house was located, such as by the tamarind tree or the temple. "Sometimes on the envelope, the addresses were like a story."
He eventually left his village and went to Colombo to university, where he studied science. After graduating, he went on to become a chartered accountant after hearing that those in the profession made 2,000 rupees a month. "That was 1965," he said. "I told my friend, 'I don't know what it is, but I'm doing chartered accountancy.' "
He worked at a number of businesses until, out of the blue, he received a job offer from the Sierra Leone government that changed his life. Muttulingam took the job, feeling it was time to leave Sri Lanka, with its rapidly changing political scene.
But throughout his life he harboured a love for great literature. As a teenager he became enthralled with writing after he read The Dubliners by James Joyce. "It changed my life. I didn't know there could be writing like that," he said. "I then read great literature and set out to write." Muttulingam has written 17 books over his career, but only one, Inauspicious Times, has been translated into English. He retired to the GTA � home of more than 200,000 Tamils � after working for the World Bank and the United Nations for 20 years in some of the world's hot spots, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Kenya.
Now, the Markham-based writer spends his early mornings writing, and at least two hours a day on the Tamil Literary Garden Awards and other projects, including the launch and distribution of a recently published book You Cannot Turn Away, a collection of 40 poems by Tamil poet Cheran. A He recently was honoured by Ananda Vikatan, a Tamil weekly in India, which listed him as the best short story writer of 2012 for a collection of stories entitled Kuthiraikaran.
He's currently working on a collection of short stories, in Tamil of course, about his experiences in Africa. One is a tale of a postmaster who sees himself as very rich because he has numerous cows and goats and sees being a postmaster as a side business.
The literary group has two other translation projects in the works, including the publication of Pathirruppaththu, a collection of Tamil poems 2,000 years old. It also plans to have many works of Tamil literature eventually available on the Internet. The Tamil Literary Garden project is one of a kind, the only international organization devoted to the promotion of Tamil literature and studies, Muttulingam said. It is involved in lecture series and conferences, including the Festival of South Asian Letters and Artists taking place later this spring at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre.
- Courtesy: Toronto Star