While a plethora of personalities have made Coimbatore famous through their achievements, writers, especially novelists, still do not find a place in that elusive list. Ideally, the city ought to be termed the capital of Tamil pulp fiction as two of the most prolific writers in the field, Rajesh Kumar and Vimala Ramani, claim this city as their home and muse.
Together, these two writers have published over 2000 novels that have been well received among the public ranging from university vice chancellors to middleclass housewives to the annachi who sells cigarettes in bunk shops next door.
To the reader of Tamil crime thrillers (non-literary) of the 80s and 90s, writer Rajesh Kumar is a legend. His thick moustache, dark glasses and dense, curly hair have added such an enigma to the personality that it is hard to believe that he lives in modest two-storrey home in a quiet residential neighbourhood at Vadavalli churning out crime thrillers week after week.
“I have been a Coimbatorean all my life and grew up in the Flower Market area. Later, we moved to Vadavalli as it was quiet out here back then,” says the sextagenarian writer who has enthralled Tamil readers for decades.
Rajesh Kumar has written over 1500 novels, mostly crime thrillers, and yet, his pen seems to gather more vigour over time. “Even this morning, I just compeleted a series for a vernacular weekly magazine. Two more serial fiction pieces need to be completed today and sent,” he says on a cloudy afternoon when he agreed to spend a few hours with this reporter taking a break from his hectic schedule.
“I do not rewrite my copies. The story is there in my mind and it flows when I put pen to paper,” Rajesh Kumar says. Of late, he has moved from crime writing to writing more of science fiction novels. “Through my writing, I want to educate the reader about something. I believe all good writing should make the reader a little wiser atleast. Most of my readers are not intellectuals looking for meta fiction and such, but ordinary people who read for pleasure in between their hectic lives. I want to impart some knowledge of the world to them through my writing,” the veteran crime novelist says.
The inexhaustible wordsmith, most of whose novels take place in and around Coimbatore has fans and admirers cutting across barriers. Most of his protagonists live in residential neighbourhoods here and fall in love at the Botanical Garden in the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University premises, perform criminal activities int the Government College of Technology campus, and walk and talk in the streets of R.S. Puram and Sai Baba Colony. He believes that he has played a role in shifting the fiction scene from Chennai to Coimbatore.
Despite churning out novels for the last thirty years, the veteran novelists still harbours a grudge. “A small group of people sit together and decide what is literary and what is non-literary. It is unfair that for a writer who has worked so hard in life and churned out such a huge output, I have not got any recognition that I am due. But, the man on the street only reads my books and no Sahitya Academy winner. In terms of popularity, I am way ahead of the others,” Rajesh Kumar says.
If one still has a doubt about the popularity of Rajesh Kumar, here’s a little anecdote from his life: A few years ago, Rajesh Kumar received a huge bundle of documents from a police inspector in Kancheepuram. “When I called the police officer and asked what it was, the inspector told me that he was struggling to solve a murder case and hence decided to send me the case files so I could solve the crime since I was an expert at it,” Rajesh Kumar said. “I politely refused and said that in my crime stories, I know the villian even before the crime happens unlike in real life and wished him luck,” he says with a chuckle.
Vimala Ramani and her family novels
While Rajesh Kumar churns out crime and science fiction thrillers week after week to adorn pocket novel stands, septuagenarian writer Vimala Ramani who lives with her husband in their modest first floor apartment at Ram Nagar here, is a family novel specialist.
“My forte is relationships within a family and its complications. I write about human behaviour in settings that most of my readers are familiar with,” says the 75-year-old writer who has written over 600 novels and thousands of short stories focussing on family subjects.
Like Rajesh Kumar, Vimala Ramani is also a household name not just in Kovai but among Tamil magazine and weekly readers across Tamil Nadu. The housewife, who dedicates two hours in the morning everyday, to breathe life into her characters says that full time writing was never an option to her.
“When I started writing during the 1960s, there were not many women who worked. As a homemaker in a joint family, my life was already hectic. But, since I am an early riser I usually woke up in the mornings at 5 am and wrote upto 7 am. After that, my daily chores take over,” Vimala says.
For someone who writes for only two hours a day and has successfully raised a family, Ms. Ramani’s output is phenomenal as she continues to pen family-based pocket novels. “My stories are for short term engagement when you are travelling in a bus or a train. It is quick to finish and easy to digest,” she says.
When asked if the concept of family has changed over the years, the elderly lady points out that she regrets the fact that values are missing in modern day life. “But, we have to adapt to changes and my novels too have changed over time and now deal with the BPO culture and the relationshiop problems of this generation,” she says.
Besides churning out a record number of novels, both Vimala Ramani and Rajesh Kumar share one more common trait: Both hate cinema industry and want to stay away from the celluliod world. “So many film directors come and discuss my stories. A few months later, I see them in the theatre or hear about. Not once have they acknowledged me. Hence I prefer to be a novelist than a screenplay writer,” says Vimala Ramani. Rajesh Kumar says he cannot agree more.