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Just like other writers, Sa Kandasamy left behind a vast collection of books when he died.

What will happen to the books of a writer’s personal collection after his death? In most cases, they will end up in stalls that sell second-hand books, if not immediately. The heirs of the writers may not be interested in maintaining a book, which according to them occupies a lot of space. There are exceptions, but the maintenance of books is not easy. A couple of days ago, K Saravanan, son of renowned Tamil writer Sa Kandasamy, donated more than 1200 books that his father maintained till he died in 2020 to the Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL) in Chennai.

There are two reasons that led Saravanan to donate his father’s books to the library. First, the books will be useful for readers and researchers and second, the collection will remain yet another contribution of Sa Kandasamy to the literary world. Saravanan also faced challenges in maintaining the books since his father’s death. “When my father was alive, we used to take all the books from the shelves and clean each one with care. This is a practice that everyone in our family has been following since my childhood. If you don’t maintain books properly, they will get damaged soon. My mother has been doing it since my father’s death, but she has shifted to Bengaluru now. So we thought of donating them to the library,” said Saravanan.

Sa Kandasamy himself wanted to donate his books to the RMRL when he was alive. Saravanan, his son, said a van from the library even reached their house to collect the books. But writers have their moods and he changed his mind, said Saravanan.

Sa Kandasamy himself wanted to donate his books to the RMRL when he was alive. Saravanan said a van from the library even reached their house to collect the books. “I think it was in 2018. My father decided to donate his books to RMRL but a second thought changed his mind. I don’t know why, as writers always undergo such mood shifts. My dad was not an exception. I knew he wanted his books to be part of a big library so that they will be useful for the needy,” he said, citing another reason behind donating the books to the library.

K Saravanan, son of writer Sa Kandasamy, senior journalist A S Panneerselvan and Roja Muthiah Research Library director G Sundar

Like many writers, Sa Kandasamy maintained a collection of more than 1800 books. Starting from the copies of the out-of-print editions of the Sangam-era classics such as “Akananuru” and “Purananuru”, he maintained the works of most of the Tamil writers besides his favourites such as Jayakanthan and Ashokamitran.

Even though at least 1,200 books were donated to the RMRL, some 500 books and some paper clippings are left with the family. Saravanan said his mother wanted to keep those books, including the copies of all the works of Kandasamy, with her. “My father also used to maintain a fairly good collection of paper clippings. We are yet to decide on it,” said Saravanan, a leading producer of television serials.

Kandasamy (1940-2020) has written more than 15 books, which include novels, short stories and criticisms. “Visaranai Commission” won him the Sahitya Akademi award for the best Tamil novel in 1998. His documentary titled “Kaval Deivangal,” which was based on his studies on the south Indian terracotta, won the first prize at the Angino Film Festival held in Cyprus in 1989. Born in 1940 in Mayiladuthurai, Kandasamy started writing at an early age. Even though his novel “Visaranai Commission” won the Sahitya Akademi award, many believe that his first novel, “Saayavanam” is his best work. “Arumugasamiyin Adugal”, “Perum Mazhai Naatkal”, “Rambaiyum Naachiyaaryum” and “Thakkaiyin Meethu Naangu Kangal” are his other works. He died of a heart attack at a private hospital in Chennai while undergoing treatment there in 2020.

G Sundar, director of RMRL, said the personal book collection maintained by the writers is important and he was grateful to the family of Sa Kadasamy for donating the books to the library. Every writer has a character. Sundar said it would be easy for one to identify a writer through the books that he maintained. “I am yet to sort the books out. Once sorted out, we will display the books in a separate section. Each book will be entered in the catalogue as ‘Personal Collection of  Sa Kandasamy donated by Saravanan’,’’ said Sundar.

Sundar said Tamil writer Ashokamitran had donated his personal collection of paper clippings that he maintained to the RMRL two years before he died in 2017. The RMRL maintains personal collections of writers and scholars like Mu Arunachalam, Iravatham Mahadevan, Champakalakshmi, Thanjai Prakash, Milton Singer, AK Ramanujan and Dennis Hudson. The library managed to get some personal collections of Tamil scholar TKC and poet Suratha a year ago.

Acquiring the personal collection, according to Sundar, is challenging. And the most difficult one he faced was to collect the personal works of Mu Arunachalam, who wrote significant works titled “An introduction to the history of Tamil literature” and “Musical Tradition of Tamilnadu”. “Six years ago, we received more than 10,000 books from the personal collections of Mu Arunachalam. But it took more than ten years for us to convince the family to get the collection, which is today the biggest personal collection in RMRL,” he said.

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