Tamil writer Thoppil Mohammed Meeran passed away in Tirunelveli early this morning. He was 74 years old. Meeran was born in the village of Thengai Pattinam bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu. His family spoke Tamil at home but Meeran did his schooling in Malayalam. Despite his father’s indifference, he went to college and graduated with a B.A. in Malayalam literature. Inspired by Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer, he initially tried writing in Malayalam. Soon he realised that he was able to express his thoughts more honestly in Tamil as it was the language he spoke. Initially he would dictate in Tamil and have someone write it down for him.
Meeran’s family lived in near a graveyard called Thoppu, in his village. They were looked down upon by the elites of his village. When he started writing, he added Thoppil (from Thoppu house) to his name as a mark of rebellion. His first novel, Oru Kadalora Kiramathin Kathai (Story of A Coastal Hamlet) was first serialised in the community magazine Muslim Murasu. Meeran wasn’t connected to the Tamil literary world at that time and did not know any publishers. He therefore decided to self publish it as a novel in 1988.
Modern Tamil literature was concentrated around Madras, Thanjavur and Tirunelveli till the 1980s. Stories were set in and around these cities. The characters that populated these stories too were limited in scope. A vast majority of the real Tamil world did not find representation. It was in 1990s new voices broke out, representing the hitherto unheard segments of the society. Meeran represented one of those new voices and laid out a new path with his tales.
Oru Kadalora Kiramathin Kathai, set in a small coastal hamlet around the turn of the twentieth century, revolves around religious obscurantism and attempts at reformation among the Muslim community of that village. Till that time Tamil Muslims were not represented much in Tamil literature. Meeran’s novel came as a revelation. Centuries of dreams and despairs of a hidden community found its voice in his novel. After it was published he faced resistance from the elites of his village who were upset with how they had been portrayed in the novel.
Meeran sent his novel to the leading Tamil writers of that time and it was hailed as a new voice. Success and awards followed after that. His novel Saaivu Naarkali (Reclining Chair) is about the gradual downfall of a landed rich man’s family, again in a coastal village. Though everything around him changes, the protagonist still clings the idea of being royalty, unable to face the reality of his changed circumstances. Meeran won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1997 for this novel.
His other novels include Thuraimugam, Anju Vannam Theru, Koonan Thoppu and Kudiyettram. He has published collections of short stories. He also translated a biography of Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer from Malayalam to Tamil.
Meeran’s writing was laced with local dialect but it wasn’t only the exoticism that made him popular. His unsparing eye towards details, compassion and humanity that pervades his writing ensures that he is counted as one the important writers of 20th century Tamil literature. A rich history of coastal Tamil Nadu would have gone unrecorded if not for him. In his death, the world lost an important strand in the rich tapestry of modern Tamil literature.
Thoppil Mohammed Meeran is survived by his wife Jaleela, and sons Shameem Ahamed, Mirzad Ahamed. Last rites will be performed at 5 pm today in Pettai Rahumani Jumma Mosque in Thirunelveli.
Feature image courtesy: Thoppil Mohammed Meeran/Facebook