Sailor sails into books: KRA Narasiah

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KRA Narasiah, a prolific writer, turned his pastime – writing – into a passion. A marine engineer by profession, he took note of whatever happened when he sailed to near and far off places, which later became inspiration for his books. Here, this sailor-turned author shares his journey of sailing and writing with D Ramalingam of AABP.

KRA NarasiahKavoon Ramalingam Appala Narasiah (KRA), now in his 70s, started his life as a marine engineer. He sailed for 10 years in naval vessels (1953 to 1963). In 1960, he was deputed to world famous Harthand & Wolff in Belfast, North Ireland, to assist in the construction of INS Vikrant, the first Indian naval aircraft carrier, where he became first Indian chief of Flight Deck. Later, he joined Visakhapatinam Port as marine engineer and retired as its chief mechanical engineer in 1991. Post retirement, he was appointed by the Indian Port Association, to bring out a Compendium of Major Ports. He was also told to make a study of Kandla, Calcutta and Madras Ports for privatization, improvements in mechanical and marine engineering respectively. He was also invited by World Bank to join the emergency rehabilitation programme in Cambodia from 1994 to 1996.

Books that brought Halchal (change) in his life…

When he was sailing, his pastime was reading. However, the books of reference published by the Admiralty Publications attracted his attention. Sinking of the Bismarck and the Battle of the River Plate were two monographs that riveted his attention to story telling. “I never found such books in any Indian languages and thought if I can put my experiences in writing,” expressed Narasiah. “Similarly, the books by Nicholos Monsora on sea and sailing, especially The Cruel Sea impressed me a lot. But what really touched my heart was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea,” he added.

The writing bug…

KRA started writing for a daily that was published on board INS Vikrant. When he left the Navy and joined the Merchant Marine, the uncontrollable urge in him to write made him to attempt a short story in Tamil. “The story was inspired from real life. When I was in Cambodia, one of my co-sailors, an Indian, opened his heart over a drink and told me about his troubled family life. That formed the concept for my maiden attempt in Tamil story writing,” told Narasiah. He sent the story to Ananda Vikatan, a popular Tamil weekly, published from Madras (Chennai). After a few weeks, he received a letter from the editor that the story was not only accepted but also published as the award-winning story under the Vikatan ‘Seal Marked’ stories. Same thing happened to his second story as well and then there was no looking back. However, since he could not write much on board, he just wrote a couple of stories in a year. But as all his stories were published, he was greatly encouraged to write.

The writer gets due recognition…

It was at this time that Lakshmi Krishnamurthy, daughter of freedom fighter Satyamurthy, started a publishing house called Book Venture to publish choice books. She asked Narasiah to write the experiences of his sailing in Tamil. When published, Kadalodi (seafarer), as it was titled, became a hit and was reproduced in abridged form in Manjari, a digest in Tamil. The book was catalogued with the United States Library of Congress. So far, many editions of this book have been produced.

Narasiah’s short stories, numbering over 120, have been published in three volumes. Volume I of Tamil short stories was published in 1996-97 by Narmada Padhipagam on request from Madura College, Madurai who prescribed a few stories from it as non-detailed study for its undergraduate students. Volume II of Tamil short stories was published in 2000-01 by Alamel Mangai, a publisher from Nevedita group. It fetched two awards, one from SBI Cultural Wing and another from Tirupur Tamil Sangam. Volume III of Tamil short stories was published by Palaniappa Brothers in 2006. It also fetched the Tamil Nadu State Award.

Narasiah was also conferred with the Tamil Nadu State Awards in 2007 for a treatise in Tamil on sea trade, Kadal Vazhi Vanikam, published by Palaniappa Brothers and then again in 2008 for the book on history of Madras in Tamil, Madarasapattinam, also published by Palaniappa Brothers. This book also won the AV Meiyappan Memorial Award. As per Narasiah, “History evoked keen interest in me as I sailed with Sardar Panikkar when he was researching for his book. It was further sharpened as I was asked to join a mission of emergency rehabilitation of Cambodia in 1994 by the World Bank. Thus I spent good time in researching and penned two books, one on the history of Madras and the other on history of Madurai. I also wrote a book in English titled Maritime History of India which has also been received well.” His English writing also include chapters in the Four Hundred History of Madras and Overcoming Challenges, the story of Port of Chennai during its 125th year. He has also co-authored Madras Rediscovered with S Muthiah, who is a chronicler of Madras and is an authority on History of Madras. This book was published in the year 2008 by New Horizon Media in their ‘Oxygen books’ series.

The transformation of a marine engineer to a writer was complete, both in English and Tamil. “I won the success to my sea experience,” concluded Narasiah.

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