Neela Padmanabhan (b.1938) is a leading figure in the arena of Tamil literature, but writing in Malayalam and English too. An engineer by profession, a humanist by instinct, he has straddled the scene like a Colossus, creating novels (20), short stories (170) and poems (160) and critical essays (150) that have found warm reception from the readers. He wrested from unwilling hands recognition for the Tamil of Nanjil Nadu, a variant from the Tamil spoken in the districts of the former Madras Presidency and hence considered to be hybrid. From then on, he never looked back. His pen responded to the outpouring of a pained heart lacerated by a million wounds, troubled by a trillion aches, not necessarily his own, but of society at large. If these are not the ideal spirit of great literature, what else is!
Awards and honours (Sahitya Akademi award, Annamalai Chettiar award, Tamil Nadu Govt award, Basha Bharathi award of Central Institute of Indian languages etc) he has reaped in abundance. Maybe it is this uniqueness that had Tamil literary critic Ka Na Su write about Thalaimuraikal as one of the ‘Ten Great Novels of India’. The man who has earned such praises is none other than Neela Padmanabhan. At 75, he stands at the height of his power. His thin frame and pinched face, with a flowing beard, set with burning eyes, give him the image of a Karma yogi. In fact he is just that.
An eminent litterateur, he celebrated his 75th birth anniversary on April 26, a couple of weeks before he was honoured by Ilakkiya Chinthanai, one of the prominent Tamil literary organisations in the State, for his contribution to literature.
To encourage young writers, he instituted two awards titled ‘Neela Padmam’ and ‘Thalaimuraikal’ for best poem and short story respectively, through the Thiruvananthapuram Tamil Sangam. This year’s (2013) awards were presented to Rajeshwari for best poem and Kasi Viswalingam for best story.