One can’t judge a book by its cover and Coimbatore resident M Chandrakumar by his day job. The 53-year-old auto-rickshaw driver who moonlights as a writer is packing his bags for the Venice Film Festival to participate in the screening of a Tamil feature film based on his novel.
Auto Chandran, as he is called by locals, published “Lock Up” in 2006 that inspired director Vetrimaaran, who goes by one name, to make the movie “Visaranai” that has made it to the festival’s competition section.
“I have always been observing life which has been my teacher,” Chandran told HT over the phone.
He said it was his first-hand experience of police brutality and oppression as a young man in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district that influenced the novel, his first. Chandran and two of his friends were arrested, allegedly tortured mercilessly for 13 days and later let off.
They were picked up for no reason, Chandran said, and this spurred him to write in his book how the poor and helpless do not have a voice and protection from police atrocities across the country.
He is a Class 10 dropout, but Chandran is well versed with the ways of the world and uses his keen observation and analytical prowess to record his experiences in the form of stories he writes while waiting for passengers and during traffic jams.
“It is such a big thing; despite being just an auto-rickshaw driver, Chandran learnt to study life in all its facets and achieve an ability to present it in lucid writing for all to understand,” said local resident Su Panaiswamy.
Chandran drives his auto-rickshaw from morning till lunch, is back on duty at 3pm and works till about 9pm. This is followed by discussions with local workers and union leaders. Then it’s time for a late dinner, some studying and writing and a few hours of sleep. But he is never late for his early morning walk and yoga.
“Chandran is very disciplined and focused and we can all learn from his life,” said fellow auto driver S Anbu.
A close friend of Auto Chandran who had worked with film units gave the novel to Vetrimaaran. After reading the book, the director contacted the author for his permission to make a film based on the book, promising to give him credit.
Vetrimaaran also invited Chandran to attend the screening after the movie was picked up at the festival and the auto driver will fly off to Venice from Chennai on September 8.
“I liked the earnestness and honesty with which Chandran documented his suffering in Andhra Pradesh at the hands of police,” the director said. “This is the only work of his that I have read and would take a look at his other novels (including Boomiyai Kolaikalamaakkum America, Kovayil Jeeva and Eriyum Pattatharasi) later. For now, we are focused on Venice and I am happy the novelist is also accompanying me to the festival.”