This anthology features some of the best-known contemporary Tamil writers from the last four decades. The themes span a wide range of topics looking at different aspects of human personalities, faced with everyday life. Relationships form the underlying basis of almost every story. Some of the story plots are developed within the realms of traditional relationships -- those between man and woman, the woman and her mother or her mother-in-law. But even then, the stories bring out the nuances of power struggles in these exchanges, in very distinctive styles. The impenetrable clout of a woman over her daughter-in-law's life is manifested by her control over the latter's choice of voting symbols, parrot vs. the cat, in The Daughter-in-law's Vote. Similarly, a woman's freedom over the physical and psychological space in her household, as perceived by her daughter, manifests in her relationship with a plastic box where she keeps idols of Gods in Ambai's story The Plastic God-Box. R. Chudamani's Daktaramma's Room, Jayanthan's The Bonds of the Day and R. Rajendrasolan's Crooked Shapes are some examples of stories centered on man-woman relationships. They bring out the insensitivity, the cruelty and yet subtle bonds of inter-dependence between the sexes.
Prapanchan's story The Neighbour and Sundara Ramaswamy's Temple Bull, Plough Ox bring forth the nuances of relationships between unrelated individuals. The close friendship and trust between two women who are "neighbours" is stained when one of them perceive a threat to her marriage from the other. On the other hand, Temple Bull, Plough Ox builds up the bonding between two men, through the admiration that one man, with lack of enterprise, develops over time for the other enterprising old man. The interactions between the elderly and the youth in the society are described in two stories The Escort and The Solution. In both, the authors subtly celebrate old age, for its tenacity in Thi Janakiraman's The Escort and simple down to earth wisdom in Dilip Kumar's The Solution.
Some of the stories reinforce how humans are in a constant relationship with their surroundings. The fight between a man and a rat that he is set to capture, is both physical and psychological in Ashokamitran's story The Rat. While the former wins the physical battle, the rat gets his moral victory over his captor. Sometimes the relationships are with objects that occupy a central space in one's life. The child-like enthusiasm of a family that has a new chair in the house, their helplessness stemming from the lack of control on the use of the chair, and the tricks they play to protect this inanimate possession makes a delightful read in The Chair. Sometimes these interactions are deep rooted within human imagination. A young prostitute interacts with a handsome man with the hope that he will deliver her from her life. Without an obvious hint, the writer suggests that she may be deliberating this interaction with death that assumes the form of an attractive man in G. Nagarajan's story The Man in the Terylene Shirt.
Every story is marked by astute observations of the subjects and the surroundings, without betraying any obvious moral judgment on behalf of the writers. Stories such as Sujatha's City and Gopikrishnan's A Place to Live, based in the city are characterized by the humdrum of urban existence and the impersonal transactions of city dwellers. Those stories with a village setting portray a gradual breakdown of economic self-sufficiency. A Brahmin man addicted to his caste-based taste, struggling to procure a cup of coffee in A Cup of Coffee, or a man torn between family pride and the pangs of hunger in The Real Self symbolize the decay of affluence in the villages. Konangi's story, The Gloom Train and Vannadasan's The Chariot comes to Rest are stories on child labor written with a deliberate impersonal tone to depict the erosion of a society's sensitivity.
This collection of twenty nine short stories translated from Tamil is an interesting read for those who wish to understand the deeper characteristics of the Indian society, especially the poorer sections of the society. In other words, it is not a book that portrays the apparent color and vibrancy that in the recent years have been associated with an international perception of India. In contrast most of the stories in this collection hint of the pathos associated with the lives of common people. All the writers wrote in the Tamil for the masses. The importance of relatively insignificant incidents that mark life in a poor society, their distinct value systems and traditions, represent a larger section of India, and are found more in vernacular writings. The translations by Vasantha Surya retain this flavor by using words from common dialects and even retaining the structure of the sentences, as they would be if spoken in Tamil. In my opinion, these make the book a more compelling read.
Book Description: Innumerable strands of ethnic, regional and universal experiences are woven together in this collection of fine short fiction spanning four decades-1960_1990-in which the short story emerged as the definitive genre of modern Tamil literature. Twenty-nine famous names are represented here-from Rajanarayanan to Paavannan and many others who have encapsulated the joys, sorrows and peculiar challenges of life in Tamil Nadu.
Translated by Dilip Kumar, whose mother tongue is Gujarati, a well-known short story writer in Tamil with several awards to his credit. He has published two collections of short stories (Moongil Kuruthu, Cre-A, Chennai, 1985, and Kaduvu, Cre-A, Chennai, 2000) and a critical work on Mauni-a pioneer of Tamil short stories (Mouniyudan Koncha Thooram, Vanadhi Pathipagam, Chennai, 1992). He lives in Chennai and runs a small literary bookshop.
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