Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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New writing in Tamil

S. Ramakrishnan
UNESCO Courier, March, 1984

The late 1960s were marked by an upsurge in Tamil creative writing. The preoccupation with ancient Tamil culture had subsided, Tamil had been made the language of school and higher education and world Tamil conferences were making the Tamil language internationally known. The new poetry movement, which has started in the early 1930s, was still finding its feet, fostered mainly by small, short-lived magazines reaching a reading public of not more than one or two thousand.

Against this background Tamil writers turned for encouragement and support to two small-circulation but influential magazines, C.S. Chelappa's Ezhuthu (founded in 1959) and Ka Na Subramaniyam's Ilakkiya Vattam (founded in 1964). These two magazines, and the writers who contributed to them, took as their model Manikkodi, a magazine founded in the mid-1930s, in which the first attempt had been made to base literature on the realities of life.

The founders of Manikkodi were visionaries. They realized the need to provide an alternative to the new popular magazines which were beginning to make their influence felt. Although they were nationalists committed to liberating the country from foreign rule, they were also alive to the need to bring Tamil consciousness into contact with the mainstream of international culture. They themselves had benefited from English education and through it from exposure to world culture.

In Manikkodi those arose a major voice, that of Pudumaipittan, who still remains a main source of the contemporary literary tradition. Pudumaipittan held that writers had purposes other than that of using literature simply as a vehicle for the propagation of certain ideologies. He declared that his stories were not intended to be a means of educating the world and that art could not be confined within a philosophy of the sustenance of life. At a time when a group of writers, such as Girija Devi, Tamamirthammal and Va Ra, were obsessed with the evils of the caste system and the need to cut across caste barriers, particularly as far as marriage was concerned, Pudumaipittan had the courage to point out in his writings the problems that could arise in intercaste marriages as a result of the partners' differing cultural backgrounds.

Almost all the progressive writers of today who subscribe to the Marxist ideology trace their lineage back to Pudumaipittan. Among the writers of the post-independence generation T.M.C. Reghunathan was one of the first to attract wide attention with his Panjum Pasiyum (1953), a novel depicting the capitalist/worker relationship. He was followed by D. Jayakanthan, a more prolific writer whose earlier stories and novels espoused the cause of the underdog.

Jayakanthan wrote about a wide range of issues: the urban middle-class, the underprivileged urban slum-dweller, women in revolt, the notions of art, the confrontation between the traditional and the modern way of life and the changes this necessitated, the notions of brahminhood, justice, aspects of sexuality, and so on. His vociferousness was infectious and he became a model for many writers.

The younger generation of leftist writers (including Poomani, Pa Jayaprakasam and Rajendra Cholan) drew their inspiration from both Pudumaipittan and Jayakanthan, but without displaying the same breadth of vision and limiting themselves to close examination of village life and the working class.

What has marked the work of progressive writers has been a common concern to make literature a tool to awaken and reunite the working classes. Basically they are propagandists and, in one sense, this trend has dominated most modern Tamil literature.

The earlier progressives were motivated by what they saw as the threat to Indian culture from English education and growing urbanization. Vedanayagam Pillai, a former district judge and a Christian whose first novel Prathapa Mudaliyan was published in 1879, declared that his work emphasized devotion to God and the obligatory social responsibilities. His contemporary Rajam Iyer felt compelled to write by the need to preserve rural traditions and the path to Bhakit (devotion), while Madhaviah, who also shared the anxiety about the survival of traditional culture, was urged to write by the status of women, ignorant and uninformed (it was the period of child-marriage and child widows), and the threat urbanization posed to the individual.

In the same vein, the succeeding generation of writers used literature as a tool for social purposes. Two good examples are Va Ra's Sundari and Bharati's unfinished novel Chandrikaiyin Karai. Both deal with the problems of widows, their position in society and their re-marriage. In 1920 Gandhi entered the arena of national politics and his philosophy began to assert its influence on many writers. In 1926 Panayappa Chettiyar first wrote about the need for national independence and in 1930 K.S. Venkataramani wrote his novel Desabhakthan Kandan which propagated Gandhian ideals regarding rural development and the place of the village in the life of the country.

During the 1930s commercial magazines began to appear, the most popular being Ananda Vikatan. It owed its success mainly to Kalki, a prolific writer and the author of Thyaga Bhumi, a novel which became an instant success due to its nationalistic message. Kalki's impact on his readers was such that more magazines began to appear thus creating a vast market for popular writing. Since the 1970s these magazines have proliferated and today they have a strong hold on the cultural life of Tamil Nadu.

The Pudumaipittan "lineage" can be traced among a certain number of writers whose works constitute a very significant contribution to the language. In a sense, Sundara Ramaswamy's J.J. Sila Kurippukal and Puliya Marathin Kadhai, and G. Nagarajan's Nalai Matrumoru Nale, and a number of his short stories, represent the realization of Pdumaipittan's objective of placing literature in the context of the harsh reality of life. These two writers have in common their lucidity, their incisive points of view, sincerity with regard to their experience and a balance between social purpose and the needs of art.

From the time of Pudumaipittan onwords, Tamil literature has drawn inspiration from a handful of writers, almost all of whom are the product of Indian culture and Indian ways of thought. Among the most important of these are Ka Na Subramaniyam and C.S. Chellappa. These two writers were the ones who sustained modern creative and critical prose and poetry in the most adverse conditions during the period 1945 to 1965, both, with equal fervour, leading the movement towards literary criticism and the new poetry through the medium of various small-circulation magazines.

Ka Na Subramaniyam's Poithevu (1943), one of the most important novels in the Tamil language, draws upon the Tamil psyche with its innate preoccupation with the God/man relationship and the philosophical quest. His short stories are uneven in quality, yet one or two of them, like Azhagi, are very important. Chellappa's Vadivasal and Jeevanamsam also find their source in the traditional world.

Mowni, whose writings were first published in Manikkodi, must be considered a major figure in Tamil literature. Mowni's world is the world of the introvert. He brought forth in his stories an intensity of feeling which is unmatched in Tamil. He was able to create this intensity--mostly centering on the themes of man/woman relationships and death--thanks to a powerful yet deceptively simple prose style.

One of the most popular yet accomplished writers in the literary sense is T. Janakiraman. He is a strange combination of traditional influences and a capacity to give a dream-like quality to the life he depicted. Like many of his predecessors he was fascinated by the man/woman relationship, but his depiction of it was a clever balance between the popular writer's oversimplification of tis intricacies and the complexity of Mowni. Born in a Tanjore village, his descriptions of the enchanting aspects of rural Tanjore, with its agricultural setting, temple culture and music, enhanced the appeal of his writing.

It was in his short stories, however, that he achieved his greatest literary success, and in this tradition a group of modern creative writers has emerged. Significant among them are Asokamithran, Vannanilavan, Vannadasan, Sa Kandasamy and Rajanarayanan. These authors are situated somewhere between Pudumaipittan and the leftist writers. With their under-stated style Asokamithran and Kandaswamy evoke the charm and elusiveness of the day-to-day life of the middle-class. They never over-react, they operate within narrow stylistic ranges, but their sensibilities are a sincere reflection of their experience.

Vannadasan and Vannanilavan have much in common. Both are post-1970 writers, they come from similar backgrounds and they are very sensitive to the physical and emotional life around them. To both, the simple joys and depreivations of ordinary people are important, though Vannadasan tends to romanticize them. He is a little dreamy-eyed in his portrayal of the eternal abiding goodness and charm of simple folk. Vannanilavan has a slightly larger canvas and is concerned with the psychological implications of situations--of human relationships, of economic situations and those arising from a sense of awe at the world.

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