When I was growing up, a certain kind of books were widely popular among the typist akkas who worked in the small tea companies in my neighbourhood. They would always have a slim book with a large eyed woman on the cover next to their typewriters. These books were traded back and forth and at some point, the women on the covers would have been embellished with ballpoint pen bindis, additional tendrills of hair and sometimes moustaches or blackened teeth. Ay Naaval Time. There was something in these books. Something. So I left my brains behind and read this translated anthology. And oh, it was one crazy ride.
The Women: ( Except for the ones in the two sensible Vidya Subramaniam stories)
a) Good ‘family’ women never cut their hair, not even split ends. They get terribly disturbed when they see PDA and the degradation of Indian/ Tamil culture. ‘Modern’ women go to beauty parlours, cut their hair, wear ‘chudithars’, gossip about film stars and some even try to seduce their bosses.
b) When the clue to a murder is a cigarette butt, Tamil women can be eliminated as suspects because they will never even be in a room where there is a cigarette, let alone smoke. ( But on the other side there are also college girls who do drugs and sleep around)
c) They silently bear their husbands’ insults and make cashew pakodas for them
d) There are also ‘free type’ women, the detective’s sidekicks, who wear shorts and T-shirts with words like ‘Swelling yours’ (ewwwww) written on them. They talk about Debonair and take sleazy innuendos in their stride.
Science Fiction : Idhaya 2020 made me wonder which came first Endhiran or Rajesh Kumar’s robot. And there were Fate Life Readers. But by the time I read the story with NASA astronauts planning conception in outer space, my mind was blown.
The Detective stories : Take a bow Sherlock Holmes. Murders solved from carefully written diary entries, torn magazine covers, beedi butts under the bed and jasmine scented hankerchieves, again, conveniently dropped under the bed. But I must cut them some slack since one of these stories was written in 1967.
Words : Most of the words and expressions were explained for non-Tamil readers in the glossary at the end of the book. So you need not wonder what a ragalai or kuja is. But this one word, one that I would love to use in a real life conversation someday, wasn’t explained: Jagadalapradhapan. I’ve been rolling it around on my tongue ever since I read it.
While I would not buy the next volume of this anthology, I recommend this one. Pulp Fiction deserves its rightful place in Tamil Literature and this book gives you the right sized bite of it.