Tag Archive | Tamil

One Part Woman- Perumal Murugan : 4/52 (Translation)

tl;dr : Vyasa- Ambika-Ambalika.

What better way to make a book popular than to demand a ban on it. This isn’t a book that I would have picked up if it hadn’t been for the whole controversy around it. I’m not sure whether I got the sanitised version or the original ‘scandalous’ version of the book. I would have loved to read it in Tamil, but it would have taken me much longer to finish the book and my curiosity got the better of me. But the translation is quite good. And since those of us from Tamilnadu can relate to the overall setup, it worked for me. (Note to self: Stop picturing every book you read as a movie these days)

Kali and Ponnayi are a childless couple living in a society where the taunts, insults and innuendos are free flowing. Help and advice come in many forms to them, some well intentioned, some plain sadistic. Ponna is made to drink bitter infusions made with neem leaves that are handed to her by an ‘auspicious’ widow. (Isn’t neem a contraceptive?) She has men making not-so-subtle suggestions offering their services. She does a Fear Factor level walk on a dangerous rock near a temple to bribe the gods. She is deemed unfit for motherhood because she found the stink of a baby’s feces repulsive. Surprisingly, she isn’t the only one to be ‘blamed’ here. Though Kali is constantly under the pressure to take a second wife, he is also equally taunted for his ‘impotence’. He has everyone from cousins to random neighbours hoping to dip their fingers into his heirless property after his death. More than his love for Ponna, it is the fear of confirming this impotence that doesn’t allow him to marry again. Afterall, it was his ancestors who raped a tribal girl and incurred her curse. Yes. It is a difficult life being childless in such a society in that era. Any society in any era actually.

So what does one do when the gods want more than rooster blood and arrack? What does one do when the gods want more than a dangerous walk around their temple? What does one do when the gods want more than your prayers? You have to look beyond god. You have to look at man. Another man. Do it with him thinking of him as god. Kunti did that, Madri did that. Oh wait. That was vice versa. But anyway. Apparently, the results are guaranteed here. And this is what Ponna’s mother and mother-in-law finally suggest.

Does she do it? On the fourteenth day of the temple festival, that day when all married women above thirty get the sanction of the gods to lay with random strangers and bring forth ‘god’s children’ into the world. Does she do it? Does she manage to look beyond the face of her husband, look beyond her fears, look beyond society’s taunts and find a god to do it with?

Since I was waiting for the ‘controversial’ part, I did not take the time to savour the book as much I should have. The narration went back and forth a lot, sometimes confusing. Characters like the bachelor uncle Nallupayyan who gave the whole drama the much needed sane voice and Muthu, Ponna’s brother, who took Kali to the same temple festival years ago to ‘offer their services’ give you an insight into the hypocrisy of it all. Small but sharp references to the caste equations in that society add a dash of sting. During the build up to the climax, when Ponna sits in the cart looking at the Chakkli man’s baby with so much longing, I hoped that the story would take a more ‘scandalous’ twist. But I was disappointed.

A good book. Not a great book, and in my opinion it was not a shocking book.  But a good book, so read it. If not for anything else, atleast  for the sake of supporting freedom of expression. Because is a thing these days.

‘Whenever I pass a temple, I touch my throat and then touch my lips with my index and middle finger. That is how my two babies were born’ I just remembered someone tweeting that long ago.

And whenever a topic about childlessness comes up, I can’t help but remember We Need to Talk About Kevin. Unrelated to this book, but the thought just crossed my mind.

There are two sequels to this book. Would love to read them soon. Someone please translate.

 

 

 

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This Divided Island- Samanth Subramaniam : 55/52

Is It really over?

There are some types of hate that I totally don’t get.

‘If we even step into the country they will kill us’, said the janitor in my Oslo office in that amusing singsong Srilankan Tamil accent. This was in 2008, before the war ‘ended’. Who is They, I wondered.  Are They tracking the movements of this nondescript man standing in front of me with the mop in his hand? How could They hate him so much? I didn’t get it.  He told me about his  annual trip to meet his parents the next month. They would fly in to Chennai from Srilanka and he would fly into Chennai from Oslo. They would meet for a fortnight in a hotel in Vadapalani, laugh , cry, pray, enjoy togetherness as long as they could. Then they would bid goodbyes with  the hope that they would meet again the next year; sametime sameplace, godwilling. And they would go back home. The parents, back to their home in some war torn town near the equator, and he, back to his destined life closer to the north pole.

In another country, a few months before it all got over, a gentleman was just leaving a friend’s house as I entered. ‘He’s a puli. He rushing to meet someone with some money’, my friend whispered to me. Maybe my friend was exaggerating and the man was just a sympathiser, a refugee, but a shiver ran down my spine.

I read Reef this year, it had some mild mentions about the War. And I read Blue before that, it had nothing about the War.  That’s all I knew about Srilanka till a week ago. I blindly supported The Cause, outraged over Rajapakshe’s visits, made the obligatory noises over that John Abraham movie and such things because I felt that it was the thing to do. But now I know.

The Terror travels from Colombo to Canada to London with Tigers, ex Tigers, disillusioned Tigers, resigned-to-fate Tigers and non-Tigers telling their tales. Scattered across the world, they still yearn for the life they dreamed of, the life they left behind.  And then the book moves to The North, the defeated country. Jaffna, a town stuck in an automobile timewarp, haunted by the ghosts from the Terror. Nameboards scrubbed clean of Tamil. Kandarodai is now Kandurugoda, Hindu temples are overshadowed by Buddhist viharayas and Mahinda Rajapakshe’s creepy smile overshadows The Buddha. A mosque that refuses to erase the bullet holes from a Tiger attack, a mosque inscribed with the names of 103 victims of a Tiger attack. A tale of an eight year old boy shot in the mouth by a Tiger.

The Faith broke my faith in Buddhism. I thought Buddhism was a religion of peace. But turns out that it is much like the other Religion of Peace: violent and fanatic. It also takes on the shades of that ideology from Germany when the Sinhalese talk about Aryan supremacy. The Sinhalese are apparently the Aryans who came with Buddhism from North India and the Tamils are the ugly dirty Dravidians who deserve to be wiped out. And it also reveals shades of the current trend of hatred that is taking over India these days with  monks dressed in various  hues of saffron invoking kings and events from two millenia ago to justify the ethnic cleansing today.

The book ends with the Endgames, where the futility of it all hits you. Villages full of families clinging on to the hope that their loved ones snatched away by the Tigers are still alive somewhere. Wives refusing to let go of their missing husbands, either running from NGO pillar to post for answers or challenging the gods by flaunting the symbols of their marriage with the hope that their dead husbands will return. On one hand, you seethe with anger at the Tigers for grabbing unwilling men and women, boys and girls to fight the War, but on the other hand you also wonder at the selfishness of families refusing to participate in the war , a war that is theirs as much as it was Prabhakaran’s.

I was a Tiger sympathiser until I read this book. But I still don’t hate them as much as I feel sorry for them. Like all Causes, this one also started off on the right track, for the right reasons. And went horribly, horribly wrong  somewhere. A war is not lost when the last bullet hits your leader, it is lost when disillusionment sets in. And that, it seems, happened long before 19th May 2009. In every line of the book there was the undercurrent of the frustration and the helplessness of the cornered Tigers, the frustration that made them lose their minds long before they lost the war.

Samanth Subramaniam writes so beautifully. Like  tiny flowers blooming on a battlefield, his metaphors brighten up the depressing storyline. He has traveled the length and breadth of The Divided Island on rickety buses, autorickshaws, motorcycles and on foot to speak to the people whose voices need to be heard; voices of  anger, frustration, sadness. Voices of hope and hopelessness.  He treads carefully throughout the book, telling the tale without revealing his sources, most of them initials and pseudonyms. Because, though it is 2014, They might still get to them. He doesn’t take sides in this book, but at the end, the reader will. And that side will be the side of the civilians. The ones who didn’t have a choice.

Reading Challenge Two: The Language Challenge

During the recent controversy about the alleged imposition of Hindi and Sanskrit by the central government, I was mostly on the fence. While I strongly oppose forcefully stuffing anything down our throats, be it rotis or a language, I see absolutely nothing wrong in giving people a choice of languages to learn.The more the better. When I joined school, Hindi as a second language was allowed only for children who had parents with transferable jobs. So I was stuck with Tamil. I started learning Hindi again at the ripe old age of twenty, but by then my brain had shut the gates. Ek gaon mein ek kissan raguthaathaa. It now takes me superhuman effort to read or even compose a single Hindi sentence in my head before I speak and that was one of the main reasons I hated my Noida days.

But in school, I detested Tamil. It was the subject of my nightmares and it was the only subject I actually failed in once. Always having been in the top group of my class, that less-than-40-marks shame is a shame I still haven’t recovered from. I breezed through my tenth standard exams with my cousin reading the chapters out loud to me. The Anglo Indian syllabus was a cakewalk. But I struggled with the State Board for the next two years and I still don’t fully understand how I even got through with respectable marks. Also, that was the phase when Tamil was considered uncool. So in the end, I’ve totally lost out on a language and the rich literature that it offers.

No, it is not that I cannot read Tamil. I read the newspapers and magazines. I read three page long horoscopes every Sani and Guru peyarchi. But I’ve somehow always had a mental block when it came to reading a whole novel or a whole short story or even a blogpost.

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When I was nineteen, I dug into my uncle’s collection and pulled out this book. Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal by Jayakanthan.He shook his head and said that I wasn’t old enough to read it.  Hah. At nineteen? Old fashioned uncle. Now if that taboo wasn’t something to motivate a nineteen year old , what else will. So I took the book home. I even found out what the story is about. Unfortunately, it still languishes on my bookshelf , unread. Later, a crush tried to introduce me to Sujatha and sent me the entire collection in pdf format. But turned out I wasn’t crushed enough and I couldn’t bring myself to read any of those even to impress  him. Even the pulp fiction that I was curious about, I only read the English translations very recently.

 

 

But now, I’ve taken up the challenge.This Aadi perukku, someone referred to Vandiya Devan on Twitter. My mother too, a Ponniyin Selvan junkie usually refers to the book every Aadi perukku. I was surprised to see that so many people, the younger generation, the kidsthesedays, reading this book and making references to it. I feel quite left out. I tried the audio book, it didn’t work for me. The excerpts from the English translation made me scream in frustration.

So I have decided. I’m almost done with my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 52 books in 2014. Probably the only New Year Resolution that I have successfully kept up in my life ever. It is time for a new challenge. Let me take baby steps and start off with the first book of Ponniyin Selvan. Target: Finish it by Dec 2014. And if I finish it earlier, I’m going to treat myself with something sinfully good.

And when I’m done, maybe I will pick up Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal and finish it. And then send a message to my uncle who is up there. I’m old enough now, maama. I was old enough even back then. This isn’t as scandalous. This is 2014, you know. Not the eighteen hundreds. 

The House of Blue Mangoes- David Davidar : 16/52

Tamil movie meets a rambling mega soap opera

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Maybe it should have been three different books. A trilogy or something.

Chevathar. Having watched endless Tamil movies with caste wars, this part of the book played in my head as a Thevar Magan-like movie with Kamal Hassan playing Solomon Dorai and Napolean as Muthu Vedhar. Detailed descriptions and lyrical prose bring the entire village to life, but somehow, the characters fail to linger in your mind. Solomon isn’t built on a solid foundation. His role in the book ends too quickly and though it is his legacy that is supposedly carried over in the next two sections, you don’t feel his presence anywhere. I expected a little more about Joshua, but he came and went in a flash. It is strange that caste wars don’t get even a passing mention in the other two sections of the book.

Doraipuram. The only character  I really liked was Aaron. The accidental Freedom Fighter. Daniel wasn’t a well chalked out character. I couldn’t place what exactly he was or what he wanted to be. Did he want to be the thalaivar or not? Was Doraipuram his dream or his ego trip? Was he a dedicated doctor or just an eccentric rich man who got lucky? It seemed very contrived, the way the settlement was built and populated. Characters just popped in and out without giving you the opportunity to actually know them. That gossiping woman who had an entire chapter dedicated to her, I read the book two days ago but seem to have forgotten her name already. Such forgettable pieces of characters.

Pulimed. Was the tiger woven into the tale just to give the name of the place more impact? Or did the author just remember the Jim Corbett book he read long ago and decide to plug it in? If this had been a separate book, it would have had more weight. The brown man in a white man’s domain with an inbetween wife having an identity crisis. Life in a remote tea estate tucked in a corner of South India when Britain was at war and India was on the cusp of independence was very well described. But again, Kannan aka Thirumoolan isn’t someone you’d remember or quote long after you’ve finished the book.

A lot of Tamil words and references have been peppered in. I wonder how non Tamil readers, leave alone non Indian readers can relate. Calling this book an epic or a saga or any other cliched term is an exaggeration, but it is worth a read if you have a lot of time and no expectations.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction : 15/52

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.

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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.