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Book Review: Horizon Afar by Jayanthi Sankar

By Lakshmi Menon

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Horizon Afar is a collection of short stories by Jayanthi Sankar, translated from their original Tamil by P Muralidharan and published by Kitaab International. While it falls neatly into the rapidly growing, ever-fertile genre of diasporic literature, this collection is interesting in the myriad glimpses that it accords us of the Tamil diaspora in Singapore.

The experiences of Tamil immigrants in a multicultural country like Singapore are outlined by the author, herself a member of that very community – this is belied by the intimacy with which she writes about them. “Won’t she crawl anymore?” a despairing father asks of his wife, on learning that his child whose early years he has missed on account of working abroad, has now learned to walk on her own. The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness in his question, and a reader who is familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion, of a parent who has missed their child growing up.

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Book Review: Perumal Murugan’s ‘Pyre’, may its heat singe some sense into you!

By Anjana Balakrishnan

Perumal Murugan’s fiction has the enchanting ability to fill you with dread. To all appearances, his stories are straightforward and simple. But a couple of pages in, you start feeling the robust muscle of society coiling around your neck in a chokehold. Over the next hundred or so pages you find yourself sitting upright in your chair, bed or floor, willing yourself to read as fast you can while simultaneously hoping never to get to the end of the story.

What makes his writing even more chilling is the knowledge that this story could be true in thousands of villages in India, however removed you are from them. Why villages alone? These stories of caste brutalities could be true in a majority of families in India.

Originally written in Tamil as Pookkuzhi (2013), and translated into English in 2016 by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Pyre is Kumaresan and Saroja’s love story laced with the poison of caste. Read more

Source: The News Minute


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Perumal Murugan: The Before and the After

By K. Srilata

On an evening uneasily sandwiched between the demise of the former chief minister Jayalalithaa and the arrival of cyclone Vardah, a small group of people had assembled at Chennai’s iconic Spaces. The occasion was Prakriti Foundation’s launch of Perumal Murugan’s book of poems, Mayanathil Nitkum Maram (A Tree that Stands in the Crematorium) – a book that contains four previous collections of poetry: Nigazh Uravu, Gomuki Nadhikarai Koozhaangal, Neer Midakkum Kanngal and Velli Shani Bhudhan Nyayaru Vzhyayan Chevvai. I was in conversation with Murugan, a role that I, with Murugan’s consent, have recast slightly. I made some introductory remarks following which there was a bi-lingual reading. Murugan read his Tamil poems and I read Peter and Thirugyanam’s English renderings of the same. There was a solemnity to the occasion, for it marked the resurrection of Murugan, the writer. The event itself lasted for less than an hour and there were a few questions and then it is all over before we know it. As we wrap up, I notice a big pile of unsold copies – the story of most poetry book launches.

In January 2015, Murugan had famously announced on Facebook that his writing self was dead. He was being hounded by Hindu right-wing forces and threatened with death. Murugan had made the fatal mistake of portraying certain sexual customs of the people of Tamil Nadu’s Kongu Nadu region in his novel Madhorubhagan. It was a grim, grim story – the sort of thing no writer anywhere in the world would wish for, the sort of thing no writer anywhere in the world should have to face. In the case of Murugan, the threats to his life and to the lives of his family members had the worst possible effect – it very nearly stopped him from writing. Read more

Source: The Wire


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D-FW donors give biggest contribution to Harvard chair in Tamil literature

By Holly Haber

In mid-December, the Dallas-Fort Worth Tamil community gave $500,000 to help establish a chair in Tamil literature at Harvard University.

When I first read the email carrying this news, I had no clue that Tamil is one of the oldest surviving classical languages and boasts a body of poetry and literature that dates back over 2,000 years. It’s spoken by more than 70 million people who are primarily in southern India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Here was another eye-opener: The Dallas-Fort Worth contribution was the single biggest contribution to the Harvard Tamil chair from any American metropolitan area, according to Sriram Krishnan, who served on the DFW Harvard Tamil Chair Organization Committee. Read more

Source: Dallas News


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ravi Shankar

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Wow, well start with the easy questions, eh? Well, I suppose, thinking of Rilke—whose poems and letters I’ve always loved but who I would sadly come to find out (in that way we eventually kill our heroes) was a kind of a pretentious deadbeat who shirked his responsibilities and mooched off the aristocratic patrons of the Hapsburg Empire in pursuit of his “pure” art—I have gone into myself and found that the need to write has spread its roots into my heart. I don’t know if I would die if forbidden to write, but having dug deeply, that mythic Rilkean imperative of “I must” is there, for better or worse. I write because I feel compelled to describe what I’ve seen and touched and tasted, the losses I’ve tallied, the places and people who’ve inspired me, all in pursuit of trying to better understand myself as a bicultural human being at the beginning of a new millennium. Those marks of signification help me fix the flux into something that might resemble, if not the answers, then at least the questions that are most relevant to ask when delving into the nature of our shared reality.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing/editing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Well I should mention two projects that achieved closure around the same time. One is the anthology I co-edited with Alvin Pang, entitled “UNION: 15 Years of Drunken Boat and 50 Years of Writing from Singapore” [https://www.ethosbooks.com.sg/products/union] which encompasses two very disparate bodies of work, one from the online journal of the arts I founded in 1999 and one from the Singaporean city-state founded as a modern republic in 1965. The main purpose behind this project was to highlight the subconscious connections that writers might share, who on the surface might not have anything at all in common. To view the Malay Peninsula through the prism of experimental poetics, then to stand on the other side of the lens and look back. I’m particularly excited that I can introduce to an American readership the really wonderful work happening in Singapore. I also just recently translated the 9th century female Tamil poet/saint Andal with Priya Sarukkai Chabria [http://zubaanbooks.com/shop/andal-the-autobiography-of-a-goddess/], and this ancient bhakti poet writes remarkable sensual yet devotional work that is as relevant to our time as it was to hers. Her fierce longing takes the shape of the corporeal body but transcends in such a way that she is continually reaching beyond herself in the way true mystics do. And because Tamil is my mother tongue, it was an important project for me, especially to resuscitate Andal not as a scholar’s creation but as a poet’s, even when that meant taking some liberties with her work, for we hoped to make her sing in a contemporary English idiom.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

If I was visual artist, I might be Gerhard Richter, he of those photorealistic blurs alongside those scraped and layered abstractions. That range, that impulse never to settle on one unity of style, when it might lead to a calcification of perception, of a repetition of motive, has never interested in me. Instead I am the formalist who believes in roughening up his enjambments; the postmodern archaic who loves forms that are simultaneously contemporary and ancient, like the zuihitsu and the cento, collage-forms and remixes that are many centuries old. I believe in a geometry of language, poems sculpted until they sit in the palm like a desk clock. But I also believe in those wild, undetermined screes of language that accumulate upon the slope of speech like some alien transmission—which they are—some spiritual guidance given the form of a salamander that skitters on the page.  I believe in translation and transmission, vision and revision, and mad distillation so that nothing can be pared away without collapsing the entire tower.

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‘Tamil literature has a modern, vibrant idiom’

The rich literary heritage of Indian languages is now reaching readers outside their respective regions. One such book which is breaking new ground abroad is ‘The Tamil Story’, a compilation of 88 short stories: The Indian Express

TamilstoryWith a surge in translations of Indian literature into English, readers across the spectrum have been transcending the language barrier.

From novels and short stories to plays and poems, the rich literary heritage of Indian languages is now reaching readers outside their respective regions and, indeed, worldwide.

One such effort is ‘The Tamil Story’, a compilation of 88 short stories that aims at presenting modern trends in Tamil literature for a larger audience. It proves that Tamil literature is not just a treasure trove of classical texts but is equally vibrant in modern times.

“We wanted to overturn the misconception and establish that Tamil has a strong and vibrant modern literary tradition that is comparable to any other language, Indian or foreign,” Dilip Kumar, who edited the compilation, told IANS in an email interaction from Chennai.

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Obituary: Chelva Kanaganayakam: A ‘shining beacon’ for Tamil literature

Credited with introducing Tamil poetry and culture to the English-speaking world, Chelva Kanaganayakam brought together writers, scholars and intellectuals through his teaching and academic leadership, and provided a welcome community in Canada for transplanted Tamils.

His work at the University of Toronto, as a professor of English and distinguished scholar of postcolonial literature and South Asian studies, revitalized Sri Lankan Tamil literature at a time when a dialogue between two disparate cultural and literary traditions was most necessary. Continue reading


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Tamil publishing continues to struggle in the age of digital

Writing for The Hindu, Lakshmi Krupa says: “Think Tamil literature. Think rich texts. We know we carry with us a treasure trove from our past, from the Sangam period to the works of Kalki, from Thirukkural to the works of bhakti saints…but what of our present and the future? Even as poets continue to push the boundaries finding ways to give voice to their struggles, Tamil fiction is a trickier proposition, say publishers.” Continue reading


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Project to digitise Tamil literature in Singapore launched

A project that digitises 50 years of Tamil literature in Singapore aims to pass on Tamil cultural and literary traditions to the younger generation, through technology.

The project is led by the Tamil Digital Heritage Group, which is also working with several partners.

The partners are the National Library Board, National Heritage Board, National Art Council, National Book Development Council of Singapore as well as Tamil authors and community organisations.

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