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Country of Focus: Singapore

Book Review: Horizon Afar and Other Tamil Stories
by Jayanthi Sankar

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

Horizon Afar

Title: Horizon Afar & other Tamil short stories
Author: Jayanthi Sankar
Translated by P. Muralidharan
Publisher: Kitaab, 2016
Pages: 230

Horizon Afar is a collection of twenty-one translated short stories from the Singapore-based Tamil writer, Jayanthi Sankar. Spanning the last two decades, the stories shuttle between life in Singapore and India, creating links between the two countries and drawing on the writer’s multicultural experiences and interactions in the country where she lives.

Often her stories centre on teenagers and young people. The title story is about a teenager who shuttles through a surrealistic experience to find his footing in junior college (high school in Singapore). The most interesting read was a darker story, Mother’s Words, which deals with a reformed convict who is ostracized by the world yet loved by the mother.

A Few Pages from Yuka Wong’s Diary depicts the changing mindset of a multicultural population and their ability to transcend hatred to discover a fascination for a country that had unscrupulous expansionist ambitions in the 1940’s Japan.  The story is told through the pages of a young girl’s diary and makes an interesting and effective use of the device.

Melissa’s Choices is about a young man’s discovery of the fickleness of a young girl’s choices. School Bag, Revelation and Rehearsal are stories about teenagers’ journeys of discoveries in a multicultural society. Seventy Rupees, set in the midst of an auto-rickshaw strike in India, is a glimpse of the apathy of middle class towards the plight of the poor.

The stories often circle around the tedium of modern day existence and focus on the darker aspects of life. The issues faced by workers ‘imported’ from small villages of Tamil Nadu are dealt with in a couple of stories. While Cycle focuses on a flesh trader located in Singapore preying on an innocent Tamil migrant woman, Migration deals with an Indian domestic helper’s inability to adjust in Singapore. There are stories about unwed mothers, a girl who rebels to adopt a trans-sexual lifestyle, university life, school life and marriages arranged within the Tamil community in Singapore.

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On a wing and a prayer: Tamil Dalit writer Bama on 25 years of Karukku

December 2017 marked 25 years of the publication of Karukku, the first autobiography in Tamil by a Dalit. Do you remember the person you were when you wrote it?
When I wrote Karukku, I was completely broken. After seven years of being in a convent as a nun, I had quit. I found that I had lost everything — a job as a teacher, a house, enough to eat and drink. I had lost my confidence, I shrank from meeting people. In that state, I began to think of my childhood, and the things that I had lost. A friend advised me to write, and I did. I wasn’t thinking of writing a book at all.
Looking back, in these 25 years, I have grown tremendously, I have become so free…25 years of Karukku has also meant learning to live alone, as a single woman. I ended Karukku by saying that I was a bird with broken wings. Now, as I have said before, I am a falcon, flying high in the sky.

You wrote in a Tamil that was different from the literary language of the time. What was the reaction?
In Tamil literary circles, they questioned me a lot about the language. They said, ‘She is an educated lady. Why has she written in dialect? Why do her characters speak in abusive, filthy language?’ That made me furious. Because who are they to judge my language? The Brahminical language is used everywhere — they accept it. They are proud to speak in their language. Then why not I then? My language and that of my people is beautiful to me. So I deliberately used it in all my novels after that.

How do you conceive of Dalit feminism?
I have talked more about Dalit feminism in my novels, Sangati, and Manushi, which is the second part of Karukku in some sense. I have written five-six stories about feminism. There is one story, called ‘Konnu Tai’. It was a very controversial story, even women did not like it. It was about a woman, a mother of four children, who leaves her drunkard husband and goes to her mother’s place. She also leaves behind an infant, who she was breastfeeding. Everybody condemned her. But she was stubborn. She said, ‘Let him know what it is to have a child. They are his children too.’ Her mother says, ‘If your husband remarries, your life is finished.’ She says, ‘No my life starts then’. She takes off her thali, sells it and starts a shop on the street. One famous male writer wrote a letter to me. ‘As a woman writer, you should have feeling for a mother. You should have ended the story like this: At night, she thought of her youngest child and wept.’ (laughs)
I have written stories about how men abandon their wives only to remarry, about a woman who, after a hard day’s work, would pretend that she has been possessed by a goddess so that the husband would stop bothering her for sex. In these very small ways, I have expressed the feelings of women in general, not just Dalit women.

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From Perumal Murugan’s The Goat Thief to Tamil Pulp Fiction, a Look at Recent Notable Translations

Ambai’s A Night With A Black Spider, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, is a new collection from Speaking Tiger featuring short stories translated from Tamil. The stories range from the mythological to the real, and present an intimate look at the author’s many worlds.

Blaft Publications which has previously brought out two volumes of Tamil Pulp Fiction translated to English and deservedly has a cult following, is out with the third volume, The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Volume 3. Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte’s The Blaft Book of Mizo Myths, from the Chennai-based Blaft Publications, which was out last year, is also a fantastic book that brings stories from the misty mountains of Mizoram to the English language. The thin volume of six stories seems a right introduction to folk stories rich with beasts and beauties from the northeastern state.

The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan, translated by N Kalyan Raman, is recently out from Juggernaut. Perumal Murugan is an important voice in contemporary India throwing light on the Tamil society in the Kongu region. This is his second book since being resurrected from his literary suicide. One that he was forced into by mobs that sought to stifle his voice.

The prolific Kannada writer Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please, Mumbai Stories is all set for release later this month from HarperPerennial. Kaikini is one of Kannada’s most important contemporary voices. The collection has been translated by Tejaswini Niranjana. Kaikini’s stories are set in contemporary India while his style is classic.

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‘There is no language in the world which is pristine and pure.’

Interview with Professor David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of “Tamil: A Biography”. By A.S. PANNEERSELVAN

….

His Tamil: A Biography (published by Harvard University Press) has an important but rare trait, rare in the documentation of Indian languages: retaining a critical distance despite the writer’s love for the language. The threat of linguistic hegemony posed by the pan-Indian nature of Sanskrit and the role of Tamil in wresting a space for heterogeneity are political realities. The perch from which Shulman looks at Tamil gives him the space to negotiate this minefield with erudition. Probably, at a deeper level, his peace work in Israel, which exposed the injustices perpetrated by Israel by showing the human dimension of the occupation, helps him look at linguistic traditions in an organic manner rather than in political silos generated by colonial and the postcolonial politics.

The Tablet magazine captured well the nature of Shulman’s journey when it wrote: “Scholar David Shulman has made an improbable journey, geographically and academically: from small-town Iowa to Jerusalem, where the Hebrew University professor received the Israel Prize in 2016 for his research on southern India. The rigour in Shulman’s erudition is tempered by a deep pathos and love for his subject.” Shulman is an expert in Hebrew, English, Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit and reads Greek, Russian, French, German, Persian, Arabic and Malayalam, and has an abiding interest in Carnatic music and in the Kutiyattam dance form.

Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline.

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A Brave Debut Novel About the Sri Lankan Civil War

the-story-of-a-brief-marriage

The Story Of A Brief Marriage

By Anuk Arudpragasam
193 pp. Flatiron Books. $24.99.

War is a constant wellspring of literature, and the best of it looks not for the obvious and sensationally violent, but instead searches for the subtle ways that life unfolds regardless. While Sri Lankans writing in Sinhala and Tamil have long borne nuanced witness to the country’s three decades of civil war, writing in English has been much slower to respond. And too much of it has taken the easy route, giving a foreign readership what it desires: a voyeuristic, and ultimately unengaged, affirmation of what it believes is true of savage peoples in other countries. Read more


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Our Lady of Tamil Literature: Lakshmi Holmstrom

Lakshmi Holmstrom, one of the greatest translators of Tamil literature, and award-winning translator of short stories and poetry from the Tamil canon, passed away yesterday.

The quintessential English academic, who lived in the rustic idyll of Norwich, and famously wore salwarkameezes, was one of the key figures to take the literary works of RK Narayan to a new generation of readers.

In addition to bringing to light the genius of contemporary stars such as Ambai and Sri Lankan poet Cheran and classical stalwarts such as 12th century bard Kambar, Holmstrom also brought out Fish in a Dwindling Lake (2012), a translation of short stories by writer Ambai; A Second Sunrise (2012), poems by Cheran translated and edited with Sascha Ebeling; and Salma’s The Hour Past Midnight (2009).

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When an award-winning Tamil poet was named after Allama Iqbal

When Cultural Medallion winner K.T.M. Iqbal’s father was a young man living in Tamil Nadu’s Kadayanallur, he was one of many Indians who admired the great poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, renowned for penning the famous Indian patriotic song, Sare Jahan Se Accha. So, when this young man was blessed with a son, he named him Iqbal in the poet’s honour. Continue reading


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Was the Japanese language influenced by Tamil? The war goes on

Roger Pulvers in The Japan Times

For years I have been watching from the sidelines as the opponents battle it out. For the players this fight will go on and on, and the theater of war is right here.

This is a linguistic war, but it naturally involves archaeology, history, religion and a host of wounded egos. The question to be decided is: What exactly are the origins of the Japanese language? Continue reading