Saturday, September 30, 2006


Lakshmi Holmstrom recounts the great author's life.

"Why is pudumaippittan relevant to readers today?"

In the first place, he is rooted in the Tamil country and its culture, and has an important place in Tamil literary history. He was very award of being part of the Tamil renaissance which began with Subramanya Bharati and others at the turn of the nineteenth century, and of the new perspectives he and his colleagues on the literary journal Manikkodi were bringing to the Tamil short story in the 1930s and 1940s. In the second place, he began writing at an important moment in India both in terms of literary and political history. He was born in 1906 and began his literary career in 1934, when Premchand was at the end of his life. Thus the fourteen years during which he wrote happened to coincide with the new Progressive Writers’ Movement. Premchand himself, Ismat Chugtai, Mulk Raj Anand and Thagazhi Sivasankaran Pillai were among his great contemporaries. Although Pudumaippittan was not directly part of the Progressive Movement, he shared with these writers their social concerns and their attempts to present these in realistic fiction. But Pudumaippittan was also aware of being art of a yet wider Modernist Movement which included French, Russian, American and English writers as well as Indian, with whom he shared a passion for questioning and restating traditions that had thus far been accepted easily, both in literature and in life.

Pudumaippittan was a writer who engaged fully with contemporary life and times. In this he differed from (and complemented) his great contemporary, Mauni. Mauni’s stories are about the life of the mind and its imagination. Pudumaippittan’s stories reflect vividly the history of his times, the urbanization of Chennai, social change and mobility, the migration of his own community both to Chennai and to Sri Lanka and their alienation there, the spread of new political ideologies, the influence in Tamil Nadu of Subramanya Bharati, Gandhiji and Periyar. All these are seen with a finely observant as well as a sharply critical eye.

But primarily the stories reflect Pudumaippittan’s own felt experience. He wrote, in the introduction entitled “Warning!” to his collected stories Kanchanai, in 1943,

These stories were not written as the result of a vow to bring about cultural uplift, nor as a kind of service to the reading public. They are merely stories. Neither I nor my stories have the least desire to save the world or to enrich our culture. This is an anthology of episodes reflecting what I have heard, seen, dreamt, wanted to see, and also what I have not wished to see.

Hence the stories come out of his own life, and out of his insights about the community he knew best, the Saiva vellalas or pillais of Tirunelveli District – their tragedies, their dreams and their fantasies. Rooted as they are in the Tamil Nadu of their times, they also touch the timeless and the universal. It is this dual quality that the novelist Sundara Ramaswamy is referring to when he writes that “Chellammal” is one of the greatest of love stories in modern Tamil writing.

During his short working life, Pudumaippittan wrote nearly a hundred stories as well as numerous articles, reviews, poems and plays, much of this material has now been made available to us through the inspired work of A R Venkatachalapathy and the editors of Kalachchuvadu press. All readers of Pudumaippittan should be grateful to them and to the two publications, Annai Ita Thi (Uncollected and Unpublished Writings of Pudumaippittan), Kalachchuvadu Pathippagam 1998, and Pudumaippittan Kathaigal (The Complete Stories of Pudumaippittan: A chronological, variorum edition with critical notes and appendices), Kalachchuvadu Pathippagam 2001.

"Fictions: Pudumaippittan" has been translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom for Katha.

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