THILLAI GOVINDAN: A Madhaviah's English novel translated into Tamil by V. Narayanan; International Institute of Tamil Studies, CIT Campus, Tharamani, Chennai-600113. Rs. 25.
THIS ABSORBING novel is based on an autobiography of Thillai Govindan as conceived by his friend Madhaviah who wrote under the pseudonym Pamba symbolising Perungulam A. Madhaviah.
With his ideas way ahead of his time, his life-story is anchored in the social ethos of his time that cried out for reforms. As a voracious reader of both English and Tamil literature, he never spared himself in the pursuit of excellence. The very first chapter contains lyrical descriptions of Thillai Govindan's childhood.
Through S. Sivapadasundaram's article in Indian Literature (July-August 1978) one can learn that the original in English was first serialised in the Madras Christian College magazine and later published in London. As regards the Tamil version, it is mentioned that this book was earlier published under the Dinamani (1944) imprint. No reason for the omission of chapter 16 is adduced. In the foreword, Ramar Elango throws abundant light on Madhaviah and his works. While citing the elucidation in his monthly Panchamirtham that it was devoted to ambrosia of five distinct features, only four (truth, love, knowledge and perseverance) are specified.
The protagonist fumes with indignation at the social and moral degeneration discrimination of all sorts, especially those experienced by the downtrodden; high caste people who considered themselves superior divided within themselves; the lot of the child-widows; poor girls including devadasis resorting to prostitution to eke out a living; women under age-long subjugation; the scourge of dowry; lawyers devoid of the dictates of conscience; self-seeking members of local councils; disintegration of the joint family system; belief in superstitions; conflict between theism and atheism; caning and other forms of cruelty in schools; impact of an alien culture; idle gossip; the husband's evil design and much more are interwoven into the fabric of this novel which lays bare the social evils.
Govindan with all his progressive thinking was at the end of his tether when things went beyond his control. Madhaviah was formidably intelligent to rouse the public conscience. Time can only tell.
The Tamil translation is excellent though it is not known why one chapter of the original has been omitted.
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