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Anthology spanning six decades in story writing

S. Viswanathan


Collection of 70 short stories portraying human emotions, hopes and fears, convictions and compromises
VIKIRAMANIN SIRUKATHAI-K-KALANJIYAM — 60 Aandugal Sirukathaikalin Thoguppu 1942-2002 (Tamil): Vikiraman; Vikiraman Pathippagam, 7, Jayasankar Street, West Mambalam, Chennai-600033. Rs. 300.

A prolific Tamil writer and journalist, Vikiraman is known more for his novels, particularly historical novels, than for his short stories. He edited arguably the longest surviving Tamil literary magazine, Amudasurabhi, for well over five decades (1949-2002). He is perhaps the only Tamil writer who has tried his hand in almost every genre, in addition to novel and short story, drama, poetry, travelogue and essay. He has also written stories for children and books on history for the youth in simple Tamil.

His first historical novel, `Udayachandran', appeared in 1957 and he has added 33 more in the four succeeding decades. The most famous of these has been `Nandipurathu Nayagi', first serialised in Amudasurabi during 1957-59, and published in book form in 1964. `Nandipurathu Nayagi' is in fact a continuation of `Ponniyin Selvan' of his better-known contemporary and mentor, Kalki, whose influence on Vikiraman is quite significant in respect of both historical novels and short stories.

Of his five socials, `Chandramathi' portrays the miserable life of the marginalised people. And, with more than 150 short stories in 62 years to his credit, Vikiraman (Subarayar Vembu is his original name) continues to write fiction for Ilakkiya Peetam, which he presently edits. Considering the fact that the modern Tamil short story itself is only about 100 years old, this is no mean achievement and should really be a creditable record for any writer. Although he has received many accolades including the Kalaimamani title from the Tamil Nadu Government and an award from Tamil University, Thanjavur, for his literary achievements, he has admittedly a grievance that he is known only as a novelist and journalist, and not as a short story writer among the Tamil readers. And hence this collection of his 70 short stories, as he reveals his mind in `Kathaiyin Kathai', a sort of preface to the volume. Not an unjust grievance anyway, in this fast-track cultural ambience in which literature is loved more for its entertainment value, forcing the long, time-consuming novel to yield ground to short story as a form of literary expression. Judged from J.B. Priestley's observation that "at its best, the short story offers us a wonderfully clear little window through which we can see something of the lights and shadows, the heights and depths of life in this world," a substantial number of the stories in this collection pass the test.

Themes

Most of the stories portray middle class life, particularly the day-to-day life of the lower middle class, effectively and realistically, and many among them do impress the readers. The stories touch upon varied aspects of human life, hopes and fears, pleasures and sorrows, courage of convictions and compromises and so on.

`Nallathor Veenai', `Sathiyamana Sathiyam', `Vantha Suvadu', `Narasinga Rao', `Dharmamurthiyin Kanavu' and `Maatraanthai' are some of the memorable stories in the collection.

The last mentioned shows the stepmother in a totally different light, breaking her traditional depiction as cruel and hard-hearted. Poverty, strong family ties, love marriage, marital discord and inter-caste marriage are among the important story themes.

The author experiments some new techniques. For instance, one story is in the form of the characters themselves doing the narration, picking up the strand from each other. A novel feature of the anthology is that a popular writer introduces each story to the reader.

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