Recipient of awards like Padma Shri and Saraswathi Samman, writer Indira Parthasarathy has been acclaimed for his path-breaking contribution to contemporary Tamil theatre through his plays. This is the first collection of his short stories, most of which had appeared in Tamil magazines over a period of four decades. It presents a very significant facet of his writings and reaffirms the values of the drama of life and literature. Several of these stories have won prizes and awards, such as the five that won the stamp of merit from Ananda Vikatan in the 1960s. The fact that his very first story Manitha Iyanthiram won this recognition establishes his entry with a bang as a fully evolved creator of the tantalising form of short story. Some of the stories have been converted into one-act plays and short films. It comes as no surprise that Nayakan, the heart-warming tale of a grandfather, granddaughter and her stuffed toy of a Dalmatian puppy won an award in the short films category.
In his foreword, the author avers that the short story does not happen in a vacuum or in solitude. For him, it is a dialogue between the writer and the reader. He is not enamoured of isms and refuses to be type cast. Solitude or reflection helps the writer to hunt for his own identity and discover it for himself and this, in the author's view, constitutes literature. In his stories, the social animal, that is man, takes centrestage — mostly social, animal at times. In spite of mindscapes in the twilight zone between the real and the imaginary, wilful self-delusions and the little hypocrisies of day-to-day transactions, there is a constant striving towards the positive and affirmative.
Having been a resident of Delhi, the hub of Indian politics and bureaucracy, it is but natural that Parthasarathy should, in a good number of stories, be dealing with the angst and frustration of the individual against corruption, chaos, and apathy. While the urban middle class populates most of the stories, the countryside, as the scene of action, is also projected through the eyes of the urban intellectual.
The vicissitudes of Brahmins, often seen as social misfits tossed in a fast-changing political and economic milieu, are brought out in several stories, sometimes with irony and sometimes with poignancy. The circumscribed arena teems with events and characters sufficient to people several novels and stands testimony to the author's awareness of the here and now at every moment. When he says in his preface that he perceives an intrinsic logic through all his short stories, which renders them exclusively his creation, we have a clue to the unmistakable presence of the author in most of the stories. Humour ranging from the light-hearted to the dark comedy of the Absurd sets the tone of the author's voice. The keen ear of the dramatist, catching the nuances of casual conversation with the unspoken subterranean murmurs and rumbles, frequently renders the stories into ‘one-acters' loaded with elaborate stage directions and asides. Nearly every utterance, every transaction is placed under the microscope for a clinical report or comment or a full-fledged metaphysical analysis. For instance, in the short story Vazhipadu, an episode in the life of Ramanuja provides a platform for a debate leading to a new definition of the quest for beauty, where the dividing line between lust and devotion is determined by the strength or frailty of the mind. The stories nevertheless flow unimpeded by any of these preoccupations, simple in structure and often with the twist in the tale. Clarity of thought and a consummate skill in communicating not just the thought but the emotion as well make the collection a compelling reading.
Excellent production values and affordable prices are an added attraction of the volumes. Had the years of publication and the names of the magazines where the stories appeared been mentioned, they would have helped to trace the evolution of the writer. Incidentally, they would have also helped in determining the point of transition, when leading Tamil magazines parted ways with literature and serious writing.