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Updated: March 26, 2014 16:32 IST

Taming the untamed

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Vaadivaasal (Arena) by C.S. Chellappa
Vaadivaasal (Arena) by C.S. Chellappa

A novella about the hurt pride of both the human and animal.

“If an animal’s pride is hurt, it leads to destruction; it’s the same with a man’s pride too!”

Jallikattu, the traditional taming contest between man and the bull is the central theme of the novel Vaadivaasal, written originally in Tamil by C.S. Chellappa, and translated into English by N. Kalyan Raman. The bull-taming contest — Chellayi Jallikattu, named after the village deity, that takes place in Periyappatti Zameen — is visited by two young men Picchi and Marudan from Usillanoor, a village that lies to its east. Marudan is Picchi’s wife’s brother and has accompanied him to ensure his safety. They are at the vaadivaasal (arena) — the place where the jallikattu would take place. The novella revolves around the happenings of an afternoon and, as the men and bulls arrive on the scene, the drama involving human emotions, pettiness, desire, camaraderie and magnanimity unfolds. With an old man almost as a choric character, the novella talks about the death of Picchi’s father Ambulithevan. He had been gored to death at the same site a couple of years ago in his attempt to tame Kaari, a vadipuram bull owned by the Periyapatti Zameen. Picchi was then a stripling, and he is now at the same jallikattu — not to take revenge but to reclaim the lost pride. His father had told him before he breathed his last, “Picchi, you must… this Kaari…donkey.” He had not finished the sentence.

While the first half is about the two youth taking in all that happens around them with a native shrewdness, the next half is when the animals are brought out to be tamed by the sporting young men in the crowd or otherwise. At last, Kaari enters and the writer describes him as he would a hero. The breathless reading through the last few pages where Kaari and Picchi are face to face, sizing up each other, each up to all the tricks needed for survival and success is at once the proof of the storyteller’s mastery of the art and the translator’s efficacy in recreating the nuanced rustic language. Chellappa’s description of Kaari’s appearance is mesmerising. “The Kaari stood majestically at the wicket gate… It stepped forward confidently and slowly, humps subtly undulating and horns swaying from side to side… reached the centre of the vaadivasal and stood there.” It is hard to say if Vaadivaasal is a novella about Kaari or Picchi but it is surely about pride — the hurt pride of both human and the animal. There is admiration for both and its denouement, as rightly pointed out by P.A. Krishnan (a prolific writer himself) in his well- researched introduction to the novella, is anything but amusing.

Justice has been rendered to Si. Su. Chellappa by this fine translation edited with care and a scholarly eye. The glossary at the end enhances the book’s value.

Vaadivaasal (Arena); C.S. Chellappa, Trs N. Kalyan Raman, OUP, Rs.175.

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