Crime, romance, science… these Tamil novels are lapped up, English translations being equally popular, writes Kausalya Santhanam

The stories are devoured by Tamil readers and many of the writers are household names. The outstanding feature of pulp fiction is the democracy it creates with fans ranging from auto-drivers to aristocrats, housewives to office-goers. In these novels published at a rapid rate, the exotic and the everyday mingle to produce a potent cocktail. Crime, the supernatural, romance and sex parade through these pages inviting readers to dive into an enjoyable world letting go rigid notions of classical and popular literature.

Rakesh Khanna, born in California and a math student from the IIT, was so attracted to the pulp fiction that he saw at the wayside tea stalls and bus stations of Chennai that he wanted to read the novels. He decided to publish them in English along with his friend Kaveri Lalchand. They entrusted the selection of authors and stories as well as the translation to theatre personality Pritham K. Chakravarthy who was familiar with the form. Rakesh edited the volumes. And Blaft, the publishing company, was born in 2008.

Pritham in her translator's note points out: “The understanding of pulp fiction in a Western context is based on the cheap paper used for detective, romance and science fiction stories in the mid-20th century…Tamil Nadu in the 1960s had its own pulp literature printed on cheap recycled paper and priced at 50 paise a copy.”

Well produced volumes

Blaft's efforts have resulted in a couple of very well produced volumes of Tamil pulp fiction that have made this genre widely accessible and brought recognition to the publishing house.

Some of the writers talk to this correspondent about what their fiction is all about:

“The difference between other crime writers and I is that my stories are science oriented and adapted to the Tamil cultural context,” says Rajesh Kumar based in Coimbatore who is reputed to be the most prolific writer of fiction in the world with a tally of 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories! “I'm 62 and have been writing since 1968,” says the former teacher. “I have made the paamara vasagan - the lorry driver, the porter and the shepherd in the village – read. Is that not literature? I have made petty shops stock novels published monthly. Any new scientific fact is used in my stories to educate.”

As for the accusation that he uses English words along with Tamil in his stories, “have not words such as queue varisai, nadu centre, become part of our daily speech?” he asks. He adds that though he is satisfied with Blaft's English translation, his readers feel the raciness and thrill provided by his Tamil stories are missing here.

“The idea (of translation) is new but it remains to be seen how successful it will be,” says Indra Soundararajan (52), who lives in Madurai and has a mind boggling collection of crime novels to his credit. “The period from 1980 to 1990 was the golden period of Tamil fiction. Every magazine worth its name published serialised novels. Sujatha, Indumathi and Sivasankari were the star writers. I wondered in what way I could be different from the other writers of suspense and crime. I thought of the spiritual angle and of divine intervention, and of looking at the supernatural in a scientific way.

“Just because I write mystery stories, it does not mean I'm not a serious writer. I'm a versatile one. I write mystery novels for fame and money, and family oriented themes for my satisfaction. My novels turned into TV serials such as ‘Marmadesam' have done very well.”

Ramanichandran's name spells romance. The author of 135 small to medium sized novels and numerous short stories believes that romantic fiction helps to lighten the burden of life. “I'm committed to the idea of a happy ending. Often grandmothers recommend my novels to their granddaughters and so I'm very particular the stories should not contain anything indecent,” says the 72-year old writer in her soft voice. “All my novels have two definite features - the importance given to the family, and of the job for a livelihood,” she laughs. “As society changes, mindsets change; earlier, men would accuse my heroines of being self-willed and arrogant. My heroines do have a mind of their own and will not be cowed down which is perhaps why one reader said I brought about a silent revolution for women. Just because my name is known I cannot say I'm a big writer,” she adds with the modesty that is her characteristic trait.

There are numerous pulp fiction writers whose works have not been translated by Blaft. One of them is Devibala who works at such dizzying speed that he does not even seem aware of Blaft. “I do not want to be imprisoned within the circle of ilakkiyam (literature),” he says. “I write so that I can reach people. All my stories are about the home and family. My TV serials such as ‘Alaigal' and ‘Nambikkai' mainly attract women viewers, and they like themes centered round family issues. My heroines face challenges and fight. We have to write according to the trend,” says the 50-year old writer who has had his work serialised in all the leading Tamil magazines.

Ghosts and the idea of rebirth are recurring themes in the novels and short stories of Sharadha Viswanathan who began writing 25 years ago. “I feel strongly about the ill-treatment of women,” she says. Many of her stories deal with the issue. “One derives inspiration from life, and builds on truth,” says the 75 plus writer who also deals with crime in her novels. Nagaland, Assam, and Mizoram form the setting for many of her stories as she has lived in the North- East. “The copious feedback I receive from readers is highly rewarding,” says the writer who has been published in leading journals.

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