Short Stories Books

Black earth and broken dreams: Review of ‘Along with the Sun: Stories from Tamil Nadu’s Black Soil Region’

This book is a valuable addition to the translation initiative by the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation. The voices of the black soil or karisal region of Tamil Nadu — comprising Virudhunagar, Thoothukudi, and Ramanathapuram districts — resound in English in this translation by Padma Narayanan, and become a part of world literature.

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The land here — “the path was cracked, covered with patches of broken earth” — is more than just a backdrop. It controls people’s lives, limiting even their dreams — getting rice to eat every day is the best they can hope to have. The translations capture this brilliantly: “The goats that smelt the dry air strayed and began to bleat.” The story, ‘Cooked Rice’, by K. Ramasami says it all: “Rain or shine — either way, it is a nuisance”.

The title story by Sa. Tamilselvan is about a girl who could not marry the man designated for her. Her love for her machchan is mixed with her love for the land. This theme is presented even more forcefully in ‘A Fierce Love for One’s Soil’ by Ve. Sadasivan. Released from prison, Nalla Perumal returns to his village, kills the man who tried to assault a widowed girl and surrenders to the police. In stories such as these, the karisal acts as a metaphor for the complexity of the local, with the land acting as a site of both violence and virility.

This is best represented by Gowri Shankar’s story in which the drought-hit land is pitilessly ploughed: “As the bullocks trod on, the sharp edges of the plough tore into birds and spread them across the earth.” Moistened by the blood, the soil that has been dry for years seems to breathe again. Caste and gender violence go hand in hand in these tales.

The editor, Ki. Rajanarayanan, was the first to write stories about the karisal country’s people, their lives, struggles and folklore. In his editor’s note, Ki. Ra talks of how the trend he started was carried forward by subsequent writers: “The karisal literary movement that I ventured into all by myself received substantial nourishment.” For him, Along with the Sun is a literary “map of the black soil region”.

The collection has 20 stories including those by Poomani and Jeyaprakasam, who, Ki. Ra says, “nourished the movement”. The translation is enriched by notes on authors, culture-specific expressions (apart from the glossary), the inclusion of Ki. Ra’s preface to the first edition, and last, but not the least, a map of the karisal region. There is also Cho. Dharman’s emotionally-charged foreword translated by Aadhavan.

The reviewer is Professor of English, University of Madras.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 7:52:32 PM |

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