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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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S.Mani (Mowni)
 "Thirumoolar of Tamil Short Story"

A Literary Profile:
M. Sundaramoorthy 1993


S. Mani (1907- 1985), who wrote under the pen name 'Mowni', is one of the rare writers of 20th century Tamil fiction with his unique contributions of short stories. He was born at Semmangudi village in Thanjavur district, home of few other noted artists, including the famous carnatic vocalist, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. He had his high school education in Kumbakonam and lived there for fourteen years, since his marriage. He then moved to Chidhambaram permanently to look after his family properties. Mowni had a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics, but he did not take up any job. He was very fond of classical music, had very strong exposure to western literature, and showed deep interest in Indi-an philosophy.

 His creative power was enriched by his analytical ability obtained through science education, his artistic mind due his love for music, foresight as a result of his deep knowledge in philosophy and literary awareness from his exposure to western fiction. He started writing (in mid 30s) around the same period as Pudumaipithan and Ku.Pa.Rajagopalan. His earlier stories appeared in `maNikkodi', widely recognised as avant-grade of Modern Tamil fiction.

The `maNikkodi trio', Pudumaipithan, Ku.Pa.Ra. and Mowni  are considered to be the leaders of the movement that shaped the art of short story in Tamil. They represented three entirely  different trends of short story writing and left a legacy of rich writings. However, unlike the other two, who inspired scores of writers to continue their trends, Mowni stands alone, without any predecessor or successor, that is considered both as his success and failure. This is one of the few reasons that brought him extreme criticisms: some recognize him as a great writer and some others do not. It is often said that his becoming a writer was accidental. He himself insisted that he never had any intention of writing, though he was very much interested in literature and involved in literary discussions with his friends.

It was B.S.Ramaiah who suggested at their first meeting in 1933, during an informal chat in a group of friends that Mowni could make a good writer if he had tried. This suggestion steeped in his mind for more than a year and wrote five short stories and a long story at a stretch in late 1935 out of curiosity. He was not keen about publishing, but gave them to a friend to comment. To his astonishment, his friend praised them of very high standard and were new to Tamil.

 He handed them over to B.S.Ramaiah who was the editor of `maNikkodi' at that time. The first one `En?' appeared in February '36 issue with the pseudonym Mowni, who was originally S.Mani. Mowni's stories are based on the uncertainity of human life, human relations and their manifestations like love, disappoint- ment, failure, death etc. The theme for most of his stories is the love between man and woman (to be precise, boy and girl). Though most of his stories appear to be built on the manifestations of romantic experiences, they pervade through many dimensions of human life. They are not stereotype love stories nor do they move towards the marriage of the people involved, family etc., which is commonly the case with the romantic stories. (Only one of his stories, `kudumbaththEr' is based on family life).

The relationships are beyond physical attraction and sexual appeal, and there is hardly any physical description of the characters in his stories. They hide behind the abstract images characterized by the feelings and thoughts of their inner minds that are beyond the common experiences manifested by the materialistic life. He successfully portrays the characters through their feelings and thoughts and introduces them in the dark or twilight by which he could avoid the narrations of their physical features. Most of his stories are set in dawn or dusk. His characters wander in a world that is in between real and dream worlds, without strong attachment to the materialistic world. The stories often change between realistic and metaphysical worlds.

His characters lack strong social identities and hence the stories as such lack the social character. The characters do not represent any particular section of the society and the stories do not portray the life of any particular class and discuss any social issues. Essentially his creative world is romanticised one and does not have the social and political dimensions. His stories are synthesis of semi-realism and romanticism. This brought him strong criticism from left wing critics that he lacked social concern.

The `form' of his stories is one of the main reasons for their success. His stories are sculptured meticulously with great artistic touch. His story-telling techniques and the narrative power definitely added a new dimension to the prose writing in Tamil.

Mowni's stories are very difficult to comprehend at the first reading because of their unique nature both in form and content. Several reapeated readings are needed to fully appreciate his stories and with each reading they are capable of unveiling a new dimension and providing a new experience.

He wrote five short stories in late 1935 and added nine more between 1936 and 39. He did not write anything for a decade. He wrote two short stories at the request of his contemporary writer M.V. Venkatram in 1948 that appeared in `thEnee' magazine. He stopped writing again till 1954. Afterwards, he occasionally wrote short stories and the last one `thavaRu' appeared in 'kasa- dathapaRa' in 1971 (the translation of this story, `Loss of identity', is included in this issue). During a span of 35 years of his literary career he wrote only two dozen short stories, which is surprisingly small.

Mowni's first short story collection `azhiyaac chudar' was published in 1959, the second one `Mowniyin kadhaigaL' in 1967 and the last one in 1973. A complete edition Mowni's works, comprising 24 short stories, his only interview (`dheepam',1967), a memoir about B.S. Ramaiah, the editor of `maNikkodi' ( `enakku peyar vaiththavar', 'B.S. Ramaiah 60 aaNdu niRaivu malar', 1965), a memoir on his village ('Semmangudi: than oor thEdal', 'aanandha vikatan', 1968) and a couple of essays by Ka.Naa.Subramanyam on Mowni, was published by Peacock Publications, recently (1991)

Described as "Thirumoolar of Tamil Short Story" by his contemporary writer Pudumaipithan, Mowni occupies a distinct place in the annals of Tamil literature.  

 

 

Short Stories

A Loss Of Identity
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