தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"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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Last updated
31/12/06

புதுமைப்பித்தன் : எழுத்துகளும் பதிப்புகளும் - எம். ஏ. நுஃமான், 1972

Selected Works

அகல்யை
செல்லம்மாள்
Kalyani
கோபாலய்யங்காரின் மனைவி
Sirpiyin Naragam
இது மிஷின் யுகம்
கடவுளின் பிரதிநிதி
இரண்டு உலகங்கள்
Kanjanai
Vazhi
Pudhiya Koondu
Subbaiyah Pillaiyin Kaadhalgal

Vedhaalam Sonna Kadhai

Oru Naal Kazhindhadhu ஒரு நாள் கழிந்தது
Kadavulum Kandasaamy Pillaiyum கடவுளும் கந்தசாமிப் பிள்ளையும்
Kaalanum Kilaviyum காலனும் கிழவியும்
Ponnagaram  பொன்னகரம்
Theru Vilakku தெரு விளக்கு
படபடப்பு
மனித யந்திரம்

Related Links

Pudhumaipithan at Wikpedia
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புதுமைப்பித்தன் at கொள்ளிடம்
 

 

Puthumaippiththan
புதுமைப்பித்தன்

His Contribution to Modern Tamil Literature
E. Sa. Visswanathan
at Second International Tamil Conference Seminar
January 1968, Madras, Tamil Nadu

 


Viruththaacalam, popularly known by his pseudonym as Puthumaippiththan, (1906-1948), was a journalist by profession and was closely connected with such leading journals as ThinamaNi, Thinacari and MaNikkoTi. Within a short period of his journalistic career, from 1930 to 1946, he produced two hundred or more short stories, a small novelette, three one-act plays, a book of poems and about 50 translations of short stories written by Western and Eastern writers. Also, a considerable number of articles on various topics like literature, art, short stories, modern poetry, politics, reviews and criticisms have been written by him. From his articles a selection has been published under the title Puthumaippiththan KaTTUraikalh.l

Puthumaippiththan’s Verses

This paper is concerned mainly with a detailed analysis of his stories. His contribution to other fields such as poetry and essay has also come under the review of critics, and critics are divided in their opinion regarding their quality. A close friend of Puthumaippiththan, Mr. Rakunhaathan, in his preface to Puthumaippiththan Kavithaikalh labours rather painfully to extol and to bring out the salient features of his poems and by that process formulates his own theory of prosody and poetics.2 However, impartial critics would agree that Puthnmaippiththan tried a new form of poetry quite alien to Tamil tradition and failed miserably in his attempt. His poems have neither a similarity to blank verse nor a resemblance to metrical composition in Tamil. But these poems, no doubt, reveal the author's passion for novelty: novelty in the approach and in the handling of the subject matter and form.

Puthumaippiththan’s Translations

Since Puthumaippiththan  was a journalist for a considerable part of his life one would naturally expect him to be an able translator. Must of  translations he had done during this period were items for the Tamil  dailies and as such it is now rather difficult to assess their standard. Nevertheless, the short stories he translated from English into Tamil, numbering about fifty in all, in between the period of his journalistic career and the period of his active literary production, provide the opportunity to estimate their quality.

His experience in Tamil journalism, no doubt, helped him a great deal to master the mechanics of the language and therefore made it easier for him to translate stories in an easy flowing style. This is not enough to translate a story, because short story writers, if they are really so, have mastered the art of implication so well that they convey a great many things on paper without stating them at all. To bring out this essential aspect and to convey the spirit of the story while translating into Tamil, Puthumaippiththan formulated a new staccato slickness of style, eliminating so much of what had been considered essential literary paraphernalia. In addition to this, his innate genius in writing short stories gave his translations a marvellous lucidity and straightforwardness. Therefore, one almost forgets while reading his translated short story collections, for example, Ulakaththuc Citukathaikalh 3 that they are translations, and regards them as original works.

Tamil Short Story: Its Beginning and Development

The real genius of Puthumaippiththan is revealed in his own works: the short stories. The short story as such, and in the modern sense, is an imported literary form from Europe. The very word citukathai (சிறுகதை) in Tamil is a literal translation of the English term Short Story. However, an ardent lover of Tamil would hasten to say that one could find the trace of this genre in Classical Tamil poetry. There is some truth in this assumption because " the short story is closer to poetry in its structural flexibility than it is to other prose forms ".

The Tamil short story has three stages in its development beginning with C. J. Beschi's (1680-1742) Paramaarththa Kurukathai and Celvakkeecavaraaya Mudaliar's (1864-1921) Apinhavakkatdtaikalh. Though these stories do not possess very high literary merit, yet the authors should be congratulated for introducing a new kind of literature into Tamil.

The second stage begins with V. V. S. Iyer (1881-1925) and a host of writers whose stories are of varying standard. But in all fairness to these writers of the second stage, they could be regarded as the real pioneers in the craft of writing short stories. V. V. S. Iyer, especially, tried in his stories " the neatness of a miniature and completeness of a microcosm" but the success he achieved was not of a very high standard. As Puthumaippiththan rightly observes, V. V. S. Iyer was the father of short story writing in Tamil and he was the first writer to give the story its pronounced form.4

The third stage began immediately after 1930, with Puthumaippiththan and a group of brilliant and talented story writers. The contribution of such gifted masters as Puthumaippiththan, Ku. Paa Rajakoopaalan, P.S.Raamaiya Cithampara CuprumaNiyan to the field of the short story, created for modern Tamil short story writers a classical pantheon to look to.5 What these men wrote, and how they wrote, and that they wrote short fiction, to a large degree established the serious Tamil short story of our time.

Initial Reaction to Puthumaippiththan's Short Stories

Among this luminous group of short story writers, the one who achieved pre-eminence and the one considered by many critics as the writer who broke free from past Tamil tradition and stereotyped formalism is Puthumaippiththan. In the beginning, his stories were neither appreciated nor understood by many readers because of the newness of his technique.

However, like all writers of his time, he wrote of ordinary people, their relationship with one another, their foibles, their aspirations and avocations in life and of the humdrum world of the average man. It is the kind of life with which most people, despite differences in setting, are in daily contact, but which, more often than not, they scorn to look at more closely because of its trivial and commonplace character. With penetrating insight Puthumaippiththan analyses in his short stories the petty struggles of such a life, its grotesque self assertions and vanities, and the pathetic antics of limited and frustrated people in their fight for existence. In them, no doubt, he reveals the incongruities and maladjustments of the ordinary man and points out the symptoms and diagnoses the disease. But he neither moralises, nor preaches, nor offers a solution.

Puthumaippiththan felt sincerely that it was not his concern to reform society, but to portray as he had witnessed the miserable drama of human life, 6 " with a certain melancholy heaviness behind which glowed a constant kindliness of heart ". But what he implies by his vivid or at times sketchy portrayal of the shame and the oppressiveness of life, for example in " Kavanhthanum kaamanam ",7 and " Ponnakaram " 8 is beyond the grasp of ordinary readers, who therefore rejected them as scribbles of a madman. But, now, with the passage of time he is not only understood but also appreciated for the wide range of subjects he dealt with in his stories, and the many experiments he made in the texture of weaving a story.

Some of Puthumaippiththan's Techniques

In some stories Puthumaippiththan chose to interpret with characteristic mockery the life of his own Pillai community, their special traits in character, their customs and manners and their reactions to various problems that arise in a particular situation or time in life. In such stories, the spoken dialect of the Pillai Community of Thirunhelveeli was handled very efficiently to make the story more realistic and natural.9 In some other stories the dialect of the city of' Madras comes out in full colour which projects the characters  in a story superbly.10 In whatever dialect or style lie wrote, he never lost the sarcasm and the wry wit which are so very common to the people of Thirunhelveeli. For example the stories like " Nhaacakaarak Kumpal ",11 " Paalvannam Pillillaai",12 and " Kotukkaappulhimaram "13 are full of sarcasm and sardonic wit.

Puthumaippiththan and Western Writers

Unlike some of the short story writers in Tamil he was abreast with the modern trends in stories. From Puthumaippiththan's biography and translated stories one would infer that he received the impact and influence of Maupassant, Anton Chekov, Nathaniel Hawthorne and a group of eminent story writers of the continents of Europe and America.

But after studying all his available stories carefully it is rather difficult to say how far these writers have directly influenced him in the art of writing a short story. For in his stories we find the ease and clarity of Maupassant, we hear the soft and deep sigh of the pure and genuinely human heart of Chekov, and perceive the twin themes of Hemingway : pessimism and death.

Therefore. it is rather difficult to evaluate the influence of Western writers on Puthumaippiththan, and my own observation is that he assimilated the best aspects in each of the eminent writers of the West. For example, the " stream of consciousness " technique so effectively handled by James Joyce and William Faulkner in their stories has been brought out superbly in Puthumaippiththan's " Kayittaravu ".14 Here the most important point to bear in mind is that when Puthumaippiththan was congratulated for so admirably handling the technique of stream of consciousness he had to remind his enthusiastic admirers that he had been completely unaware of that technique when he wrote the story.15

Other techniques in short stories which are common and on which comparisons are often made between Western writers and Puthumaippiththan are the use of symbolism and satire. A composition in prose such as a novel or short story holding up vice or folly to ridicule or lampooning individuals was a common feature of both Oriental and Occidental writers. Puthumaippiththan in one of the prefaces to his own collection of short stories declared that in his stories he had merely ridiculed the follies and foibles of his friends and enemies.16 Both his literary adversaries and friends liked the sarcastic undertone, scurrilous language and scornful attitude of the stories he wrote simply for their artistic quality and beauty in critical dissection of society.

Puthumaippiththan's Stories: An Analysis

Out of the seven collections of short stories,17 totalling in all ninety eight stories, in as many as forty stories Puthumaippiththan derides the society in which lie lived, its justice, its beliefs and its age-old customs. He mocks at the people of f his own community in "Oppantham"18 he laughs at the interpretation of justice in "Nhiyaayam " 19  and satirizes on intercaste marriages 20, Harijan uplift 21 astrology 22 and what not.

Even his ardent admirers, though not subscribing to the attitude he took towards life and society, nevertheless agree that in satirical stories lie excels other writers in Tamil. " Kayittaravu ", which is considered to be one of' his best stories, is a good example of the symbolic story in Tamil. Kayittaravu is a symbol which suggests a meaning on a level other than the literal one. In this story he speaks like a philosopher on birth and death, on body and soul, on the eternity of time and the perception of it by the human soul.

He narrates with immaculate accuracy the birth and the inevitable death of Paramacivam Pillai and ends the story with an axiom that the whole concept of time has a meaning and value only when it is perceived by the human soul. This story, particularly, betrays his pessimistic attitude of life. " Makaamacaanam "23 " Caamiyaarum Kuzhanhthaiyum Ceetaiyum " 24 and " Pirammaraatcas ",25 though written with clarity, are beyond the grasp of common readers because of their spiritually allegorical nature.

In " Njaanakkukai ",26 Puthumaippiththan emphasises the all-pervading nature of Maya and the difficulty of releasing oneself from it to attain salvation or the Supreme knowledge. The story is related in a clear style but the underlying meaning adroitly escapes from grasp due to the mystic thought content. Puthumaippiththan's genius is brought to play in reinterpreting old stories of the epics. " Akalyai "27 and " Caapavimoocanam "28 the two very well written stories in his collections relate the story of Akalyai from Ramayana and by so doing Puthumaippiththan changes the meaning of chastity.

In the former he emphasises that chastity is purity of mind but not of body and in the later he shows how Akalyai loses her purity and turns herself into a stone when the unfortunate drama of Indra has once more been enacted on the stage of her mind. "Caapavimoocanam " is the best example of psycho-analysis ever attempted successfully by a short story writer in Tamil. The working of the human mind, the interaction of the mind and heart, the impact of human behaviour on accepted human values are very well brought out through the old epic characters such as Akalyai, Gotthamar, and Sita.

The language in both the stories is the purest Putlmmaippiththan ever summoned, and its gravely undulating rhythms successfully take its prose to that precarious point which is almost poetry. The story's most brilliant accomplishment in technique is its pacing, its controlled building up and skilful holding back, done in the secure knowledge that the climax will not be imperilled by its initial flatness.

In stories like " KaTavulhum KanhthacaamippilhIluliyum ",29 Puthumaippiththan anthropomorphized God and made him undergo the hardships of mundane life. God's tour with Kanhthamcaami Pillai from Broadway-Esplanade junction to Triplcane  is graphically described through a marvellous symbolic contrast in which the story's tragi-comic tone is most sharply realised.  Kanhthamcaami Pillai is caricature of a typical Tamil journal publisher of' his time. His pragmatic attitude towards the problems of life, his extraordinary equipoise in the presence of God and his veiled exhibition of human dignity before the Supreme, no doubt, make him a semi-god. But still, his portrayal is so human that we are amazed at Puthumaippiththan's extraordinary skill in characterization. What the author wants the story to drive home to its readers is that one cannot live a life in this world with the job he knows well. This particular story to some extent reflects the author's life itself.

Puthumaippiththan's Stories: An Evaluatioin

The number of Puthumaippiththan's short stories that can be considered completely first-rate is probably not more than two dozen and of them almost all are dissimilar to each other. This is because every story is an experiment either in form, characterization, plot, theme or style. No writer in Tamil has made such a wide range of experiments in the inter-relationship of the elements of a story.

However, he unfortunately stood at the experimental stage itself in most of the stories and never went beyond that either to perfect or improve on any one type. This was perhaps due to Puthumaippiththan's idiosyncratic nature or perhaps to his frequent transitions from high spirits to depression, or may be his ambition to try multifarious techniques and different topics and themes in his stories. Nevertheless, the direct cause could be traced from his biography which reveals to us that he had a very unsettled existence from the moment he stepped into the field of journalism till his death in 1948 and life was a constant struggle for him.

Never in his life was he affluent except, perhaps, in the last two years before his death. I presume these factors contributed to the constant change of his mental attitude and naturally this impeded him in perfecting any one specific type of story. There was also a negative attitude towards life, its meaning and philosophy; and hence frustration, pessimism and death dominate his stories.

One glaring defect in Puthumaippiththan's stories is lack of structural tidiness which one overlooks because of his forceful style. By his stories he has shown to us that a story can exist not only without plot,30 without characterization,3l and without carefully created atmosphere,32 but without any other rules by which fictional life is projected through imagination.

To overcome structural untidiness and waywardness Puthumaippiththan put nothing but his own ability to imply, by the choice, association, and order of words, whether a character was feeling and speaking with anger, regret, desperation or tenderness: quickly or slowly; ironically or bitterly. Where he thought he would fail lie brought to play his mastery of the language which gave his stories that enchanting beauty and charm. It is true that in writing short stories Puthumaippiththan was unconventional not because he wanted to be but  because were no conventions for short stories in Tamil, and that he introduced new conventions and theories which are taken up by many in the succeeding generations of writers. Puthumaippiththan's contribution to Modern Tamil literature is specially in the field of short story writing, and in it he achieved great success. Those who write the history of Modern Literature in Tamil must devote an entire chapter to him.
 


Notes

1. Rakhunathan (ed.), Puthumaippiththan Kavithaikalh, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1959.
2. Ibid., pp. 28-30.
3. Puthumaippiththan (Trans.), Ulakaththuc Citukathaikalh, Nhavaynkap Piracuraalayam, Madras-1, 3rd Edition 1956, pp. 31-40.
4. Puthumaippiththan KaTTUraikalh, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1954, p. 29.
5. Ibid., p. 31.
6..Kaanjcanai (Collection of Short Stories), Kalaimakal Kaariyaalayam, Madras-4, 1943, pp. vi-vii.
7. Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1940, pp. 133-6.
8. Ibid., pp. 205-208.
9.Antu Iravu (Collection of Short Stories), Star Publication, Madras-S, 1954, pp. 69-101.
10. Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, pp. 214-17. Kaanjcanai, pp. 106-108.
Puthiya Olhi (Collection of Short Stories), Star Publication, Madras-5, 1953, pp. 22-3.
11. Antu Iravu, pp. 69-101.
12.Puthiya Olhi, pp. 4-8.
13. Ibid., pp. 9-13.
14. Ibid., pp. 156-65.
15. Kaanjcanai, pp. iv-v.
16. Ibid., pp. vi-vii.
17. ( ) Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh: (2) Kaarajcanai: (3) Antu Iravu: (4) Puthiya Olhi: (5) Ciththi, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1955; (6) Vipariitha Aacai, Mullai VelhiyiiTU, Madras-1, 1952; (7) Avalhum .Avanum, Tamizh CuTar Nhilayam, Madras-5, 1953.
18. Puthiya Olhi, pp. 46-51.
19. Kaarycanai, pp. 143-5.
20. Puthiya Olhi, pp. 14-20.
21. Ibid., pp. 29-35.
22. Antru Iravu, pp. 119-30.
23. Kaanjcanai pp. 48-55.
24.  Puthiya Olhi, pp. 171-6.
25.  Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, pp. 105-21.
26. Ibid.. pp. 137-44
27. Ibid pp. 173-8
28. Kaanjcanai pp. 121-42
29. Ibid., pp. 163-92.
30.Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, pp. 130-2; 218-23.
31.Ibid., pp. 145-7; 212-17.
32.Puthiya Olhi, pp. 59-64.


Bibliography

Rakhunaathan, Puthumaippiththan, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1951.

Gene Baro, Modern American Short Stories, Faber and Faber, London, 1963.

Harry Shaw and Douglas Bement, Reading the Short Story, Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, 1941.

Frederic Morgan, (Editor), The Modern Image, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1965.

Anton Chekov, Anton Chekhov Early Stories, The Bodley Head, London, 1960.

Irwin Howe, Sherwood Anderson, William Sloane Associates, U.S.A., 1951.

Jessi Rehder, (ed.), The Story at Work: an Anthology, The Odyssey Press, Inc., New York, 1963.

Wallace and Mary Stegner, (ed.), Great American Short Stories, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1957.

Somerset Maugham, W., Points of View, Bantam Books, New York, 1961.

 

 

 

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