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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!
K.S.Sivakumaran


THE LANKAN NOVEL
IN THAMIL!

by K.S.Sivakumaran

K.S.SivakumaranTwo books in Thamil record a bibliography and commentary on the development of Novel Writing in Thamil by Lankan writers. They were written by writers who are also considered ' critics '. One was a poet of some distinction and a satirist and a versatile performing artiste. He was the late  S.M.Selvarasan born in the village of Sillayoor in Yaalapanam. He was well known as Sillayoor Selvarajan. He wrote poetry under the name ' Thaan Thontri Kavirayaar ' and had many nom de plumes. 
 
He excelled in the art of reciting poetry in public performances and brought in a new style of presentation. He was an excellent broadcaster, television compare, actor, singer, lyricist, radio playwright, advertising copy editor, and newspaperman, among many other preoccupations. A man of all seasons the late Sillayoor Selvarajan was one of the colourful personalities that the Thamil community in Lanka had in the world of the arts. Two of his international acclaim was his performance in Bhopal in India in an international gathering of poets and an award he received from Japan. 
 
May I humbly state that on my suggestion, Yasmine Gooneratne  invited him to write in English a note on the early Thamil novels in Sri Lanka for the Part 1 of Ceylonese Writing published in the now defunct periodical 'Community ' edited by C. R.Hensman. Also in this issue was an article by the late S.Vithiananthan on early Lankan Thamil Literature. In Part 2, a critique on a Lankan Thamil novel titled ' Thentralum Puyalum ' ( Gentle Breeze and the Storm ) written by the late Islamic writer Subair (nom de plume : Ilankeeran ) was included. That review was written by K.S. Sivakumaran. 
 
Film was another medium that Sillayoor Selvarajan used . ' Aadare Kathawa ' was a Sinhala film of ethnic love in which Selvarajan and his family played the leading roles. He was married twice and his second wife was Kamalini Selvarajan, well known TV  personality in Thamil. Tissa Abeysekera, bilingual ( Sinhala and English ) writer and critic of distinction, filmmaker and screenwriter made a docu- short film titled ' Kamam ' ( Agriculture ) in Thamil  with Sillayoor Selvarajan and Kamalini in the 1970s. Sillayoor Selvarajan also published a few more books in Thamil and one of which was his poetic rendition of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. His erstwhile companion was another  fine short story writer and ' critic '  in Thamil, M.D. Rasadurai from  Oor Kaavat Turai ( Kayts ) in Yaalapanam, well known as Kavaloor Rasdurai.( More about him later ) During the late 1950s both , Sillayoor and Kavaloor ( the names of their respective villages before their actual names ) worked for the former Shell Company. One of the fine editors in English and Sinhala, Lakshman .Ratnapala was also working for that company then. ( I worked with Lakshman in the news room of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in the 1970s )
 
' Eelathu Thamil Naaval Valarchi ' ( The Growth of the Thamil Novel in Sri Lanka  ) written by Sillayoor Selvarajan was published in 1967. The writer traces  the novel writing in the country in Thamil between 1891 and 1962  He compiles researched information and comments and also significant excerpts from such novels. This was a grand task, which the academics could not do at that time.
 
In his introduction, the writer  humbly states that his  attempt was only a guide. Kamalini Selvarajan's father, a great Thamil scholar, the late Then Pulolyoor M. Kanapathipillai gives valuable information on Thamil studies in his foreword to Sillayoor's book. Sillayoor Selvarajan considered that  ' Ooson Palonin Kathai ' ( 1891 ) was the first Thamil novel in Sri Lanka. But this was disputed by y S. M. Kamaldeen and it is now considered that the first novel was ' Asanbe Kathai '. Selvarajan also mentioned that the first woman novelist i in Thamil in Sri Lanka was S. Sellammal ( 1924 ). This was also subject to change later.
 
The novels of the 1930s were romantic, meaning aesthetic, imaginative, individual morality, adventurism and typical, says the writer. He also qualifies that from the 1940s, the motif changes. Commenting on the novels of 'Kasin ', the writer says that developing a nucleus of a short story ' Kasin ' develops into a novel portraying rural middle class characters in a humorous way. Talking about the Late ' Ilankeeran's ( a Muslim born in Yalpanam ) novels, Sillayoor says the village poor in Yaalpanam form the characters in his novel of social realism. One of the remarkable writers in Thamil is S.Ponnuthurai. ( He now lives in Australia and  periodically in India ) He was not properly analyzed nor given due recognition by partisan ' critics ' and yet with his shortcomings, he was a terrible experimenter. Commenting on S.Ponnuthurai's ' Thee ' ( Fire ), Selvarajan attributes the novel to a bold exposition of sexuality with its thematic content of self-pity.
 
Sillayoor claimed that poetry was his best medium to convey his message. I liked particularly his poems on his friend and mentor the late A.N.Kanthasamy, a poem titled ' Siluvaiyil Araiyunda Mulu Nila ' ( The Full Moon  Nailed on the Cross ) and a beautiful poem of images on travelling in Yaal Devi ( an express train that was running between Colombo and Yaalpanam ) long before the tragic political consequences.
 
Lankan Thamil Novels ( 1885 - 1977 )
The second book on the subject is by academic N.Subramaniam titled ' Eelathil Thamil Naaval Ilakiyam ' ( Thamil Novel in Sri Lanka ). This was published in 1978  As a  history of the growth of novel writing in the island, with its critical notes, this book  was certainly an updated  and better version than on Sillayoor Selvarajan's pioneer work described above. The late scholar S.Vithiananthan in his foreword to the book writes thus:
 
" The Thamil novel In Sri Lanka has a history of nearly 100 years and more than 400 novels had been written. Booklets, articles, informative pieces, bibliographies, reviews, critiques and the like on the subject have appeared before spasmodically, but a whole book had not been written before. In that respect  N.Subramaniam's book is the first of its kind from  historical perspective. " ( Please remember that this foreword was written 28 years ago )
 
How does N.Subramaniam fits in as historiographer ?: The author explains himself:

"  The history of Sri Lankan Thamil Novel is classified under five heads. The context in late 19th century for this genre of fiction in Sri Lanka is first explained. The first chapter reviews the first attempts in  novel writing. The second deals with social reforms oriented novels in the first part of the 20th century. This is followed in the next chapter with a coverage of the next 25 years under the title the ' Urge to Write '. The fourth chapter covers the next 15 years under the title ' The age of Social criticism. 'The period  1973- 1978 is covered under the title  ' Towards Regionalistic Novels '. The concluding chapter is filled with a bibliography of Lankan Thamil Novels,  information on significant research, references and an index. " 
 
As a doctoral thesis N.Subramaniam's book, as academic A.Shanmugadas says, is a painstaking effort in gathering information and marshalling them in an appropriate manner. The author in fact  considers about 450 novels and gives brief introduction on the most important novels. This is indeed  a stupendous task As the publisher, writer K.Sockalingam ( Chokkan ) says this study is truly a research work. The author begins with the first novel ' Asanbae Udaya Kathai ' ( 1885 ) written by Siddi Lebbe  ( Sri Lankan government had issued a stamp in his memory. ) and ends with Puthiya Bhoomi ' (1977 ).
 
The first novel in Thamil ever to be written was by a Tamilnadu writer, Vedanayagam Pillai who wrote ' Prathaba Mudaliyar Charithram .'( 1879 ). The second was by a Sri Lankan in 1885. ( Please see above ).These novels had an epic like quality. And the beginning of the 20th century saw Lankans using the country's locale to depict their stories. The first to write in this manner was C.Y. Sinna Pillai. His novel, ' Verasingan Kathai ' was published in 1905.. The first novel based on Lankan history was ' Vijaya Seelam ' ( 1916 ). The first novel depicting the social problems of Lankan Thamilians was in fact by a woman writer, Mangala Nayagi. Her novel in 1916 was titled ' Norungunda Ituthayam ' ( A Broken Heart ). I remember reading editor  A.Sivanesachelvan of Lankan Thamil Daily, 'Thinakutal ', discovering this novel and introducing it in a booklet. N. Subramaniam informs that until the end of the 1930s, nearly 50 novels had been written. While at the beginning contemporary social problems were discussed in  Lankan Thamil Novels, later mystery novels came into the scene.
 
The experimental novels came to be written in the 1960s. ' Mathapoo ' (1961 )- Fireworks, ' Thee ' ( also in 1961 ) - Fire  were outstanding novels contend the author. But only in the mid-1960s, social problems in a historical perspective were written. Progressive writer, S.Ganeshalingan, wrote contemporary historical novels depicting the ' caste' problems among the northern Sri Lankans.. His novels ' Neenda Payanam ' ( 1965 )- The Long Journey, ' Sadangu ' ( 1966 ) - Rituals, ' Pore Koalam ' ( 1969 ) were a few of his early works.
 
According to N. Subramaniam, who is undoubtedly knowledgeable on Lankan Thamil Novels, among the best fiction written up to the publication of his book, the following were significant:   The novels by S. Ganeshalingan (  Neenda Payanam - The Long Journey ,  Sevvanam - The Red Sky, Sadangu - The Rituals, Pore Koalam -  The Garb to War ), S.Ponnuthurai ( Sadangu - The Rituals ), J.Benedict Balan ( Sonthakaran - The Owner ), A. Balamanoharan ( Nila Kili - a parrot of the soil ) Arul Subramaniam ( Avarhalukku Vayathu Vanthuviddathu - They Have Come of Age ), Sengai Aaliyaan ( Kaataru - The Jungle Stream ) . I agree, and should  hasten to ad that there are more significant novels covering the last few decades of Lankan society and history. One commendable feature of Lankan Thamil writers is that most  of them are realistic and depict society in a meaningful way. In fact they are social critics. One novelist who couldn't find a place in Subramaniam's book was the late K.Daniel, whose works came to be written later.
 
Readers' Reaction
I wish to  thank the following for their kind  comments and critical responses to this column. I am elated, educated and thankful for taking their time to write to me. Please keep in touch with this column. Responses by critical readers are always welcome.
 
Dileep Chandralal, Arjuna Hulugalle, Tissa Jayathilake, M.K. Muruganandan, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, Wimal Dissanaiyake, Jean Arasanayagam, Daya Ratnasekera, Mahendra Siriwardena, Maleeha Rajon, Jean Arasanayagam, K.Ganesh, Dharshani Jayasinghe, V.N.Giritharan, Pon Kuleindran, A. Muthulingam, Prashanthy Segar, Doris Homan, Arul, Greg Hounshell, Jegatheeswari Nagendran, Charles Perera, Christine & David, A.Santhan, S.M. Hanifa, P.Thambirajah, Dan Peck and Vasant Pullenayagam.
 
Contact : kssivan1@juno.com

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