insight into Jaffna Thamils social milieu
Short Stories from Sri
(Reflective of Traditions
by Pon. Kulendiren!
Published by 1st Books
Library, Indiana, USA.
Available at Amazon, Barnes
& Nobles and Borders.
by K.S. Sivakumaran
more important personages in the academia have reckoned that 'Literatures
in English' have come to stay, there are still many others, who are yet
to acknowledge this change. This includes the general reading public. They
all prefer creative writing written in the good old Queen's English as
English Literature per se. This is understandable because the residue
of a colonial mindset still remains with most of us. But in creative writing,
as we all know, the indigenous flavour comes out well only when one uses
the local idiom and dialect. That is one reason why 'people -in-the-know',
no more insist on "English Literature' but desirably use the term 'Literatures
As most knowledgeable
readers among us know, some of the best and quality writing in English
today comes from serious writers from all over the world. Against this
backdrop comes Pon Kulendiren's first attempt in book form, writing in
Englisha compendium of stories reflecting the culture and tradition of
the thamils, particularly those from the northern part of Sri Lanka, also
known an Eelam. However he titles his 332-page collection 'Stories from
Sri Lanka' and in parenthesis 'Reflective of Traditions and Culture'.
Worthy of appreciation.
If one were analyze these stories in the light of contemporary yardstick
of evaluation, some of these might not strictly be judged as belonging
to the genre of short story writing. Despite this overt view, the author's
exactness in introducing the lifestyles of an influential and unique ethnic
community in Sri Lanka, namely, the Jaffna Thamils, to the uninitiated,
is remarkable and worthy of appreciation.
What the writer Pon Kulendiren
is trying to do is to educate the non-Thamil readers, and even those of
the younger generation in his own community, in understanding 'the life
gone by ' of the Jaffna Thamils. The slices of life depicted and drawn
here are cameos of peninsular Yaalpanam (Jaffna), as seen by a 'progressive'
writer. The substance of the book as seen by the writer could be summed
up as follows: This collection of sixteen stories, coined from different
social and cultural issues faced by the Thamils community in Sri Lanka,
a few decades ago, would be interesting to the present generation of Thamils
born abroad. And those who are not aware of the superstitions and issues,
prevailing among the earlier generation of Thamils, would be introduced
to this phenomenon.
The contemporary generation
might, therefore, involve itself in the analysis of how these issues have
currently undergone changes among the Thamil community now living in Eelam
and abroad. The purpose of the writer is clear. The actualities depicted
in these stories are the felt experiences of the writer when he lived in
far off Jaffna in the 1960s and the 1970s.
Let us see what the general
themes of these stories are: They could be traced as: Caste, Race, Class,
The Dowry System, The Practice of Petitions Writing, Male Domination, Intermarriage
among the First Cousins, Status, Ritualistic Slaughter of Animals etc.
These are some of the themes the writer identifies as predominant features
of a society that continue to undergo almost radical change due to the
protracted Eelam wars and its aftermath.
The cover of the book shows
an indefatigable Jaffna farmer who toils hard to keep his hardened soil
suitable for farming drawing water from deep wells. Those Thamil children
born in Canada and other countries or those who moved here while they were
young might not have seen such sights. The tropical palmyrah tree, which
is a symbol of the Jaffna man's sturdiness and industrious nature, is also
in the picture. Kannan, who drew this appropriate picture needs to be congratulated.
Has the writer succeeded in his aim?
The first story 'caste'
is a longish narration of events involving a few characters in a caste-ridden
setup. It has a surprise ending with the awakening of youth in the old
order. It also shows Christianity making inroads into conservative intolerant
feudal families. The next story, 'Fence ', describes another facet in rural
Sri Lanka - the disputes regarding encroachments.
The signs of emerging change
are foretold. As in the previous story, here too, a sense of the structure
could have been worked out. The third story as its title suggests is in
respect of one of the malpractices -Bribery . The locale shifts to the
island's (Sri Lanka's) capital- Colombo. The dramatic turn of events admittedly
on selfish interests turns sour and shocking. The outcome is the learning
of the fact that you can get things done in double quick time with bribes.
The Go-Between - the 'Marriage
Broker' is a familiar legendary figure in Thamilian society of not a distant
past.. the matrix of the character is transposed in ironical situations
in the story next. The gradual transformation of the youth ignoring formal
marriages and marrying outside their orbit is evident in the story. Selfishness
is a hallmark of many people in a rigid society like the one portrayed.
Quite an interesting story with a satirical observation is one titled 'Status'.
The view of parents in
a regimented closed society is challenged by the contemporary youth and
they do well coming out of it. The older order gradually dies with cosmopolitanism.
Style Pon Kulendiren identifies the glaring foibles of his community and
shows the readers how change of values is inevitable in the context of
evident changes globally. This is a positive element in treatment of his
stories although one would have desired a tighter editing and polishing
and touching up of his English style. Understandably the dialogue is idiomatic
in the manner of the native tongue, but the text, however, could have been
a little chiselled.
At the same time this is
how people really speak English in many lands. Really they translate into
English ideas and speech patterns from their native tongues. That is how
there are varieties of English just as much as there are varieties of Thamil.
but, as I said a moment ago, the text of the narrative in description could
have been written in a reasonably accepted English idiom.
This observation is in
no way a criticism of the content of his stories. On the contrary, they
are a welcome depiction in an acceptable progressive stance. Continuing
with the rest of the stories, we find in one other, another mischievous
element evident in Sri Lankan society that plays a ruinous role in relationship:
Gossip. This story is a clear example of Sri Lankan English as she is spoken.
At the same time it is the ending with a quote from a newspaper that epitomizes
the mono-racial imprint of a kept-press. The depraving cruelty of animal
sacrifice and its links to religious rituals based on superstition is the
title of the next story titled 'Sacrifice'.
As stated in the beginning
of this story 'Donation given to the parents of the bridegroom normally
creates a chain of marriages'. How the marriage brokers exploit even self-centred
parents to their advantage and how the business of marriage becomes an
event of commerce rather than one of conjugal relationship is treated in
this story. Humour Pon Kulendiren's sense of humour is evident in almost
all his stories and satire comes naturally to him. In the story, 'Petition',
his description of the Colombo courthouse and those who work there in various
capacities in the Hulftsdorp area, chiefly of those typing petitions comes
This is an interesting
story within a story. The purpose of the writer seems to be to show that
knowingly or not writing petitions either on his behalf or adverse ones
on behalf of others would boomerang to the disadvantage of the drafter
of such petitions. However, the focus of the story remains elsewhere. Therefore
the singleness of purpose seems to have been lost in this story and thus
it falls short of purpose.
'Blind Love' is an interesting
magazine story with a surprise end. It is a teenage story of calf-love.
One wished that the writer revise his draft to check obvious errors in
construction of sentences before putting them into print. The publishers
of this collection have overlooked blatant errors in spelling, expression
and grammar, It is always good to have an editor in publishing houses before
actually print and publish books. This story happens in Colombo and the
protagonist is an upper middle class Thamil girl.
Writer Pon Kulendiren is one of the first class Physics graduates at the
feat of the late Prof. A. W. Mylvaganam of the University of Ceylon. He
had taught President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the Aquinas
University College. He was a high-ranking officer in the Telecommunication
Department and also serve in the U.K., Middle East and Canada. He lives
presently in Canada and is the chief editor of an electronic magazine in
English and Thamil of considerable interest. His website is www.kuviyam.com
and focuses on many academic and related studies apart from inclusion of
courtsy: Daily News, Sri