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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!
An insight into Jaffna Thamils social milieu 

Short Stories from Sri Lanka 
(Reflective of Traditions & Culture)
by Pon. Kulendiren!
Published by 1st Books Library, Indiana, USA.
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Borders. 

by K.S. Sivakumaran

Pon. Kulenthiran's Short StoriesWhile 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 in English 
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 out well. 

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. 

K.S.SivakumaranThe 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 creative writing. 

contact: kssivan.1@juno.com 
courtsy: Daily News, Sri Lanka

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