This story appeared in the last issue of Panchamritam, a journal edited by Aa. Madhavaiah in 1924. He had edited the entire issue but unfortunately died before it went to the press. Though the issue did not credit Madhavaiah with the story, scholars are of the opinion that only he could have written the story. One of the perfect stories ever written in Tamil, this piece, which seems fresh and contemporary, is so nuanced and exquisitely crafted that it overturns the common perception of viewing Madhavaiah as merely a writer committed to social reform. The story begins innocently enough, with five ladies, each with a different disposition, returning from a morning bath in the Tamaraparani river. To make meaningful use of their time one of the young women is asked to recite a song from the Mahabharata about Lord Krishna’s grand mission. Even before the first line is sung, the women, one after the other, interrupt to indulge in jovial gossip.
The refrain “Kanna’s grand mission! O listen to it, my darling girl!” is very cleverly used, much like a scene-changer in a play. This allows Madhavaiah to dwell on disparate issues, ranging from marital intimacy to the important issue of caste.
So modern was he in his thinking that he gives a strong voice to the oppressed man in the story, who gives back as good as he gets. Astonishing, considering that even today writers step gingerly over such issues.
The story ends on a light note, with the women not progressing beyond the refrain, but the reader cannot be unaware of the author’s sharp comment on the predictability of human folly.
Translating this piece was a delight, primarily because of the modernity of the language, the form and the treatment of the story.
Madhavaiah’s stunning grasp of the idiom and the challenges it posed for translation were thoroughly rewarding.
Dilip Kumar and Subashree Krishnaswamy