Slice of small-town life

Print edition : October 14, 2016

KNOWN more for his sensitive novels written in almost lyrical prose, Thi Janakiraman is the unsung doyen of Tamil short stories. A discerning reader will not only recognise the power of his short stories but also realise the range and depth they are infused with. "Godavari Gundu" is one of the finest stories written in Tamil. Set in the 1960s, it bristles with small human desires and lively day-to-day exchanges that so mark life in small-town Tamil Nadu. Yes, it is deeply rooted in a local milieu and culture where a married woman will go to great lengths to acquire a heap of jasmine offered to her on an auspicious Friday morning, even pawning a vessel. The other woman, never one to miss a good opportunity, shrewdly hopes to appropriate the vessel by doling out just a rupee. Simpleton Dattu, the ever-smiling indigent priest, is happy enough to escort his wife—decked with jasmine flowers of course—to a film and patiently wait outside to fetch her back since there is money enough for just one ticket. As for the harried man of the house, who has run out of money as early as the tenth of the month, he is forced to sell his old newspapers to meet his day-to-day expenses. But it is the philosophical dimension which dovetails the different strands of the story in the end that lifts it to a universal and sublime level, effortlessly transcending all the cultural specificities.

This is a kind of story that will draw loud chuckles from readers. Hence it was very important to capture the undercurrent of humour and sparkling speech that course through the entire story. The characters are ordinary people, fraught with petty yearnings and frailties, but the deft hand of the author transforms them into enchanting characters. Also the sudden self-realisation of the protagonist through the unexpected use of the inner voice spontaneously and organically invests the story with a grand human gesture. The translation had to ensure that the author was not let down in any way.

Dilip Kumar and Subashree Krishnaswamy

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