C.N. Annadurai (1909-69), hailed as the worthy successor of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy in terms of ideology, journalism, and political beliefs, was a prolific writer in Tamil. His legacy lives on in the Dravidian movement to date, enshrined in his articles, speeches, plays, short stories, film scripts, and slogan texts, with their uncompromising focus on what the movement stood for.
Help Me with This Tricky Case: Stories
The Dravidian discourse, which got a new lease of life recently, found renewed vigour in the genre of medai pechu, or oratory, traces of which can be detected in all the writings of Annadurai, who was hailed as the Bernard Shaw of Tamil and fondly addressed as Arinjar (scholar) Anna (elder brother).
While Tamil fiction was undergoing a sea change, with stalwarts like Pudhumaipithan, Azhagirisami, and Ki. Ra. bringing in a modernism influenced by Western literature and the Russian Revolution, the Dravidian movement, focussed on self-respect, was working at changing civil society by eradicating caste discrimination, class divides, and advocating the primacy of Tamil.
The Dravidian activists’ writings were seen as extensions of their sociopolitical efforts. Hence the difficulty in finding their names in the history of Tamil literature as taught to students for generations. However, the tide is changing, and we are now keen to discover the unique language and idiom that grew out of the Dravidian movement. Anna tops the list of writers who exposed the innate hierarchies of Hinduism and their impact on all spheres of life.
- C.N. Annadurai, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and founder of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, tops the list of writers who exposed the innate hierarchies of Hinduism and their impact on all spheres of life
- This anthology of 22 short stories by Annadurai gives us a taste of his thematic preoccupations and narrative strategies
- All the stories ask us to peel off the layers of hypocrisies of the privileged
Peeling off layers
This anthology of 22 short stories by Annadurai gives us a taste of his thematic preoccupations and narrative strategies. Beginning with his first story, “Cock-a-doodle-doo”, published in the Tamil weekly magazine Ananda Vikatan in 1934, it compiles almost three decades of his writing. Except “Cock-a-doodle-doo”, all the rest were are published in Dravida Nadu and Kanchi magazines, which Anna edited (he is credited with having filled up their pages at short notice).
In these stories, gods face human predicaments, humans reveal their demonic side, and common people show an amazing sense of ethics. Anna’s penchant for legal arguments comes across in many of the stories, including the eponymous one. “The Story of Columbus”, written in 1948, is a classic anti-colonial, anti-imperialist text. The fact that Columbus lay buried with the iron shackles gifted to him by the Spanish kingdom is moving.
“In these stories, gods face human predicaments, humans reveal their demonic side, and common people show an amazing sense of ethics.”
All the stories ask us to peel off the layers of hypocrisies of the privileged. The tirade against superstitions, religious schisms, caste pride, and profit motives of the rich is delivered with shades of irony ranging from overt sarcasm to subtle humour. However, there are stereotypical portrayals, such as that of Charubala—the rich girl fashionably interested in social work. This is not surprising though, given that the stories are concerned not so much with artistic nuances like psychological depth as with the advocacy of rationalism, which is the cornerstone of Periyar’s philosophy.
Ramakrishnan V.’s translation is conscious of the unique aspects of Anna’s writings, in terms of the use of language, narration, and appeal. His introductory notes on the translation raise many pertinent points. Thanks to the lucid flow of the translation, Anna comes alive in English, while reminding us that the milieu of the works is Tamil society on the cusp of change.
A. Mangai is a retired professor of English, Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has been involved in Tamil theatre for four decades. Her fields of interest are translation, gender, and theatre.