Thursday, June 03, 2010

Tamil pulp

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction promises "mad scientists!", "hard-boiled detectives!", "vengeful goddesses!", "murderous robots!", "scandalous starlets!" and "drug-fueled love affairs!", and if that doesn't sound like hours of innocent springtime pleasure, I don't know what does.

I'll get to the authors later, the prolific Rajesh Kumar among them. For now, some highlights of translator Pritham K. Chakravarthy's immensely informative introduction. The author Sujatha's detectives, she writes, "were suddenly speaking a kind of Tamil that was much closer to our Anglicized language than anything we had seen before on paper."

Tamil pulp stories were published in weekly magazines, and "households would meticulously collect the stories serialized in these weeklies and have them hard-bound to serve as reading material during the long, hot summer vacations."

The introduction takes brief excursions into the ancient history of the Tamil language, its revival in a twentieth-century literary renaissance, and separate traditions of the British "penny dreadful" and the American crime novel that all contribute to the Tamil pulp tradition.

"From the days when our English reading consisted of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys up until we grew out of Earl (sic) Stanley Gardner, Arthur Hailey, and Hadley Chase," Chakravarthy writes, "we also had a parallel world of Ra. Ki. Rangarajan, Rajendra, Kumar ... "

Parallel worlds. Literature that readers like so much, they collect and bind it themselves. An ancient language revivified by contact with English. Sounds to me as if interesting things are happening in Tamil fiction.
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(Read an excerpt from The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction and browse Detectives Beyond Borders' discussion of Surender Mohan Pathak's The Sixty-Five Lakh Heist.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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31 Comments:

Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Those Sri Lankans have great memorable, musical, names: I worked with quite a few of them in the mid 80s.
How do the likes of Sivakumaran (with a surname twice as long that I can't quite recall), Ravindra Jesubatham, and Ranel Wijesinha grab you?
Ranel and I never really saw eye to eye, and not just because I was about twice his height : I could have created my very own Tamil pulp fiction, a quarter of a century before its time

June 04, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Of course Tamil rap music has been booming for some time.

June 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, Adrian, you meant மாதங்கி 'மாயா' அருள்பிரகாசம். Sorry, I didn't recognize her at first. I will investigate her music when conditions permit me to do so.

June 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, in Subha's story "Hurricane Vaij," the protagonist is interviewing an apparent crime victim:

"Do you suspect anyone in particular?"

"Yes. The ruling party MLA. Sundaragopal Ananthanarayanasami!"

I, like a good Western liberal, try to restrain my amaazement at this formidable appellation, but the protagonist, Narendran, says: "Hell of a name!"

June 04, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

What was the title character's name in Jim Thompson's 'Hell of a Woman'?

And I don't think I ever knew Siva(kumaran)'s surname: when he introduced himself he rattled off a name, not unlike Ananthanarayanasami, and said "you're not going to be able to remember it" at which his conspiratorial compatriots laughed.

btw, just started into Declan Burke's 'The Big O': its been close to 20 years since I last read Elmore Leonard but if the latter wasn't a major influence on his style then you can call me Sivakumaran
(also, I suspect I detect a smidgin of Carl Hiassen influence)

June 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know the answer to the Jim Thompson question, but I am pretty sure that Declan Burke would be chuffed at the Elmore Leonard comparison.

Tamil names seem flexible -- abbreviated or alternately given as one name or broken into two. I often have sympathy for headline writers at Indian newspapers, but then I remember that public figures in India often go by their initials plus their surnames, which saves a hell of a lot of ink. I wonder how Indians refer to one another. Do they conventionally shorten names, for example?

June 04, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

you've reminded me of a report I heard a few years back, - I think it was on BBC World Service, - of an attempt to cut down on the excessive blather among Indian civil servants and politicians, and official documents: I don't think I've ever known any Indians, or at least not well enough.

Ravi was short for Ravindra; Siva for Sivakumaran, and Ran-El claimed to be related to Superman(!).

I'm not sure JT gave his title character a name: I recently watched the French film that was based on it, 'Serie Noire', and I don't believe that character had a name, either.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I suppose all the time saved by not enunciating those intimidating strings of syllables could constitute a reduction in blather.

An Indian classmate of mine whose name was something like Vijayalakshmi was called Vijay by all.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Sudarshan said...

I suppose I should add that this is a *Tamil* pulp fiction anthology and these names are typical traditional Tamil names. The long words are made up of shorter words strung together (Ananthanarayanasami is actually Anantha Narayana Sami and Vijayalaxmi is Vijaya Laxmi, so your classmate was probably fine with the nickname). In that respect there are some similarities to German.

Other Indian languages have different idiosyncrasies, and usually shorter names.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. I suspected Tamil names might be just as you suggested; a few comments above, I wrote that:

"Tamil names seem flexible -- abbreviated or alternately given as one name or broken into two."

Indeed, I have seen Rajesh Kumar's name written as Rajeshkumar.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Blaft Publications said...

@adrian - I'm an MIA fan too... but you should check out some more "local" Tamil music flavor...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqc6Qj6gWrE&feature=related
The singer is named Chinnaponnu (the chick in the video is lipsyncing).

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's the same song in what looks likes a Laugh-In style TV studio. The percussion attack strikes an instantly familiar chord with me, only I can't remember what song it reminds me of. I think something by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like this one, too.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think something by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
'Reese and the Smooth Ones' was the album of mine that my brother used to clear party stragglers.

I haven't checked out the Tamil music but the next must-have music album for me,-just waiting for the price to drop- is a collection of original music from the films of Satyajit Ray.

And I wonder were the Sri Lankans copying the Welsh with their composite names: y'know 'Llanfair......goes on forever'
(the church by the babbling brook that was built from the stone outside Dan Murphy's door)

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your brother's friends didn't much like honking, bashing and squeaking, I guess. I think the album I had in mind may have been "Urban Bushmen."

Satyajit Ray, who also wrote detective stories.

And the Welsh may have copied the ancient Tamil speakers, further evidence of ancient contacts.

I took a side trip into Wales on my recent visit to Crimefest. I saw w's and double l's to gladden the heart, but disappointingly few words that ran forever. I guess there's have been no way to fit them onto road signs or storefronts. I did enjoy the name Aberystwyth when I first say it in Malcolm Pryce's titles.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

that particular brother is something of a Philistine, music-wise.
He's a proud Garth Brooks fan, ferChrissakes

The only time I've ever been to Wales, on a weekend school trip almost 40 years ago, it rained almost non-stop for the duration.
Apart from the time we stopped off in Brecon, which I recall as a delightful town, back then
(hopefully it remains so)

I think the Welsh accent, or accents, isn't a million miles removed from our Cork accent.

Have you read any of Ray's detective stories?
(I have a couple of his DVD collections on order and I think one of the films may be a crime story)

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The weather was gorgeous in my part of Wales the day I was there. (We visited Hay-on-Wye and environs.) Of course, I had also heard rumors that England is rainy, and the weather was splendid for just about my entire stay.

When it comes to accents, I'm a Glasgow man, and the few Geordie accents I've heard were pure, lusty music. I didn't much note the accent on my brief visit. The Welsh authors at Crimefest had soft accents, and the parts of Wales I visited were those closest to England, so I imagine accents in that part might have lost some of their hard or distinctive edges.

I haven't read Ray's detective stories, though I think a secondhand shop not far from me might have a copy of one collection. I think the stories might be a bit on the cozy side.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

which reminds me of the Scottish lady I bumped into in London many years ago who, seriously, thought she had lost her Scottish accent: she may well have softened it, or she may believed it was combining with an English accent, but to my ears you would have needed a JCB to cut into it.

England has a wonderful variety of accents, - as we do, and I love that Geordie 'burr'.
(as I do the 'softer' Scottish accents, even like ex-PM Gordon Brown's)
I'm sure the States must have, but, particularly given its size, it doesn't seem to have as rich a variety as we and the English have

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The U.S. and my native Canada are so large that speakers with different accents do not come into such ready contact as they do in Ireland and the UK. Southern accents are still a novelty to those of us in the North, as our accents probably are to those in the South. (When Jimmy Carter was elected president, someone from the South is said to have remarked, "Finally! A president without an accent.")

June 05, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Thats a fair point, and perhaps explains why, given the blending of adjacent accents, how its almost possible to localise an accent here, and England, to a particular area of a county

(on a crime-related note, I recall the way a dialect coach was called in to help pin down the origin of the person the police originally believed was 'The Yorkshire Ripper': "ah'm Juck")

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian McKinty says that he used to be able to pin down by accent alone a Northern Ireland native's town of origin within twenty miles, if I recall correctly.

If dialect coaches could help track down the Yorkshire Ripper, how come they can't track down good accents in movies?

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Blaft Publications said...

Eep, those TV show clips don't do ANY justice to what Chinnaponnu sounds like live. (They're taken right after her serious car accident -- which is why her head wound is covered). I need to bug her to upload better video.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Adrian McKinty says that he used to be able to pin down by accent alone a Northern Ireland native's town of origin within twenty miles, if I recall correctly.
I can believe it: once you know the predominant accents of the relevant counties, then where there's a blend you can usually pin it down to proximity to a neighbouring county.

If dialect coaches could help track down the Yorkshire Ripper, how come they can't track down good accents in movies?
That particular individual couldn't, as it was a hoax call which completely derailed the original investigation.
Incidentally that (discredited) police inspector was played by Alun Armstrong in a recent tv dramatisation of the Yorkshire Ripper story: the very same Alun Armstrong who starred in the original 'Get Carter' .

And as for your point about the Hollywood movies: nobody's going to persuade Sean Connery to do a Russian accent, indeed any accent other than his native Edinburgh, no matter what the role

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Eep" does not generally herald a favorable critical judgment, but I quite like those clips. I will look for more to try to get a clearer picture of Chinnaponnu's sound. You may, of course, let me know if she does upload more video.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK:

Directors and producers may be better off letting Sean Connery do his own accent. Why the hell should he trouble himself to use, say, a Russian accent if he's delivering his lines in English? Excessive attention to accent can make a movie unwatchable, as in The Drowning Pool.

Incidentally that (discredited) police inspector was played by Alun Armstrong in a recent tv dramatisation of the Yorkshire Ripper story: the very same Alun Armstrong who starred in the original 'Get Carter'.

He did a nice job as Keith in Get Carter. It would be quite something to see him almost forty years on.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, with the caveat that the 'recent' could be as much as 10 years ago: I should have inserted the word 'relatively' in front of the word 'recent'

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, so thirty years on. Keith is such a gangly young kid in "Get Carter" that it's startling to think of how Alun Armstrong's characters must look thirty years later.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I actually still remember an interview with that policeman in charge,of over 30 years ago, as he was replaying the audiotape of the hoax 'Ripper'
(it might be on YouTube)
The hoaxer was saying something like how much he respected the copper, which caused the latter almost to blush.

There's no mistaking Alun Armstrong's face, though: a great character actor's face

June 06, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check Sonar Khela and Joybaba Feluda, two of Ray's detective stories he made into films. Also check out his scifi stories too. the most famous collection in Kagam [The Crow]. Pritham

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I shall add them to my shopping list.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Check Sonar Khela and Joybaba Feluda, two of Ray's detective stories he made into films
Joybaba Felunath (The Elephant God), which is a detective story, is on Satyajit Ray Collection, Vol.2' which I recently acquired.
I presume its one and the same story, - its from a novel by Ray, - and I've been planning on checking it out soon

June 14, 2010  

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