Contribution to Modern
E. Sa. Visswanathan
at Second International Tamil Conference Seminar
January 1968, Madras, Tamil Nadu
Viruththaacalam, popularly known by his pseudonym as
Puthumaippiththan, (1906-1948), was a journalist by profession and
was closely connected with such leading journals as ThinamaNi,
Thinacari and MaNikkoTi. Within a short period of his journalistic
career, from 1930 to 1946, he produced two hundred or more short
stories, a small novelette, three one-act plays, a book of poems and
about 50 translations of short stories written by Western and
Eastern writers. Also, a considerable number of articles on various
topics like literature, art, short stories, modern poetry, politics,
reviews and criticisms have been written by him. From his articles a
selection has been published under the title Puthumaippiththan
paper is concerned mainly with a detailed analysis of his stories.
His contribution to other fields such as poetry and essay has also
come under the review of critics, and critics are divided in their
opinion regarding their quality. A close friend of Puthumaippiththan,
Mr. Rakunhaathan, in his preface to Puthumaippiththan Kavithaikalh
labours rather painfully to extol and to bring out the salient
features of his poems and by that process formulates his own theory
of prosody and poetics.2 However, impartial critics would
agree that Puthnmaippiththan tried a new form of poetry quite alien
to Tamil tradition and failed miserably in his attempt. His poems
have neither a similarity to blank verse nor a resemblance to
metrical composition in Tamil. But these poems, no doubt, reveal the
author's passion for novelty: novelty in the approach and in the
handling of the subject matter and form.
Since Puthumaippiththan was a journalist for
a considerable part of his life one would naturally expect him to be
an able translator. Must of translations he had done during
this period were items for the Tamil dailies and as such it is
now rather difficult to assess their standard. Nevertheless, the
short stories he translated from English into Tamil, numbering about
fifty in all, in between the period of his journalistic career and
the period of his active literary production, provide the
opportunity to estimate their quality.
His experience in Tamil journalism, no doubt, helped him a great
deal to master the mechanics of the language and therefore made it
easier for him to translate stories in an easy flowing style. This
is not enough to translate a story, because short story writers, if
they are really so, have mastered the art of implication so well
that they convey a great many things on paper without stating them
at all. To bring out this essential aspect and to convey the spirit
of the story while translating into Tamil, Puthumaippiththan
formulated a new staccato slickness of style, eliminating so much of
what had been considered essential literary paraphernalia. In
addition to this, his innate genius in writing short stories gave
his translations a marvellous lucidity and straightforwardness.
Therefore, one almost forgets while reading his translated short
story collections, for example, Ulakaththuc Citukathaikalh 3
that they are translations, and regards them as original works.
Tamil Short Story: Its Beginning and Development
genius of Puthumaippiththan is revealed in his own works: the short
stories. The short story as such, and in the modern sense, is an
imported literary form from Europe. The very word citukathai
Tamil is a literal translation of the English term Short Story.
However, an ardent lover of Tamil would hasten to say that one could
find the trace of this genre in Classical Tamil poetry. There is
some truth in this assumption because " the short story is closer to
poetry in its structural flexibility than it is to other prose forms
The Tamil short story has three stages in its development
beginning with C. J. Beschi's (1680-1742) Paramaarththa Kurukathai
and Celvakkeecavaraaya Mudaliar's (1864-1921) Apinhavakkatdtaikalh.
Though these stories do not possess very high literary merit, yet
the authors should be congratulated for introducing a new kind of
literature into Tamil.
The second stage begins with
V. V. S. Iyer
(1881-1925) and a host of writers whose stories are of varying
standard. But in all fairness to these writers of the second stage,
they could be regarded as the real pioneers in the craft of writing
short stories. V. V. S. Iyer, especially, tried in his stories " the
neatness of a miniature and completeness of a microcosm" but the
success he achieved was not of a very high standard.
As Puthumaippiththan rightly observes, V. V. S. Iyer was the father of
short story writing in Tamil and he was the first writer to give the
story its pronounced form.4
The third stage began
immediately after 1930, with Puthumaippiththan and a group of
brilliant and talented story writers. The contribution of such
gifted masters as Puthumaippiththan, Ku. Paa Rajakoopaalan,
P.S.Raamaiya Cithampara CuprumaNiyan to the field of the short
story, created for modern Tamil short story writers a classical
pantheon to look to.5 What these men wrote, and how they
wrote, and that they wrote short fiction, to a large degree
established the serious Tamil short story of our time.
Reaction to Puthumaippiththan's Short Stories
Among this luminous group of short story writers, the one who
achieved pre-eminence and the one considered by many critics as the
writer who broke free from past Tamil tradition and stereotyped
formalism is Puthumaippiththan. In the beginning, his stories were
neither appreciated nor understood by many readers because of the
newness of his technique.
However, like all writers of his time, he
wrote of ordinary people, their relationship with one another, their
foibles, their aspirations and avocations in life and of the
humdrum world of the average man. It is the kind of life with which
most people, despite differences in setting, are in daily contact,
but which, more often than not, they scorn to look at more closely
because of its trivial and commonplace character. With penetrating
insight Puthumaippiththan analyses in his short stories the petty
struggles of such a life, its grotesque self assertions and
vanities, and the pathetic antics of limited and frustrated people
in their fight for existence. In them, no doubt, he reveals the
incongruities and maladjustments of the ordinary man and points out
the symptoms and diagnoses the disease. But he neither moralises,
nor preaches, nor offers a solution.
sincerely that it was not his concern to reform society, but to
portray as he had witnessed the miserable drama of human life,
6 " with a certain melancholy heaviness behind which glowed a
constant kindliness of heart ". But what he implies by his vivid or at times
sketchy portrayal of the shame and the oppressiveness of life, for
example in " Kavanhthanum kaamanam ",7 and "
beyond the grasp of ordinary readers, who therefore rejected them as
scribbles of a madman. But, now, with the passage of time he is not
only understood but also appreciated for the wide range of subjects
he dealt with in his stories, and the many experiments he made in
the texture of weaving a story.
Some of Puthumaippiththan's
In some stories Puthumaippiththan chose to interpret with
characteristic mockery the life of his own Pillai community, their
special traits in character, their customs and manners and their
reactions to various problems that arise in a particular situation
or time in life. In such stories, the spoken dialect of the Pillai
Community of Thirunhelveeli was handled very efficiently to make the story more realistic and natural.9
In some other stories the
dialect of the city of' Madras comes out in full colour which projects
the characters in a story superbly.10 In whatever
style lie wrote, he never lost the sarcasm and the wry wit which
are so very common to the people of Thirunhelveeli. For example the
stories like " Nhaacakaarak Kumpal ",11 " Paalvannam Pillillaai",12
and " Kotukkaappulhimaram "13 are full of sarcasm and sardonic wit.
Puthumaippiththan and Western Writers
Unlike some of the short story writers in Tamil he was abreast with
the modern trends in stories. From Puthumaippiththan's biography
and translated stories one would infer that he received the impact
and influence of Maupassant, Anton Chekov, Nathaniel Hawthorne and
a group of eminent story writers of the continents of Europe and
But after studying all his available stories carefully it
is rather difficult to say how far these writers have directly
influenced him in the art of writing a short story. For in his
stories we find the ease and clarity of Maupassant, we hear the soft
and deep sigh of the pure and genuinely human heart of Chekov, and
perceive the twin themes of Hemingway : pessimism and death.
Therefore. it is rather difficult to evaluate the influence of
Western writers on Puthumaippiththan, and my own observation is that
he assimilated the best aspects in each of the eminent writers of
the West. For example, the " stream of consciousness " technique so
effectively handled by James Joyce and William Faulkner in their
stories has been brought out superbly in Puthumaippiththan's "
Kayittaravu ".14 Here the most important point to bear in mind is
that when Puthumaippiththan was congratulated for so admirably
handling the technique of stream of consciousness he had to remind
his enthusiastic admirers that he had been completely unaware of
that technique when he wrote the story.15
Other techniques in short stories which are common and on which
comparisons are often made between Western writers and
Puthumaippiththan are the use of symbolism and satire. A
composition in prose such as a novel or short story holding up vice
or folly to ridicule or lampooning individuals was a common feature
of both Oriental and Occidental writers. Puthumaippiththan in one of
the prefaces to his own collection of short stories declared that in
his stories he had merely ridiculed the follies and foibles of his
friends and enemies.16 Both his literary adversaries and friends
liked the sarcastic undertone, scurrilous language and scornful
attitude of the stories he wrote simply for their artistic quality
and beauty in critical dissection of society.
Stories: An Analysis
Out of the seven collections of short stories,17 totalling in all ninety eight stories, in as many as forty stories Puthumaippiththan
derides the society in which lie lived, its justice, its beliefs
and its age-old customs. He mocks at the people of f his own
community in "Oppantham"18 he laughs at the
interpretation of justice in "Nhiyaayam " 19 and
satirizes on intercaste marriages 20, Harijan uplift
21 astrology 22 and what
Even his ardent admirers, though not subscribing to the
attitude he took towards life and society, nevertheless agree that
in satirical stories lie excels other writers in Tamil.
" Kayittaravu ", which is considered to be one of' his best stories,
is a good example of the symbolic story in Tamil. Kayittaravu is a
symbol which suggests a meaning on a level other than the literal
one. In this story he speaks like a philosopher on birth and death,
on body and soul, on the eternity of time and the perception of it
by the human soul.
He narrates with immaculate accuracy the birth
and the inevitable death of Paramacivam Pillai and ends the story
with an axiom that the whole concept of time has a meaning and value
only when it is perceived by the human soul. This story,
particularly, betrays his pessimistic attitude of life. "
Makaamacaanam "23 " Caamiyaarum Kuzhanhthaiyum Ceetaiyum "
" Pirammaraatcas ",25 though written with clarity, are beyond the
grasp of common readers because of their spiritually allegorical
In " Njaanakkukai ",26 Puthumaippiththan emphasises the
all-pervading nature of Maya and the difficulty of releasing oneself
from it to attain salvation or the Supreme knowledge. The story is
related in a clear style but the underlying meaning adroitly escapes
from grasp due to the mystic thought content. Puthumaippiththan's
genius is brought to play in reinterpreting old stories of the
epics. " Akalyai "27 and " Caapavimoocanam "28 the two very well
written stories in his collections relate the story of Akalyai from
Ramayana and by so doing Puthumaippiththan changes the meaning of
In the former he emphasises that chastity is purity of
mind but not of body and in the later he shows how Akalyai loses her
purity and turns herself into a stone when the unfortunate drama of
Indra has once more been enacted on the stage of her mind. "Caapavimoocanam " is the best example of psycho-analysis ever
attempted successfully by a short story writer in Tamil. The working
of the human mind, the interaction of the mind and heart, the impact
of human behaviour on accepted human values are very well brought
out through the old epic characters such as Akalyai, Gotthamar, and
The language in both the stories is the purest Putlmmaippiththan ever summoned, and its gravely undulating rhythms successfully take its prose to that precarious point which is
almost poetry. The story's most brilliant accomplishment in
technique is its pacing, its controlled building up and skilful
holding back, done in the secure knowledge that the climax will not
be imperilled by its initial flatness.
In stories like " KaTavulhum
KanhthacaamippilhIluliyum ",29 Puthumaippiththan anthropomorphized
God and made him undergo the hardships of mundane life. God's tour
with Kanhthamcaami Pillai from Broadway-Esplanade junction to
Triplcane is graphically described through a marvellous
symbolic contrast in which the story's tragi-comic tone is most sharply realised. Kanhthamcaami
Pillai is caricature of a typical Tamil journal publisher of' his time.
pragmatic attitude towards the problems of life, his extraordinary
equipoise in the presence of God and his veiled exhibition of human
dignity before the Supreme, no doubt, make him a semi-god. But
still, his portrayal is so human that we are amazed at
Puthumaippiththan's extraordinary skill in characterization. What
the author wants the story to drive home to its readers is that one
cannot live a life in this world with the job he knows well. This
particular story to some extent reflects the author's life itself.
Puthumaippiththan's Stories: An Evaluatioin
The number of Puthumaippiththan's short stories that can be
considered completely first-rate is probably not more than two
dozen and of them almost all are dissimilar to each other. This is
because every story is an experiment either in form,
characterization, plot, theme or style. No writer in Tamil has made
such a wide range of experiments in the inter-relationship of the
elements of a story.
However, he unfortunately stood at the
experimental stage itself in most of the stories and never went
beyond that either to perfect or improve on any one type. This was
perhaps due to Puthumaippiththan's idiosyncratic nature or perhaps
to his frequent transitions from high spirits to depression, or may
be his ambition to try multifarious techniques and different topics
and themes in his stories. Nevertheless, the direct cause could be
traced from his biography which reveals to us that he had a very
unsettled existence from the moment he stepped into the field of
journalism till his death in 1948 and life was a constant struggle
Never in his life was he affluent except, perhaps, in the
last two years before his death. I presume these factors contributed
to the constant change of his mental attitude and naturally this
impeded him in perfecting any one specific type of story. There was
also a negative attitude towards life, its meaning and philosophy;
and hence frustration, pessimism and death dominate his stories.
One glaring defect in Puthumaippiththan's stories is lack of
structural tidiness which one overlooks because of his forceful
style. By his stories he has shown to us that a story can exist not
only without plot,30 without characterization,3l and without
carefully created atmosphere,32 but without any other rules by
which fictional life is projected through imagination.
structural untidiness and waywardness Puthumaippiththan put nothing
but his own ability to imply, by the choice, association, and order
of words, whether a character was feeling and speaking with anger,
regret, desperation or tenderness: quickly or slowly; ironically or
bitterly. Where he thought he would fail lie brought to play his
mastery of the language which gave his stories that enchanting
beauty and charm. It is true that in writing short
stories Puthumaippiththan was unconventional not because he wanted
to be but because were no conventions for short stories in
and that he introduced new conventions and theories which are taken
up by many in the succeeding generations of writers.
Puthumaippiththan's contribution to Modern Tamil literature is
specially in the field of short story writing, and in it he achieved
great success. Those who write the history of Modern Literature in
Tamil must devote an entire chapter to him.
1. Rakhunathan (ed.), Puthumaippiththan Kavithaikalh, Star
Publication, Madras-5, 1959.
2. Ibid., pp. 28-30.
3. Puthumaippiththan (Trans.), Ulakaththuc Citukathaikalh, Nhavaynkap
Piracuraalayam, Madras-1, 3rd Edition 1956, pp. 31-40.
4. Puthumaippiththan KaTTUraikalh,
Star Publication, Madras-5, 1954, p. 29.
5. Ibid., p. 31.
6..Kaanjcanai (Collection of Short Stories), Kalaimakal Kaariyaalayam,
Madras-4, 1943, pp. vi-vii.
7. Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1940,
8. Ibid., pp. 205-208.
9.Antu Iravu (Collection of Short Stories), Star Publication,
Madras-S, 1954, pp. 69-101.
10. Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, pp. 214-17. Kaanjcanai, pp.
Puthiya Olhi (Collection of Short Stories), Star Publication,
Madras-5, 1953, pp. 22-3.
11. Antu Iravu, pp. 69-101.
12.Puthiya Olhi, pp. 4-8.
13. Ibid., pp.
14. Ibid., pp. 156-65.
15. Kaanjcanai, pp. iv-v.
16. Ibid., pp. vi-vii.
17. ( ) Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh: (2) Kaarajcanai: (3) Antu
Iravu: (4) Puthiya Olhi: (5) Ciththi, Star Publication, Madras-5,
1955; (6) Vipariitha Aacai, Mullai VelhiyiiTU, Madras-1, 1952; (7)
Avalhum .Avanum, Tamizh CuTar Nhilayam, Madras-5, 1953.
18. Puthiya Olhi, pp. 46-51.
19. Kaarycanai, pp. 143-5.
Olhi, pp. 14-20.
21. Ibid., pp. 29-35.
22. Antru Iravu, pp. 119-30.
23. Kaanjcanai pp. 48-55.
24. Puthiya Olhi, pp. 171-6.
25. Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, pp. 105-21.
26. Ibid.. pp. 137-44
27. Ibid pp. 173-8
28. Kaanjcanai pp. 121-42
29. Ibid., pp. 163-92.
30.Puthumaippiththan Kathaikalh, pp. 130-2; 218-23.
32.Puthiya Olhi, pp. 59-64.
Rakhunaathan, Puthumaippiththan, Star Publication, Madras-5, 1951.
Gene Baro, Modern American Short Stories, Faber and Faber, London,
Harry Shaw and Douglas Bement, Reading the Short Story, Harper and
Brothers Publishers, New York, 1941.
Frederic Morgan, (Editor), The Modern Image, W. W. Norton & Co., New
Anton Chekov, Anton Chekhov Early Stories, The Bodley Head, London,
Irwin Howe, Sherwood Anderson, William Sloane Associates,
Jessi Rehder, (ed.), The Story at Work: an Anthology, The Odyssey
Press, Inc., New York, 1963.
Wallace and Mary Stegner, (ed.), Great American Short
Stories, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1957.
Somerset Maugham, W., Points of
View, Bantam Books, New York, 1961.