Saturday, July 21, 2012

10 minutes drama fest

Was at a '10-minutes drama' festival by Prakriti Foundations @ Alliance Francaise last evening. The concept is like dynamite - what all you can convey on the stage in 10 minutes, like 140 letter-limit Twitter micro-blogging.

Watched 11 plays and none of them was second grade. We can excuse not caring for conventions like entry from left of stage (facing the audience) is entry from outer space to inner space and entry from right is like going from the kitchen of the house into the main hall. A tad confusing at times, have to admit.

Observed a spark in the performance of youngsters like Ashok Selvan.

The best performance award goes to the solo performer in Manjula Padmanabhan's 'The Hidden Fears'. As a shop keeper 'narrating his experience and justification as a perpetrator of violence and through that underlines the mindlessness of it all and makes his statement against violence' (shades of KH's UPO there?), the actor gave a thrilling performance - voice, body language, use of space wise..

His name is Yog Japee. Yes, 'Ranjith', Billa's comrade-in-arms in Billa 2.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Ghosts of Arasur - a novel by era.murukan


Time is not Lord Rama’s arrow that returns to its quiver of space. Man has not the ability, yet, to stop, or even pause, the progress of time.

Writers have often not only expressed amazement at the swiftness of time but also yearned to bring it under their control.

Shakespeare, the father of incomparable literature, says, ‘But thought’s a slave of life, and life’s time’s fool, and time that takes survey of all the world, must have a stop.’

Writers have always tried to use their words to pause, reverse or advance time. Arasoor Vamsam is one such effort. This novel is based on the belief that the seeds of the future lie in the past. Murugan’s language facilitates this fancy. The Banian Brothers, the chief facilitators of the novel, are symbols of Time. They run backwards and forwards to impress the signs of the future on the past. By the same token, they drag the remains of the past to the present. The pages of this novel reinforce the feeling that the energy of life comes from memories. The pages fly, not like Snehamba’s father, dashing against each other, but swiftly.

The Arasoor family prospers from the trading of tobacco—they grow in wealth and stature before the eyes of the king in the neighbouring palace. The king, at first, envious of their prosperity is later reconciled to it. The tobacco merchant, Subramanya Iyer, has two sons—Swaminathan, an erstwhile Vedic scholar who loses his mind and has a sexual relationship with a woman who lived three hundred years before him; and a younger son, Sankaran, who looks after the family business and, like many young men of his age, has erotic urges that make him do things like peeping at bathing women. When the family accompanies Sankaran to meet his prospective bride in Kerala, their house in Arasoor catches fire, killing Swaminathan.

Sankaran goes to Madras to expand the tobacco business, but ends up learning more about the business of sex than about that of tobacco, his teachers being the white women he meets on a ship. After he returns to Arasoor he marries Bhagavathy, the girl he is betrothed to, and his family grows. The king’s palace turns into a store house for tobacco. The queen, who has been barren so far, conceives a child and the king’s line gets an heir.
Within this fictional framework are amazing characters and events. The ever auspicious Subbamma who echoes the disasters to come, Swaminathan’s ghostly lover, a woman whose spirit wanders restlessly across time, Kitta Ayyan, who converts to Christianity, Vaithy who drowns his ego in onion sambar, his wife Gomathy, the multi-talented Kottakudi dasi—these and many other characters swirl within the story, as deities swirl within yantras. With them are the Banian Brothers and the ancestral spirits, who appear frequently to share the events of the past and the future. This novel makes use of words and moods not normally found in ‘Brahmin’ stories. The point of such usage is obviously that culture comprises both good and bad, sweet smells and foul odours.

A fine writer creates an individualistic world which is smaller and simpler than the real world. Occasionally there appears a great writer who succeeds in creating an imaginary world that has all the dimensions, the reach, the encompassing embrace, of the real world. And then, it reaches further and surpasses reality. Harry Levine said this of Shakespeare. You will be able to decide which category Era Murugan falls into when you have finished reading this novel.

*Rama’s arrow: in the epic, The Ramayana, it is said that Lord Rama’s arrows had the ability to return to his quiver even after they struck their mark

P A Krishnan

Author’s Note

There are some questions that have no answers. Why I wrote Arasoor Vamsam is one of them.

It started as a little family history. The information that encompassed two language belts had many gaps in it. Those who could have filled the gaps were long dead. From the known, a little leap to what could be understood, and from that to what could be sensed, could these justify the writing of a novel? Was it not enough to write a piece of social history instead?

Perhaps I felt like telling a story, a long story with a little reality and a lot of imagination, stringing together a series of events. Could this be called an effort at writing a novel or did it fall into the danger of being labelled a tall tale?

Was I trying to show the world that I could write magic-realism? If magic-realism is attempted in Tamil it should of necessity be incomprehensible and boring to the point that the writer should rest happily between words, sighing, ‘Oh good, this is so difficult to understand!’ If I were to write magic-realism that was also easy to comprehend, was I trying to compete with Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Gunter Grass? In that case should I write this book in Spanish or German or at least, Malayalam, so that it could eventually be translated to Tamil through English?

Although none of these questions were answered, Arasoor Vamsam got written. However, I still wonder what exactly motivated me or persuaded me to write it.

The bits and pieces of information on my family’s roots form the framework of this novel. But whatever urged me to write it, pushed me to expand that framework and go beyond it—about 150 years before my time, in fact. I was no longer myself but had morphed into a tobacco merchant, a cook, a Brahmin-Christian, a snuff-trading Muslim, a depleted and powerless zamindar, an astrologer, a clerk of the Sarkar , a temple priest, a child, an old man, a dasi, a controlling and controlled wife, an abandoned woman, an ancestral spirit, a ghost. I entered houses of marriage and death, travelled on ships and bullock carts, I was part of all these experiences, I was also their observer. When I finished writing the 52 chapters, I felt an extraordinary sense of contentment and joy.

If this novel shares a little of that happiness and contentment with you, that would be reward enough.

From the wrapper


Set amid days long gone, the story centres around the Arasur family. Grown wealthy from the tobacco trade, the family earn the envy of the king. But are the two sons of the Arasur family worthy heirs of their father’s mantle? Swaminathan, an erstwhile Vedic scholar loses his mind and has a sexual relationship with a woman who lived three hundred years before him, and Sankaran who looks after the family business battles his erotic urges. It is only in tragic circumstances that Fate reveals who will carry on the line… Abounding in unforgettable characters such as Subbamma who echoes the disasters to come, Swaminathan’s ghostly lover—a woman whose spirit wanders restlessly across time—Kitta Ayyan, who converts to Christianity, Vaithy who drowns his ego in onion sambar, his wife Gomati, the multi-talented Kottakudi dasi—The Ghosts of Arasur reminds us that reality is often stranger than fiction.

About the author: Era.Murukan (Murugan Ramasami) is a noted novelist, short story writer, poet, columnist and translator from Malayalam besides being a writer on information technology in Tamil. He is the recipient of various awards including the prestigious 'Katha' and 'Ilakkiya Chintanai' for literature.

The Ghosts of Arasur by Era Murukan. Translated by Janaki Venkataraman.ISBN: 978-81-8368-582-5

A New Horizon Media (Indian Writing imprint) publication 2008

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Museum on the Mound -Edinburgh

The other day I bumped into God while waiting at the supermarket payout. She was clutching a dozen’s pack of Royal apples and was standing immediately behind me in the long queue at the till. Yes, God is a ‘she’ of course. And, as the Fourth Estate has of late solemnly declared ‘actor’ to be the correct usage for thespians of both sexes, I am logically and theologically extending the unisex terminology to the Almighty too – progressive elaboration, that is.

“Have you ever gone to the Mound, my dear boy?, God whispered to me with a twinkle in Her eyes.

“Did you say Mount or Mound, mom? And whatever it is, is someone still standing there clutching clumsily those funny tablets of freshly issued divine commandments or paracetomol?”

“You are as silly as in the manner born”, God chided me sounding very much like my own mother when I occasionally broke the tea cup in the morning, which was a regular occurrence till a few years ago - not that I do not break tea cups now but dear old mamma left for her para terrestrial abode some years back.

“Next please”, the till lady’s voice did not appear to sound that friendly. God and I had to break our chat abruptly rushing to make the payments unto the angels behind the cash machines.

And here I am now, visiting the Mound as per the Divine communication. To be precise, it is the Museum on the Mound in the city of Edinburgh, at the Head Quarters of Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS).

1696. Mark that year. I would love to be someone alive and kicking in 1696. If I were then in India, that is, in my native Kerala, I would have witnessed Raja Keralaverma thampran passing a royal edict to outlaw an age old queer custom – ‘if you happen to behold an unmarried lady after sunset on a rainy night, shout ‘I have seen you’ and throw a stone at her; she is all yours’. Not a nice way to get married of course, as there is almost a certainty of reverse stone throwing and shouting in retaliation for rest of the life!!

And if I were in London in 1696, I would have been equally thrilled with another royal proclamation ‘lifting the ban to report cricket matters in the newspapers’. Now, tell me, what is a newspaper worth buying if not for those interesting stories about match fixing, Vaseline greased palms, swearing at the umpire.. well, I mean, wonderful cover drives, square cuts, run outs and caught behinds..

“Welcome gentleman to this interesting and informative museum on the banking history of the nation”, the official at the reception greets me with a bright smile. Returning the compliments earnestly, I casually pull out a self guide pamphlet from a nearby wooden shelf and troop in. I am indeed now transferred to 1696, in Scotland, mentally wearing an elegant kilt and moving forward majestically a la Mel Gibson, with a couple of enormous bag pipes providing the perfect background score, set to Carnatic music.

Here I am standing in front of the display containing an ancient hand-written document dated circa 1696. I can bet my shirt or the kilt on the fact that the writer of this historic document would have certainly been a calligrapher with a financial bent of mind or it could well be the other way round. With those ornamental alphabets intricately carved, progressing like a team of synchronised swimmers all with heads held high and regally slanting a little to the right, this parchment informs about Bank of Scotland opening its doors for business in February 1696 with a working capital of 120,000 Scots.

Now, this old British currency system. I rush to God for assistance and She suggests making a Google search as She herself hits the Net nowadays when She is searching for anything from the car keys to those to the golden gates of Heaven. And here is the information on the old currency system.

Not quite long ago, which is somewhat 100 years ago, 12 pennies made a shilling. 20 shillings made a pound and 21 shillings made a guinea. And of course, two shillings made a florin and two and a half shillings made a ‘half crown’. Coming to 120,000 Scots which was the working capital of Bank of Scotland during formation, well, one Scot was then equal to a penny. Now you can make the necessary currency conversions yourselves or use the web to KISS.

Next to the document on the working capital, there is the very large ledger with the names and complete details of the Bank’s subscribers – who were the partners in this joint venture – and the details of their subscription. This runs like a virtual ‘who is who’ list of luminaries of Scotland during those times. A copy of the Act of Parliament of Scotland which enabled the formation of the bank is also on display nearby, with an interesting final clause attracting my attention – ‘ all Forraigners, who shall join as Partners of this Bank, should thereby be and become Naturalised Scotsman, to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever’. (Spelling, Circa 1690).

This fabulous clause, I observe was repealed by the Parliament in 1920, about 225 years after its proclamation. Being one born and brought up in a parliamentary democracy, I do agree this repeal after the initial proclamation really had been swift and fast. Nonetheless, I am equally surprised as to what provoked such summary rejection of this innocuous clause, I being a naturalised Scot myself for the past two years, having only vegetarian Haggis for breakfast, Scotch whisky for my weekends and Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Muriel Spark providing company when I am sobre, as my favourite authors. (JK Rowling is for kids, isn’t she?)

It is time to be back to the Museum on the Mound. This historical building underwent a massive renovation not long ago and was thrown open to the history lovers again since end 2006. During the renovation, an old window of the Bank’s Head Office was ‘discovered’ behind the maze of bricks and mortar. This window was previously covered with a wall when structural changes were made during 1850s, we are given to understand. Along with the window, there is a newspaper page belonging to that age, appearing as the adjuscent display. This one looks so fresh like it was off the press only this morning, an one penny large sheet with easy to read headlines and interesting news stories about Edinburgh, advertisements for wine, leather, legal services et al in a somewhat archaic but nevertheless interesting reportage style – it is something to buy, possess, read and reread. I would have done so, had I been there with a lot of the then newly minted one Scots and florins in my pocket (do we have pockets in a kilt?)

The cash chest of the bank in 1701 that crosses my way now is a solid iron box with intricate padlocks and a provision for double locks requiring two officials to come together to open it. The now universally accepted ‘four eyes’ principle was originally put into practice some 300 years ago to ensure utmost security at the times of turbulence and political upheaval of the 17th century, a period of foreign wars and Jacobite and rebellion of all other sorts. Though I must admit that even with four eyes or hands working in tandem, it would still have required an army of muscle men to just lift the cash chest. And that will be without taking into account its heavy metallic coin and paper money content besides other valuables under pledge stored in it.

‘Retirement is only for mortals; gadgets are made to stop functioning and then they reluctantly step back to take forced rest’. This new knowledge dawns upon me when I set my eyes on the next display, a document copier. A rugged bronze and iron metallic device, albeit simple to operate, this one has the distinction of having an unblemished service record of more than 120 years – from early 1800s to 1920. All that the grandpa ‘photocopier’ expects from you is to place in it the document to be copied and on its top, a wet piece of rice paper; now turn the handles with all your might and lo and behold, you have a faithful copy of the document creeping out of the copier, a bit wet of course. I am anxiously searching for the ancestral version of a document shredder nearby. I am quite sure it should be there somewhere – like someone who would have used it gleefully thinking that it IS the copier.

Welcome to the rogues gallery. There lie the dies and casts for making bank notes and coins. Bank of Scotland through the Parliamentary proclamation has the right to issue bank notes and coins since its inception. Edinburgh being an industrious city, there was and is no dearth of creative and skilful artists and artisans here. A miniscule portion of them long back, had an interesting thought – if the Bank can issue notes and mint the coins, shall we not help them or more specifically ourselves, by pitching in with our knowledge and craftsmanship? And 1920s saw the emergence of such a master forger.

It appears this gentleman mysteriously had a liking for florins, though sterlings and pounds were also items in his innovative inventory, presumeably with a low priority. To his credit, it should be admitted that even the banks could not find anything in their appearance to even vaguely suspect these coins he minted were genuine fakes. Such exercise in perfect craftsmanship had to come to an end, like all good or bad things one day, with the police swooping on the forger and arresting him, confiscating the equipment and infrastructure he was using in his noble endeavour. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and the confiscated machinery is a prominent display in the Museum, I am standing before now.

And interestingly the story does not end there. In 1964, at the ripe old age of 80, this forger was picked up by the cops again. He was at his old trick, we are given to understand, at the time of the second imprisonment. Age does not blunt an artistic bent of mind, as I admit, though I am not quite sure whether those geriatric hands trembling with age forged the good old florins once again, blissfully ignorant of the fact that the florins had long been withdrawn from circulation.

The bank’s currency notes issued till the turn of last century were the other items the other forgers took enormous interest in. As far back as 50 years ago, one pound note was the most prominent in circulation all around UK. (I have one which my grocer gave me recently and it did help me to get much attention at Boots in Covent Garden, London where the ladies at the counter emitted cries of sheer joy and surprise when I produced it for their perusal). These one pound currency notes of the bygone days were more like half of an A4 size sheet of paper in size, with intricate designs, lines, curves, laurels and the picture of good auld Sir Walter Scott thrown in for a good measure.

The rogues’ gallery contains the displays of the ‘artefacts’ of one pound notes produced by a skilful forger. This one was really industrious and did not go for any hi-tech method for his work. Being an ace copy-cat and a master painter, he hand crafted each pound note with each and every little curve, laurel, flowers and the glint in Walter Scott’s eyes faithfully reproduced. Had he only used his undoubtable skills and immense efforts to work on real pieces of art, I am sure his displays would have ended up in Scottish National Gallery of Art instead of being here.

And now I am nearing the next display. Mel Gibson’s Brave Heart within me now beats so fast that I fear it may stop any moment. There, in front of my eyes, is an interesting stockpile of cash. 1 million pounds. All in crisp 20 pound notes. Arranged and staked in neat bundles one upon another and occupying a massive glass case.

It appears that I am not destined to have it – even if I win the ultra modern Sharuk Khan version of Khon Banega Crorepathi. Each and every 20 pound note in the treasure trove behind the glass case is stamped ‘CANCELLED’ in letters of the size of screaming headlines in the newspapers informing of a share market boom or bust. No regrets, I now know what a million pounds look like.

Just next to the million pounds is a high rise chair with the finest upholstery. Is it a chair? I should be calling it as a functional version of the royal throne. This is the seat occupied by the bank’s security personnel at night, again for more than 100 years till the current sophisticated security systems were in place. With a genuine satisfaction that the vacant but still awe inspiring security desk would deter the forgers behind the glass case displays against moving towards the million pounds of cancelled bank notes, I walk past to the other sections.

I look at the next display – a humble bank pass book. Through the glass case, I am able to read it belonged to whom. Mrs.Robert Burns. Wife of the great national poet of Scotland – rather, his widow – opened this account only days after his death in penury. A short time before that, he had had written a short poem at the back of a pound note (a scarce commodity for him, I understand) lamenting about the uselessness of life without money. The passbook shows a series of credit entries, all being donations received from friends and wellwishers of the great poet. Friends in need indeed, but a wee bit late to act.

Walking ahead, I realise that bankers of the last three centuries breathed banking instead of oxygen, with the ‘lup-tup’ of their heart beats sounding ‘debit-credit’ for a change. When one of the directors of the bank expired in the 1800s, a fellow banker from Glasgow writes a condolence note – ‘when called to pay back the principal Debt to the Supreme Being, we have to, as our foremost duty …’. As I read the displayed epistle, I murmur in agreement, ‘No write off, my dear Sir, under any circumstance, alas’.

It is really interesting to know the bank embraced technology even as far back as in 1906. The arithometers in display next belong to that period. With their intricate knobs and sliding counters for performing mechanically all arithmetic functions, these are sheer pleasure to watch, I have to say. If only I could exchange my old lap top for one of these .. at least the arithometer does not require a memory or software upgrade every now and then, I believe.

Turning around the hall, I happily realise that the first computers entered the bank, hold your breath, in the late 1950s - when this writer was a toddler and most of the readers (are there any?) had their would-be parents under similar circumstances. Extremely attractive, let me confess, are these displayed photographs of the mainframes and their operators in the year of Grace, 1961. And this compliment goes in equal measures to both the systems and the charming girls operating them. Most of these dear ladies would have been venerable grandmothers by now, enjoying a happy retired life and communicating with their ex-colleagues in machine code, I presume.

I should visit the museum again with one of them. Have to search for when I go to the supermarket next time. After all, everyone shops there.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The supernatural element in Tamil epics

'Research' is an interesting terminology in the context of the Tamil literary environment, with a tremendous bandwidth of its own. Any essay, whether dealing with an innocuous subject like 'Vegetables in Cankam literature' or something apparently more complex like the one on the 'Minimalism in Tamil poetry between 1211 AD and 2002 AD (both years inclusive)', would automatically become a research paper when printed elegantly and published in hard cover. With a floor limit of three thousand words and nothing prescribed for the ceiling, it is mandatory for such a publication to be printed only for half the length of the printed page, the other being left out for meticulously listing out the reference works, context specific or otherwise.

It is interesting to observe that in a way the rich and continued literary tradition that prevails in Tamil for the past two thousand years and more can also be blamed for this. The Tamil environment literally has not undergone significant topographical changes during this long period and the same is largely true in the case of the flora, fauna and the masses too. Start querying the heritage database with any random search pattern and there scrolls on your visual and mental screens thousands of rows of information, sorted out or assorted, virtually on anything animate and inanimate that makes the rich Tamil scene.

I am so dumbstruck with researches of this kind that if I am forced to read one such thesis, I humbly receive the same, read through a few pages as fast as I can and then return it in all politeness.

Dr.Magharibath's 'Aimperum kAppiyankaLil iyaRkai iRantha kURukaL' (The supernatural elements in the five great Tamil epics') caught my attention because of the phrase 'iyaRkai iRantha kURukal'. Being unaware this means the plain vanilla flavoured 'super natural', I was wondering whether 'iyaRkai iRantha' could be something connected intrinsically with environmental pollution or the Tamil fondness for axing down Mother Nature by felling trees and blocking the highways when they frenzy into a rebellious mood. I also had a strange suspicion that this could be all about the anti traditional Tamil way of martyrdom in the battlefield with the enemy's spear piercing the heroic Tamil warriors in their chest and not at their back.

To my pleasant surprise, I found this book is all about the things dear to my heart - gods, ghosts and goblins.

As I have no intention to explain in detail in the next 1200 words about the lengthy Tamil literary tradition, let me zip and share the information in the next few lines.

CilappathikAram, ManimEkalai, CIvaka ChinthAmaNi, VaLayApathi and KundalakEsi are collectively known as 'Aimperum kAppiyankaL', or the 'Five great epics' in Tamil. These were written during the sunset years of the Cankam era, the period of which is still a subject for debate among the hot-blooded Tamil scholars. Of the five epics, two, namely VaLayApathi and KundalakEsi have fallen prey to the Tamil moth over the years and we are now left with the remaining three only.

And Dr.Magharibath has the knack of narrating in an interesting manner about the super natural entities and fascinating occurrences in these three epics, without making the narrative appear like a page from the Sensex quotes.

All these epics are about the life of ancient Tamils - kings, urban traders and commoners alike, who practiced a religion with integral Vedic components and fortified with the attributes of the then emerging Jainism and Buddhism.

In CilappathikAram, MaNimEkalai and ChinthAmaNi numerous gods, goddesses, goblins and inhabitants of the overcrowded Heaven come down at regular intervals to interact with the human beings. This interaction is used mainly as a literary technique to narrate the story in flash backs or through foretelling. The ghost Dakini, the goblin Chathukka Bootham, the extra terrestrial beings Eriyanki VAnavan ('the one with a robe on fire'), kurankkuk kai vAnavan ('the one with the monkey's paw'), and KAyachandikai are some of these.

Incidentally, the short story collection with a lengthy title 'Idakini pEykaLum.....' by the late lamented author friend of mine, Gopikrishnan rang a bell in my mind about the ghost Dakini some time back.

Dakini came down Dr.Maharibath's book to announce that she plays a guest role towards the close of the narrative in CilappathikAram, though her name may not appearing in the title cards scrolling up at the end.

In CilappathikAram, a Brahmin woman MAlathi breast-feeds an infant, mothered by a friend of hers. The child dies while being fed, not due to any contamination of the container or contents but quite inexplicably, perhaps choked. The poor MAlathi, panic stricken and tragic ridden visits all the temples in the city fervently praying the gods and goddesses to resurrect the baby.

She also visits the temple of PAcAnda ChAththan (a Buddhist God assimilated into Hinduism later) where she encounters Ms.Dakini, a beautiful ghost whose dietary habits mandate that her daily diet should consist of nourishment in the form of fresh human flesh procured from the cemeteries of ChakravaLak kOttam. Dakini who is yet to have her breakfast, accuses Malathi that she is worthless and as such ChAththan will not answer her prayers for reviving the infant. She also snatches the baby's corpse from the arms of MAlathi, goes into darkness and devours it with relish.

The story of CilappathikAram then goes on to narrate about how the god ChAththan takes the form of the dead infant and goes home to live an earthly life which includes a marriage and its consummation. This narrative stream occurs in the 'kanAth thiRam uraiththa kAthai' ('The chapter on the interpretation of dreams') in the epic.

Dr.Maharibath observes that even the society of the Tamil ghosts was caste based to the core. While vAlans belong to the upper strata of the ghosts along with kULi and pAsam, the downtrodden were the kazhuthu. The upper caste ghosts in addition to their use of the caste system as a vehicle of oppression of kazhuthtu, also made these minians as their standard mode of transport, like the old man in Sindbad tales.

Besides Indran, PAcAnda ChAththan, MathurApathi, MaNimEkalA, ThEvathilakai, ChampApathi who are referred by their names, there are also other gods and goddesses who derive their identification by their residential or occupational status like kAnuRai Theivam (the forester), vAnurRai Theivam (the one with an address in the paradise) and the Eval Theivam (the Commander) appearing at the right and not so right moments and performing the vanishing trick regularly thereafter in the epics. In fact, the goddess MaNimEkala is instrumental in steering the story of the epic MaNimekalai forward at a fast pace.

Maharibath also observes that except for Indran and PAcAnda ChAthan, all other divine entities in the epics are feminine. This 'reverse gender bias' may as well become the subject of another research paper.

The goblin Chathukka Bootham ('the Booth in the Chowk', for the benefit of the Hinglish readers) is reported to be a permanent resident of the Goblin Square in the city of PUmpukAr and in charge of moral policing of the urban populace. With a dietary habit slightly different from that of Dakini, CB beats to pulp those going astray in the moral plane and then makes a neat meal of them to save humanity. A person who committed perjury by telling the court that a certain woman was immoral chanced to go near the CB Square and was immediately caught by CB. KOvalan, the protagonist of CilappathikAram walks into the square with humble pleas to CB to release the captive and take his life instead. CB valiantly declares that it would always prefer a wretched sinner for its breakfast or meal or dinner as the case may be, rather than having a noble person like KOvalan as its prey and proceeds to do justice to its square meal for the day.

As the afore mentioned CB is not a glutton and its eating is a fallout of its meting out justice, it appears to have plenty of time at its disposal which CB uses efficiently by being the self appointed sentry at the garden of the ever fresh flowers. This garden was set up exclusively for the comfortable stay of the gods and goddesses who descend on earth to take part in the spring festivities. With still some more time left at its disposal, apparently thru meticulous time management, CB also regularly delivers sermons (as narrated in MaNimEkalai) perched in its pulpit on the square breathing fundamentalist fire and brimstone urging woman not to worship any god other than their husbands and declaring that only then their chastity will be considered to be in tact.

While CB is busy moral policing thus, vinjayars, another category of heavenly entities also permeate the epic scene with gusto. To our great relief, the vinjaiyars are human clones with all that is good and bad inherent in their personality. The only additional attribute applicable for them is their ability to fly at will. And they fly and sin quite fast. Vinjayars hijack beautiful earthly damsels and molest them while on flight. They roam around the towns during festival times like their wingless human counterparts and are cursed by the human seers to wander around with an elephantine appetite that never gets satiated. They also on some occasions become love sick pining for the company of the humans of the opposite sex and even enter into the holy wedlock. As such the vinjayars occupy a broad bandwidth of the literary spectrum - from the ever-hungry KAyachaNdikai in MaNimEkalai to the charming GAndharuvathaththai who marries CEvakan, the protagonist of ChinthAmaNi.

Dr.Maharibath in all humbleness observes, "The goddess ChampApathi is referred to in the epics as the elderly one. It is beyond my comprehension to understand whether the gods and goddesses also undergo the aging process". Such humility appears to be a rare trait in today's wonderland of academicia where the functionaries become assertive on the word go and switch on their neurons thereafter. (While on the subject, I remember the reference to an elderly god in the Cankam epic 'KuRunthokai' - 'manRa arAththa pEm muthir katavuL').

In CilappathikAram, in the penultimate Act Mathuraik kANdam, the heroine KaNNaki burns down the metropolis of Mathurai, the capital of the PANdiya kingdom as her husband KOvalan was executed by the PANdiya king on a trumped up charge. The portions of the epic in this Act, which narrate the exit of the king goblin, the Brahmin goblin, the merchant goblin and the agriculturist goblin (arasa bUtham, aNthaNa bUtham, vaNika bUtam, vELaN bUtam) from the city are plain 'insertions into the original text', observes Dr.Maharibath. Dr.VEnkatasAmi NAttAr, an erudite Tamil scholar also concurs with her in his treatise on CilappathikAram.

It is a matter of interest that in comparison to CilappathikAram and MaNimEkalai, Chintamani is absolutely goblin free.

Back to PAcAnda ChAththan. Maharibath mentions - "ChAththan, a god in human form is brought up as an ordinary human being, marries and enjoys conjugal bliss for eight years. Then he discloses his divine origins and leaves for his designated abode, the temple. He also instructs his erstwhile wife ThEvanthi to visit the temple to continues his sexual relationship with her".

This observation appears to be wrong and could have arisen due to Dr.Maharibath picking up in isolation 'kOttaththu nE vA ena uraiththu nInkuthalum' ("Come to my temple", said he and left) without reading it along with the lines which follow, mentioning that ThEvanthi goes to the temple to pray for his return to her.

I strongly recommend this book as a must read for those attempting to pen magical realism in Tamil and also those who attempt reading it, to enable an easy and effortless levitatation in the literary space.


An introduction to the Tamil book -

'Aimperum kAppiyankaLil iyaRkai iRantha kURukaL' - by Dr.S.K.Maharibath. Published by MuppuLLi Pathippakam, 24, Giri Nagar, RamApuram, Chennai 600 089

An abridged version of this article was published in 'Book Review' (New Delhi, India) in the October 2004 issue.