The Solitary Sprout
Virginia Woolf once described modernist fiction as “a thing you could ruffle with your breath, and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses”. That precisely captures R. Chudamani’s art and craft as a short story writer.
A major twentieth-century writer, Raghavan Chudamani (1931–2010) has often been identified as an early feminist among Tamil writers. Subtly radical in her approach to human relations and social issues, her critique of entrenched social institutions and attendant attitudes is sharp and revelatory. She challenges the way society perceives human beings, conditioned and constituted as they are by family, community, education and religion. Her stories traverse psychological, existential and socio-economic issues as also ordinary everyday human experience; encompassing both the universal and the particular, they reveal an empathy and insight that are profoundly human.
Chudamani’s representations of the mother figure as also of the male psyche, largely in a middle-class milieu, are remarkably free of clichés. Similarly, her treatment of the experiences of the rites of passage, her insights into human nature, motivations, and their articulated expressions are refreshingly clear-sighted. Chudamani also has the ability to enter adult, sub-adult and child consciousnesses with ease. Her open-minded approach to issues, individual, familial and societal, gives her writing a rare candidness.
This fine and beautifully translated selection of stories from the Tamil collection Tanimaittalir opens routine-addicted middle-class minds, of men and women, to other ways of living and being. This collection will greatly appeal to any serious reader interested in Indian life and fiction.