[2018-01-15] “Tamil Pulp Fiction: Volume 1”

“The Blaft Anthology Of Tamil Pulp Fiction” is the first in what turned out to be a series of anthologies published by Blaft, comprising short stories and excerpts from short novels, originally in Tamil, and considered to be “pulp fiction” by the literati. The first volume has been selected and translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy (and edited by Rakesh Khanna). Its intent is best summarized by the first sentence of the translator’s note, which claims that it is “an attempt to claim the status of ‘literature’ for a huge body of writing that has rarely if ever made it into an academic library, despite having been produced for nearly a century”.

Does it succeed in this ambitious goal? Not quite, in my opinion, though it does bring to the fore many an author otherwise unknown to the non-Tamil-speaking population. Judging by the popularity of the book and its sequels, it seems to have found an enthusiastic readership who find its content entertaining. I enjoyed some of the stories in the book, while others left me indifferent. On the whole however, I am glad that such a book was published. (As an aside, why this obsession with being included in an academic library? Most of the books in an academic library, in my experience, seem to be unbearably dull.)

Pulp fiction authors in many a language are extremely prolific and boast of sales that mainstream authors can only dream of. For example, the author Rajesh Kumar, included in this anthology, claims to have published over 1,250 novels and over 2,000 short stories at the time and was still going strong, with each of his novels selling over 100,000 copies. This is an incredible output and sales-record by any standard. Despite their obvious popularity, the so-called cultured people shun them and their books, not considering them worthy of the label “literature”.

Apart from the stories themselves, this book also includes cover-art from some of these books, photographs of the authors, sketches from the books, quirky question-and-answers between readers and the authors, etc. that really enliven this book. It also includes short biographical notes on each of the featured authors as well as a “Notes” section at the end that provides a glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar to non-Tamil-speaking readers. This is an unconventional book about an unconventional subject to be sure.

Even if you set aside your prejudices and consider the stories for what they are instead of where they come from, you have to admit that some of them are far too simplistic and/or lackluster. For example, most of the detective stories included here follow reasonings that defy logic and feature irritatingly-chauvinistic heros. You can blame that on aggressive publication-schedules or low royalties or the need to adapt to the target readership or something else. These are quick-reads, suitable to while away your time, but are rarely memorable, except for the occasional gem.

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