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Reading Tamil

Friday, 15th April 2005

I have never been a reader in Tamil. Though it is my native tongue – mother tongue, if you will – I have never been able to read and write it with any semblence of speed or mastery. My marks in Tamil in school stand testimony to this.

Lately, I have been coming into contact with people who have urged me to try reading Tamil. Theodore Baskaran has been telling me for more than a year to read (and if possible, write) in Tamil. I am only too painfully aware of my limitations in the language to attempt either. My dad, ever hopeful, has given me an entire set of Balakumaran’s historical epic, Udayaar. It sits on the top of my To Read pile. I bought and read Ashokamithran’s Oru Paarvaiyil Chennai Nagaram in parts, and even translated a couple of chapters into English. I read bits of Sivagamiyin Sabadham, before capitulating to read only Pavithra’s excellent transcreation in English. I also read a bit of Ponniyin Selvan, only to give it up to read Sumeetha’s translation instead.

My main problem with reading Tamil is the slow pace. I have to read very slowly to understand what is going on. At times, I have to turn to a Tamil-English dictionary to see what a particular word means. And that is mostly why I have given up on any book I have started – seeing the sheer volume of text left to be read, compared to the tiny amount I have read

A couple of months ago, I picked up a copy of Ayyanar’s Mansion Kavidhaigal, a slim volume of poems, written during his sojourn in one of Chennai’s myriad “mansions.” The poems were short and powerful. The emotions expressed broke free of the bonds of language, and for the first time, I was able to enjoy a work in Tamil. That was a small victory won over my miniscule knowledge of Tamil.

A couple of days ago, I read Jayakanthan’s Nandhavanathil Oru Aandi, being pointed there by Karthik. To my surprise, I found that the experience was pleasant – I was able to read it tolerably quickly, and I did not have to look up anything!

Maybe I’ll read a few more of Jayakanthan’s short stories before trying something more. Maybe I’ll even start off on Udayaar!

It is a feeling of new freedom to realise that you can read, however little, in another language!

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  1. Balakumaran never did it for me – he was a little too mushy for my comfort. In a fit of misplaced enthusiasm, I bought a few books of Sandilyan a few years back – giant waste of time, unless you are looking for some titillation. Sujatha is like Grisham, (f)light reading.

    It is quite sad that there are almost no good fiction writers in Tamil today – the publishing industry is non-existent and the few publishers that are out there seem content recycling their old books. There is no way to make money if you are a writer, unless you write a book or two a month.

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