3 Mar 2018 - 16:30 to 18:00
Mumbai , Maharashtra
When you enter a certain bylane close to the Charni Road Station
4 Mar 2018 - 07:30 to 09:30
, Tamil Nadu
Mamallapuram is one of the most ancient towns of Tamil Nadu. It
4 Mar 2018 - 07:30 to 10:30
Kolkata , West Bengal
Sovabazar Rajbari or the royal house of Shovabazar is one of the

Workspace

Pudumaippithan

Pudumaippithan (pseudonym; given name C. Vridhachalam, 1906–42) is considered to be the greatest of Tamil short story writers and represents one of the high points of modernist writing in Tamil. In a brief life of 42 years and a writing career spanning less than 15 years, Pudumaippithan wrote short stories, essays, reviews, poems, political biographies, literary translations and an incomplete novel.

 

 

Life

Pudumaippithan was born on April 25, 1906, in the Saiva Vellala community of Tirunelveli, an elite landholding caste known for its accomplishments in the fields of religion, philosophy, arts and literature. His family hailed from Tirunelveli in southernmost Tamilnadu, but as his father was in government (employed as a tahsildar) and was transferred routinely, Pudumaippithan was born in Thirupathiripuliyur (associated with the seventh-century CE Saiva poet-saint Thirunavukkarasar or Appar) in present-day Cuddalore district in north Tamilnadu. He was named Vridhachalam. Despite his close association with Tirunelveli and its culture, Pudumaippithan’s early life, until he was about 12 years old, was spent in various parts of the Tamil districts of Madras Presidency such as Gingee, Tindivanam and Kallakurichi where he did his early schooling. The family returned to Tirunelveli in 1918 on his father’s retirement. Little is known of his mother Parvatham who died when he was young. But he held his mother in deep respect, and when he started a film production unit in his later life, he named it after her.

 

On his return to Tirunelveli, Pudumaippithan completed his school education in St John’s High School. Later he joined the famed Hindu College, Tirunelveli for his intermediate and undergraduate education. Indifferent in his studies, Pudumaippithan managed to get a B.A. degree in 1931, only at the age of 25. Pudumaippithan’s strained relationship with his father, V. Chockalingam, was complicated by the presence of a stepmother. Chockalingam had intellectual ambitions—he even authored a book on the origin and history of Indo-European races, a massive tome steeped in colonial ethnology—which perhaps aggravated the tension between father and son. Eventually, the rift ended through a legal disowning by the father, and Pudumaippithan sued him for his rightful share in the ancestral property.

 

In July 1932 Pudumaippithan was married. His wife, Kamala (1917–95) of Thiruvananthapuram, was the daughter of P.T. Subramania Pillai, a PWD contractor in the adjoining state of Travancore. Though their marriage was punctuated with long separations, miscarriages, and impecunious circumstances, they were a devoted couple. Pudumaippithan encouraged his wife to write, and she published many short stories. The frequent and long separations resulted in a steady correspondence between the two. Kamala kept alive her husband’s memory until her death nearly half a century after his passing away. Their only daughter, Dinakari was born in April 1946, two years before his death.

 

Much against his father’s wishes for him to take up a government job, aspiring to a writing career, Pudumaippithan moved to Chennai in 1934, where he was to spend most of his adult and professional life. He worked briefly as sub-editor in the nationalist journals Suthanthira Sangu and Ooliyan (1934–35). In July 1935 he joined the daily Dinamani (edited by T.S. Chokkalingam; first owned by S. Sadanand and later bought over by Ramnath Goenka) as sub-editor; these eight years were the only time he had a regular job with a steady if low salary. In September 1943, along with a group of other sub-editors, Pudumaippithan left Dinamani in solidarity with the editor’s conflict with the management. He was associated briefly with another daily, Dinasari, launched by the protesting editorial staff. However, it was with Pudumaippithan’s close association with the journal Manikodi—considered the harbinger of modern Tamil literature, especially the short story—that he came into his own.

 

Pudumaippithan spent his last years in the film world, working on a few film scripts and even making an abortive attempt at film production. He worked for S.S. Vasan’s Gemini Studios on the script for Avvaiyar. From late 1947 he worked for the singing superstar M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s Raja Mukti at Pune. Of already weak health, Pudumaippithan contracted tuberculosis, underwent acute suffering, and died on June 30, 1948, in Thiruvananthapuram at his father-in-law’s home.

 

 

 

Pseudonym

 

'Pudumaippithan', the pseudonym, has a manifesto quality to it: it literally means ‘the one crazy about the new/modern’. This was his preferred name to write though he also wrote much under his own name, or his initials (‘Cho.Vi.’), apart from adopting various pen names to meet the exigencies of working as a journalist. His polemics with the popular writer ‘Kalki’ R. Krishnamurthy (1899­­–1954) were written under the name of ‘Rasamattam’ (‘the spirit level’). However, like much of his writings, even his pen name has layered meanings. Despite proclaiming his commitment to the ‘new’ and the ‘modern’ his name manifests a strong foundation in tradition. ‘Pithan’ is the name of Lord Siva (the dominant religious tradition in Tamilnadu is Saivism, where Siva is the supreme God). Unlike most modern writers contemporary to him, Pudumaippithan demonstrated his grasp of tradition by invoking many traditional myths, narratives, etc. in his writing.

 

 

Oeuvre  

 

Pudumaippithan wrote about 100 short stories, a short novel, two chapters of an incomplete novel, about 50 essays, translated about 60 short stories including an incomplete translation of the Russian writer Alexander Kuprin’s Yama, the Pit. He was also an active reviewer and regularly reviewed books in Dinamani which were characterised by strong views and opinions. He co-authored a biography of Hitler and completed a life of Mussolini. The 1930s and ‘40s were the years of free verse in Tamil and Pudumaippithan experimented with it by working out a via media between prosodic forms and verse libre. An enthusiastic polemicist, he indulged in vigorous debates with his fellow writers.

 

 

Short Stories

Pudumaippithan debuted in the issue of Gandhi of October 18, 1933, by intervening in a debate on ‘love at first sight.’ It is a humorous piece where he questions the romantic notion of love at first sight. It is characteristic of him that he should ridicule idealism and romanticism in his very first piece. For the first few months only his essays were published.

 

His first short story was published in Manikodi in April 1934. Titled ‘Aattrangarai Pillaiyar’, and carried in two instalments, it is an allegorical story: in narrating the story of a Pillaiyar (the Hindu god Ganesha) idol by the riverside Pudumaippithan constructs a critical narrative of Hindu/Indian society and culture through the ages.

 

Following this there were a flurry of stories, and in the first two years of his writing career (1933–35), Pudumaippithan published nearly 50 stories—constituting more than half of his entire lifetime's oeuvre. Pudumaippithan’s early stories are relatively short and cover a wide range of themes.  Even in his early writings, he makes a clear break with the dominant strand of writing suffused with romanticist outpourings, and attempts to shock the readers with stark portrayals of subaltern life—the life of mill workers, prostitutes, hotel waiters, plantation workers, political prisoners—not to speak of lower middle-class life in the cities and the realistic depiction of caste-ridden and inequitable life in the countryside.

 

Some of his early stories are set in the city of Chennai, and explored bold themes. His ‘Kavandanum Kamanum’ (puranic metaphors of hunger and lust personified, respectively) is a vignette of Chennai’s nightlife: in a dark alley a reluctant customer turns tail on being accosted by a streetwalker. ‘Puthiya Nandan’, recasts the medieval story of Nandanar (an ‘untouchable’ devotee of Lord Siva) for contemporary times—an untouchable is discriminated against despite converting to Christianity. One of the most reprinted stories is 'Ponnagaram' (ironically, it literally means, ‘the golden city’): a horse-cart driver injures himself in a drunken stupor and his wife, a millworker, sleeps with another man to earn a rupee so she can make milk gruel for her husband. This brief story of all but three pages, ends with the oft-quoted line, ‘Ye, all those who rant about chastity, this is Ponnagaram.’

 

The 1930s were the years when the short story as an artistic genre was forming, and within a few years it achieved great heights. Manikodi was the primary vehicle for the short story. Within a span of a few years many major writers emerged, but even within this group of talented writers Pudumaippithan stood out, for many reasons. This was the idealist moment when nationalist politics was peaking. Pudumaippithan introduced a strong dose of realism—much like in other languages, e.g., Premchand. But more importantly he introduced humour in all its varieties into his narrative: wit, sarcasm, parody, and satire dominated his writings. In terms of writing style, he fashioned a new prose—a staccato style heavily resonant of the cadence of English. Pudumaippithan was self-conscious about this style, which he referred to as ‘leapfrogging’ style. All these elements made the literary world look up, and to this mix he also added a strong antidote to idealism. A classic example is a short story entitled ‘Gopalaiyangarin Manaivi’ (Gopala Iyengar’s Wife).  The story is prefaced by a typical authorial note.

 

In his novella, Chandrikaiyin Kathai ('The Story of Chandrikai') Subramania Bharati describes the inter-caste marriage between Gopala Iyengar and Meenakshi, the housemaid of Veeresalingam Pantulu. The drift of the story is in conformity with the ideal—it can even be termed, illusion—of ‘love at first sight’ that Gopala Iyengar holds. What transpires later, Bharati may perhaps have intended for the unfinished second part of the story. ‘For the sidelong glance of the beloved’, a man may eat fire; but can he eat over-cooked rice and stale sauce? I have continued the story in my own manner, which may not necessarily conform to Bharati’s.

 

Pudumaippithan then proceeds to show how this marriage between an idealistic educated Brahmin youth and an illiterate Yadava girl ends in a fiasco, with incompatibility in terms of cuisine and lifestyle. Unable to put up with her husband’s vegetarian food habits, Meenakshi first begins by eating meat on the sly. Finding this too cumbersome soon she converts him to non-vegetarianism. Gopala Iyengar, for his part, disappointed by the absence of his ideal of a companionate relationship in his submissive wife, initiates her into alcohol. The story ends with their distant voices uttering endearing words in complete inebriation. Bharati’s dreams of intercaste marriage and casteless society lie in a shambles in the hands of Pudumaippithan.

 

This, and other such stories, question idealism and romanticism, thus epitomising the modernism of Pudumaippithan. This story typifies the essential critical outlook that defines Pudumaippithan. In theme, context, language and style, Pudumaippithan fashioned a new sensibility that was self-consciously modern. With a sharp wit, sarcasm and irony, he punctured romanticist and idealist dreams—something that is striking given the fact that he wrote at a time when nationalist and social emancipatory movements were riding a crest of popular support.  Criticism of the existing reality, but always coupled with self-doubt and irreverence, marked Pudumaippithan’s writings. This is in marked contrast to many of his contemporary writers both in Tamilnadu and outside.

 

Pudumaippithan handled a variety of themes in his stories. His long story ‘Thunba Keni’, is set in the tea plantations of Sri Lanka and explores the plight of indentured labourers in the harsh conditions marked by economic and sexual exploitation. While capturing large social processes, he also clearly etches out characters who, unlike in other contemporary writings, are not cardboard characters.

 

Pudumaippithan’s life was divided between Tirunelveli and Chennai, and both are recurring locations in his stories, often taking on the character of the metaphor. Pudumaippithan’s Chennai not only talks of its big buildings, broad roads and its nascent airport but also the dark alleys and the howling of the tram, which he calls ‘the modern yaksha’.  In his short story ‘Mahamasanam’ (the great burial ground), a beggar, a Muslim at that, dies in a leisurely fashion, watched only by a middle-class girl who has been left behind by her father for a while as he goes across the road to buy some mangoes. For Pudumaippithan, this epitomises city life—with its vastness, callousness and indifference but yet not without humanity—personified in the innocence of the little girl. 

 

Not surprisingly, Pudumaippithan’s city characters are forever dreaming about going back home, to the village, to Tirunelveli. However, contrary to expectation, Pudumaippithan does anything but romanticize the countryside. His villages are deeply stratified by caste and wealth.  It is an oppressive society where physical and symbolic violence is let loose on the lower castes and classes.

 

Pudumaippithan was deeply critical of the Hindu social order but at once deeply sceptical of other emancipatory avenues. Given his upbringing, in Tirunelveli, he is also critical of the Christian missionary project, especially the Protestant variety.  All the major political movements of his time—Indian nationalist, anti-colonialist, Dravidian and Communist—make their appearance in his stories, but none meets with his complete approval.

 

Pudumaippithan’s stories show deep sensitivity to women—whether it be widowed women, young wives married to older men, or credulous women leading mundane lives. Rarely does a woman get portrayed in bad light in his stories.

 

This brief mapping of his stories may evoke the image of a ‘progressive’ writer, even a social realist one.  However, such a labelling is inadequate—for at least two reasons.

 

Firstly, as he himself once remarked, his writings often have an undercurrent of pessimism, ‘a drying up of hope’.  While he is deeply, and violently, critical of the existing order he also doubts every emancipatory project.  While he writes so movingly about caste oppression, especially of the Dalits, immediately he counterposes the situation with a story about how Dalits themselves beat up a Brahmin advocate of temple-entry. In short, he is always the healthy sceptic.

 

Secondly, his stories were not confined to social realism—some variant or the other of which dominated writing in the various Indian languages in the high noon of Indian nationalism. He wrote fantasy, even pieces that can be called precursors to magic realism and science fiction.  And he delighted in re-writing and re-interpreting literary classics, legend and folklore.  Some stories are deeply introspective, even philosophical to the extent that they may be called in a manner of speaking ‘stories of ideas’. In his last published story, ‘Kayittravu’ (the title, ‘Rope-Serpent', plays on one of Indian philosophy’s enduring conundrums), the ‘protagonist’ Paramasivam Pillai ruminates on time and being under the palm tree in the small hours of the morning as he defecates in the open; the story ends abruptly as he is bitten by a snake.

 

Few writers have indulged in as much parody as Pudumaippithan. His stories are experimental in terms of form, content, structure and prose style and the creative tools that he employs is that of wit, sarcasm and irony.  Digression is a weapon of frequent resort. His creative prose blends both literary Tamil and colloquial dialect, and its structure resonates heavily with English prose. His leapfrog style is particularly evident in the early staccato prose that he wielded for realistic depiction and exposition of hypocrisy.

 

Pudumaippithan was a noted figure and many of his stories turned out to be controversial, especially 'Sapa Vimochanam’ (Redemption).  A finely crafted story, it is a re-interpretation of the Agaligai (Ahalya) branch-story from the Ramayana. Pudumaippithan’s story begins with the redemption of Agaligai. However, as in much of Pudumaippithan’s writings, life is not lived happily ever after by her or by her husband, Gautaman. A psychologically sensitive portrayal of Agaligai post-petrifaction trauma follows, as she is ever conscious of her misadventure. If Gautaman cannot speak to her with an unblemished heart as his burning accusation of her as a harlot on that fateful day had scorched his tongue, Agaligai’s plight is much worse. Both are in anguish, each wondering if they are suitable for the other. Agaligai tries to conduct herself in a way that no one would look at her from the perspective of her past action. But this is precisely what makes her forget her natural manner. ‘She agonizes over even casual words that Gautaman spoke, wondering whether they contained underlying meanings?’ and is rendered unable to meet even the ordinary gaze from other people. In short, the very business of living becomes one hell. In all this difficulty, the presence of Rama and Sita alone is the saving grace. But their banishment to the forest leaves Agaligai devastated. Agaligai continues to pull along in the hope of seeing Rama and Sita. But here too she feels let down. On their return from the forest, when Sita narrates her fire ordeal, Agaligai asks outraged, ‘Even if he asked you how did you do it?’ Here she slips from the horrific plural to refer to Rama and addresses him instead in the singular. ‘One law for Agaligai, quite another for Rama?’ asks Pudumaippithan. With her last hope lying shattered, her heart hardens into stone. And she petrifies again.

 

This is a provocative interpretation of the Ramayana branch-story. Pudumaippithan himself, conscious of this, states teasingly at the very outset: ‘Those who are familiar with Ramayana may not grasp—nor even like—this story. I remain unconcerned about that.’

 

 

Novel and Novelette

Pudumaippithan aspired to write novels but did not. He attempted one novel, titled Anna Itta Thee. Two draft chapters have survived. It has a strong autobiographical element, especially about his relationship with his overbearing father. The canvas is vast, and evidently it was planned as a big novel.

 

He wrote one novelette, published posthumously as Chittrannai. It explores the relationship between a child and her stepmother. Otherwise it has little artistic merit.

 

 

Translations

Like all his contemporaries in the emerging modern Tamil literary world, Pudumaippithan was steeped in English literature. English literature was the staple of modern western education in India. In addition, through English, writers accessed European, Russian and American writing, and to a limited extent literature from other parts of the world. His friends have recorded his interest in reading which was both extensive and eclectic. Pudumaippithan’s surviving book collection also bears testimony to this. As indicated earlier, his stories were heavily influenced by English and European literature.

 

Not surprisingly, one of the earliest influences was the French writer Guy de Maupassant. Using various pseudonyms, Pudumaippithan translated, or rather, adapted and published seven stories from Maupassant between August and December 1934, the first year of his writing career. These were never included in his published collections during his lifetime, and were anthologized only after his death. It led to a controversy later that centred on plagiarism until the publishing history of these stories was clarified.

 

From late 1935, Pudumaippithan began to publish translated stories regularly. On the whole he translated about 60 short stories, rewrote three Shakespearean plays and one each from Henrik Ibsen and Moliere, summarized Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and made an incomplete translation of Alexander Kuprin’s Yama, the Pit (nine out of thirteen chapters). Most of the short stories were published when he was sub-editor at Dinamani. Each story contained a short note on the author, and a few glosses. Probably, he made some extra money by translating but there is no doubt that the stories were chosen consciously reflecting his own artistic and social interests. A keen awareness of the literary milieu in which they were being read is also evident. His first published book was Ulagathu Sirukathaigal ('Stories from the World') published in 1939, a year before his own collections of stories were published—an indication of his literary investment in translation. The volume contained 24 stories from around the world and contained a combative preface where he stated his credo that the purpose was to shake Tamil people out of the hidebound lives they were leading, unaware of life in other climes and cultures.

 

However, in his later life, in desperate financial circumstances, he tried to put together stories translated earlier, and new ones hastily translated, between covers. Evidently, his choice of Kuprin’s Yama, set in the brothels of pre-Tsarist Russia, satisfied both his interest in the critique of bourgeois decadence and the demands of the market.

 

Stories that he translated included those written by Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France (French); Franz Kafka (German); R.L. Stevenson; E.V. Lucas, John Galsworthy (Britain); Jack London, William Saroyan, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe (USA); Anton Chekov, Ivan Turgenev, Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Sholokhov, Ilya Ehrenburg (Russia) Grazia Deledda (Italian); Selma Lagerlof (Sweden). He also translated six stories from Japanese of which the author of only one story is identified. Strikingly, Pudumaippithan explored writing outside England, which he considered lacking in experiment, and looked for more artistically daring writing from Europe, Russia, the US and Japan.

 

However, despite his heavy investment in terms of time and energy in translating there is no evidence to suggest that Pudumaippithan’s efforts had any lasting influence on contemporary literary trends.

 

 

Reviews

Pudumaippithan was a pioneer in book reviewing in Tamil. Until the 1930s, book reviews in the Tamil press were in the nature of notices advertising and informing readers about a book and mostly lacked a critical perspective. Pudumaippithan was conscious of a reviewer’s duty towards readers and believed that it was his responsibility not to mislead the reader; misleading reviews, he feared, would kill the fledgling publishing industry and the emerging modern literary world. In the early and middle part of his career, as a sub-editor in Dinamani, he kept up a flurry of book reviews, both short and long. Many of his reviews were sharp, scathing and even abrasive, winning him many enemies.

 

Political Writings and Biographies

Working as a journalist in a leading daily, at the height of the Indian freedom struggle and the Second World War, Pudumaippithan was necessarily involved in political literature. He wrote two biographies—one on Adolf Hitler (jointly authored with his fellow journalist N. Ramarathinam) and another on Benito Mussolini. Based on easily available newspaper despatches and other writings in English these two books provide the Tamil reader with a clear picture of the dangers of fascism and Nazism, and the threat that they posed to world peace. He also wrote an unpublished and incomplete manuscript on Stalin at the peak of the World War which is largely sympathetic to the Soviet Union. He also wrote a short tract for the times on the nature of political power titled, Adhikaram Yarukku?

 

Poetry

Pudumaippithan, unlike his fellow writers in the Manikodi camp, was deeply interested in classical Tamil poetry and its traditional forms. Some of his early essays focus on the aesthetics of such poetry. However, he himself did not write any poems, except one or two parodies, until the 1940s. During this time, modernists were dissatisfied with the restrictions imposed by prosody and the conservatism of the themes handled in traditional poetry. Subramania Bharati, influenced both by Vedic hymns and Walt Whitman, had experimented with prose poems. From the 1930s, Pudumaippithan’s fellow writers, Ku.Pa. Rajagopalan and Na. Pitchamurthy began to write prose poems. Pudumaippithan ridiculed them, and considered ‘prose poems’ to be an oxymoron. However, in the last few years of his life, he wrote poems by taking great liberties with prosody. He also composed occasional and impromptu verses. Considering how little he wrote, surprisingly, many lines continue to be remembered. But there have been few followers of his style of poetry.

 

 

Correspondence

Pudumaippithan was an avid and lively correspondent. Many letters written to two of his young friends, T.M.C. Raghunathan and M.P. Somasundaram have survived. Given the peculiar circumstance of his life, where he was separated from his wife for long periods, he wrote many letters which were preserved by Kamala. The surviving letters, numbering over 80, provide interesting insights on conjugal relationships in modern Tamilnadu.

 

 

Plays

Pudumaippithan wrote two one-act plays: Bakhta Kucela and Saar, Nichayama Nalaikku. Bakhta Kucala is a response to mythological films based on the Krishna myth where the god helps his childhood friend. Pudumaippithan recasts it in modern times and brings in the issue of birth control and labour in a modern industrial setting. Saar, Nichayama Nalaikku—about one day in the life of an aspiring writer—the recasts his earlier short story (‘Oru Naal Kazindathu’) into a short play.

 

 

Film Scripts

After the Tamil talkie was made in 1931, through the late 1930s and the 1940s Tamil cinema emerged into its own. As film producers looked for writing talent and Tamil writers looked for better incomes, a stream of writers joined films. After his break with Dinasari, in end-1944, Pudumaippithan decided to enter the film world. He wrote dialogues for one or two films, joined the Gemini Studios of S.S. Vasan to work on the script of Avvaiyar (the film was eventually released only in 1953, with none of his inputs which was considered too highbrow for a popular audience). He then made the mistake of venturing into film production himself, attempting a film based on the Tamil classic, Kuttrala Kuravanji. He lost heavily. Finally, he joined M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar who had just slipped from superstardom following his imprisonment and subsequent acquittal in a murder case. The film was being produced in Pune, where Pudumaippithan stayed for about five months until end-January 1948. He took severely ill, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. One surviving script was published as Vakkum Vakkum—it was adapted without permission and made into a film by A.P. Nagarajan (Saraswathi Sabatham, 1966). A couple of incomplete film scripts have survived in manuscript form.

 

Polemics

As a writer with strong opinions and critical views, Pudumaippithan was easily drawn to polemics. In 1937 he was involved in a debate with his fellow Manikodi writers on the nature of translation (as opposed to adaptation, both acknowledged and unacknowledged); eroticism in literature; and variant readings in Bharati’s poetry. But 1943 was the year of polemics for Pudumaippithan. At the height of World War 2 the government introduced many restrictions for the use of raw stock in films, and decreed that no film be more than 10,000 feet. What started as a debate on this between Kalki, popular writer and the editor of an eponymous journal, and Pudumaippithan quickly turned into polemics on literary creativity and plagiarism. Pudumaippithan accused Kalki of plagiarism and used sharp language to criticize him. Kalki was consistently on the back foot in this controversy. Apart from the long rivalry between the Anand Vikatan and Manikkodi dating from the 1930s, it was fuelled by differing ideological positions on the nature of art.

 

Posthumous Reputation and Influence

Despite Pudumaippithan’s complaint that he was not adequately recognized his premature death resulted in a spate of tributes and obituaries. As he died in penury, leaving behind a young wife and a two-year-old daughter, Tamil writers came together to raise a purse in 1951. His young admirer, T.M.C. Raghunathan, wrote a biography on the occasion (Pudumaippithan Varalaru) that established not only his reputation but enshrined the personality of the quintessential writer who is ahead of his times, and at odds with the society at large, and attains posthumous fame. From the 1950s Tamil literary culture forked into two directions: the first, the popular press which catered to a large audience, and two, a self-conscious artistic strand which elevated art to a pedestal and decried the philistinism of popular art. The left-progressive stream was at odds with both streams. Pudumaippithan was appropriated as the icon of the artistic strand and the left movement underscored the progressive aspects of his writing. Pudumaippithan continues to be regarded as a great modern, next only to Subramania Bharati.

 

In the 1950s there was a left reaction to Pudumaippithan when his so-called decadent aspects—of pessimism and non-realist modes of writing—came in for criticism. In a famous essay, T.K. Sivasankaran wrote, ‘Veeravanakkam Vendam’ (Don’t Idolize Him) in the left-progressive journal, Saraswathi. In the 1990s, in the wake of the Dalit literary movement and the influence of postmodernism, his writings came in for both criticism and adulation. His texts were subjected to deconstruction and read to reveal upper-caste proclivities. On the other hand, his metafictional forms were seen as the precursors for post realist, non-linear, and postmodernist writings. In this climate of renewed interest, his uncollected writings were published and this was followed by the publication of the critical, variorum and chronological edition of his collected works (edited by A.R. Venkatachalapathy). Pudumaippithan’s novella, Chittrannai, was the inspiration for J. Mahendran’s classic film, Uthirippookkal (1979). In 2002, the Government of Tamilnadu acquired the copyright of his writings and put them in the public domain. 

 

(Parts of this article have appeared in Chapter 5 of the author's ​In Those Days there was no Coffee: Writings in Cultural History ​[New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2006])