Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction
Selected and Translated by Prathim K. Chakravarthy
Edited by Rakesh Khanna
Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd, Chennai
Growing up in India in the 1970s and 80s, like millions of fellow Indians, I too was exposed to pulp fiction in Hindi and Urdu. It was sometimes in high school when the transition from reading funny comics and magazines like Suman Saurav and Parag to Hindi and Urdu detective potboilers and crime magazines took place. Unlike watching masala Bollywood films that have always been accepted on their own terms, reading pulp was always a secret activity. It provided a guilty pleasure.
While I remained in tune with the developments in the pulp fiction arena in North India’s two principal languages, I was unaware of its cousins in the Southern India because of the linguistic divide between North India and South India. Thanks to Blaft Publications of Chennai, I recently got the opportunity to a taste the Southern fare in a good dollop in the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction that came out last year.
The anthology has stories by 10 of the India’s best-selling Tamil authors, which have been translated into English for the first time. The stores featured in this 366 page anthology include from authors such as Rajesh Kumar, Ramanichandran, Subha, Pattukkottai Prabhakar, Indra Sounder Rajan, Pushpa Thangadorai, Vidya Subramaniam, Tamilvanan, Brajanand V.K. and Resaki.
When I sampled some of the stories in this collection, I realized how the pulp fiction writing in the two Indian languages (Hindi and Tamil) was similar. The collection is a significant addition to Indian writing not just because of its pleasure quotient, but also because, as the translator notes in his introduction, “this book 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.”
The stories in this anthology have all the hallmark elements of pulp fiction—suspense, murders, detectives, police inspectors, mad scientists, murderous robots, lovers and prostitutes, and plots sprinkled with a fair amount of titillation. The stories have interesting plots; even the titles are so interesting—Hurricane Vij, Matchstick Number One, Silicon Hearts, Tokyo Rose—just to mention a few. When you read them you can see that some of the stories such as Matchstick Number One and Tokyo Rose could have easily been made into Tamil masala capers.
Apart from the stories, one of the most interesting aspects of this collection is the author introductions. For example, the author Subha (Hurricane Vij) is the nom de plume of not one but two authors: Suresh and Balakrishnan. They have been writing together since their school days and together have co-authored more than 600 long and short novels. Similarly, the writer of the story Matchstick Number One, Rajesh Kumar, may well be the world’s most prolific living writer of fiction—he has written and published more than 1250 novels and over 2000 short stories. Unbelievable, isn’t it?
I immensely enjoyed reading the stories in this collection. If you ever loved pulp fiction in any Indian language, you should not miss this anthology.