news Thursday, June 18, 2015 - 05:30
The covers of the first two volumes of "Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction"   The books are just the right size, not too big, not too small. Just right for a traveller’s pocket. On the cover are beautiful illustrations of women who are characters in all kinds of stories – romance, thrillers, science fiction and crime. In sharp contrast, the inner pages are of cheaper, low quality paper or “pulp”.   Welcome to the world of pulp fiction.   While the world is awed by Indian writers in English such as Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri, there is a world of vibrant literature nestled away from plain sight: racy short-fiction in the regional languages.    One of the centres of the parallel cultural universe of popular writing in Tamil is Coimbatore-based writer, Rajesh Kumar. One of India’s most prolific writers, he has to his credit at -at least 1,500 novels.   A Botany graduate from the Government Arts College, Coimbatore, Kumar’s first story was published in the college magazine. He also dabbled in teaching for five years after obtaining a B.Ed degree from Ramakrishna Vidyalaya, before quitting (reportedly) of boredom.   Judging by his safari suit and retro-style spectacles, Kumar is like a visit from the past - the 1980s to be more specific. He first began writing in 1968. Today, he’s 69 years old and still churns out three novels a month.   What set him apart from other writers were his childhood travels with his father, a handloom merchant, which took him across India and found its way into his books.   “Most writers then wrote stories based in Chennai or Tamil Nadu. My stories were based on the locations that I travelled like Bombay, Nasik, Pune,” Kumar says. Real-life events too form the material for his work. “I look at newspapers, read crime stories. Many of my female fans call me up and tell me about issues they face with their bosses and husbands on sex and torture,” he adds.   Although he writes on steamy love stories, science-fiction, detective stories and crime thrillers, it was the last genre that captivated him the most. Similar to a Holmes-Watson pair, Rajesh Kumar often features his favourite couple, Vivek and Roobala who solve crime together. Vivek is a special crime branch officer who ends up marrying Roobala, his love interest.   He has approached the Guinness World Record association to replace L Ron Hubbard who has authored 1084 novels as the holder of the record for most published works by one author.   Apart from his pocket-sized novels, his stories have been published in serial form by Tamil magazines like Kumudam, Vikatan and other publications. Priced at Rs. 2 decades ago, even today a 100-page novel costs Rs. 20.   Into the English World   Although the more “serious” Tamil literature has been translated into English, an entire chunk of this genre of Tamil writing catering to the crowds of living the by-lanes of villages and towns has been lost to non-Tamil speaking communities.   But that changed with the publication of “The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction” in 2008. Edited by Rakesh Kumar and translated by Pritham Chakravarthy, the collection has some of the best works of writers such as Rajesh Kumar, Vidya Subramaniam, Indra Soundar rajan and Pushpa Thangadorai.   Tamil writer, Rajesh Kumar   In the translator’s note, Chakravarthy writes about the sheer vastness of pulp fiction when she and Kumar decided to come up with the collection. “The corpus of pulp literature that has been produced for Tamil readers is vast, and there is no hope of providing a representative sample in a single volume,” she said in an email interview. The anthology has stories from the late 1960s to the present day in two volumes.   A dying breed?   Rajesh Kumar rues that though Tamil authors like Pattukotai Prabakar and Indira Soundarajan and he were still writing, there was no one else to take the genre forward. “There is no generation of writers after us. It’s just us… Involvement, dedication, and patience are required for this. That’s why we don’t have writers anymore,” says Kumar, adding that nowadays people were more interested in script-writing for cinema, causing fiction-writing to suffer.   The release of the third anthology of "Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction" is in the docks, with a shout out for help in getting the book released via a crowdfunding campaign. Editor, Rakesh Khanna says that the idea came from similar campaigns in other countries for anthologies of "genre fiction" where people buy the book in advance allowing its makers enough money to bring out the book.   "Though our first two anthologies were quite popular, the job of following up with distributors to make sure bookstores got restocked was tiring, and trying to collect the money from sales was maddeningly hard. We were getting lots of requests for a Volume 3, and we wanted to make the book," said Khanna.   Chakravarthy too feels that Tamil pulp fiction writers are a dying breed. “For one thing, the writing is the same all over. Not just in Tamil fiction. With so many writers jumping to another media, it is inevitable that they have begun writing to a formula,” she says.   She also agrees with his views that cinema was affecting the publishing world. “Rajesh Kumar is correct in saying that there might not be a future to the publishing industry. Today every one across the world writes for a prospective film project dream; this includes Dan Brown,” she said.   It appears that this includes Kumar as well. Although his main focus remains writing, Kumar has written the screenplay and dialogue for the Sarath Kumar-starrer “Sandamarutham”.   But the genre may survive   Literature has always had links with cinema, and pulp fiction is no different. A movie based on Kumar’s famous crime novel Velvet Crimes published in Kumudam magazine may be on the cards. Based on the missing flight in Malaysia, the novel has attracted the attention of actor Prabhu Deva who is said to be keen on adapting it to the silver screen.   Another of Kumar’s crime novels has been adapted into a weekend serial called “Chinnathirai” which is telecast on Kalaignar TV.   Sheer popularity make crime fiction and pulp literature hard to ignore.   The genres may survive yet, but in different avatars.   (Image courtesy: indiegogo.com)    

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