Literature is about engaging with ideas and it's hard to look into its soul if you are confined within four walls. This is a sentiment that three academicians from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, share. When they teach, they also travel - to historical monuments, fishing villages, the riverbank...and many other places where the power of the written word takes them.
N Sivasubramanian, former Tamil department HoD at St Xavier's, Palayamkottai, S Mahadevan, HoD of Tamil department at Sadakathullah Appa College, and Kattalai Kailasam, retired Tamil department HoD of MDT Hindu College, started the Melum literary organisation five years ago. Their aim was to make people understand and absorb the spirit of modern literature in Tamil, English and Malayalam.
The name âMelum Literary Organisationâ, comes from the literary journal that was started by Mahadevan and his friend in 1986. They published it until 1991. âWe wrote about structuralism, post colonialism, modern and post-modern literature,â recalls Mahadevan.
The trio decided to start Melum because they saw that while there was awareness about classical Tamil literature among the young, modern literature was sadly ignored.
âWe all have some idea about classical Tamil literature but we need to understand modern literature, especially youngsters. We also want to develop the reading habit among them,â says Mahadevan.
The students who join in the discussions include scholars, professors, postgraduate students and members of the public who have a healthy love towards literature. Mahadevan says that of late, they've also been getting interested undergrads.
While Melum's founding academicians deal with Tamil literature, they have visiting professors for English and Malayalam literature. Sometimes, writers join them too.
âWe read about post-modern literature, structuralism, semiotics, post-colonialism and also do comparisons in different languages. In Tamil, we read about novels by writers like Bharathiyar, Vannadasan, Jayakanthan and many other contemporary writers. In English, we read the works of writers who won Nobel Literature prizes and in Malayalam, we read many writers like Vaikom Muhammad Basheer,â shares Mahadevan.
Once in a month, the group takes a trip to understand modern literature better.
âFor a book on fishermen and their lives, we visited a fishing village to understand the novel. We also went to Thamirabharani river last January and studied a temple near it which is a historical monument,â says Mahadevan.
When they started, Melum had about ten people but the numbers have grown to 50 now.
The members of the organisation also go to colleges and give talks on modern literature.
âOnce in a year, we go to different colleges in Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Thoothukudi and take seminars on modern literature. We also teach PhD students on how to do their thesis,â says Mahadevan.
But isn't modern literature taught in Tamil Nadu colleges?
Mahadevan says that modern literature makes an appearance only at the postgraduate level.
âHere, modern literature is taught only for postgraduates. It will be better if it is taught to undergraduates also.College libraries need to have more books on Tamil literature, too," he says