By Maalan Narayanan,Writer,Jourmalist and Broadcaster-Tamil nadu.
Sri Lankan Tamil writing has a long and checkered history. During 19th century, most of the Sri Lankan Tamil writing was of religious nature, in with three distinct traditions, Hindu (Saiva) Tamil texts, Christianity books and pamphlets, and Islamic literature. Arumuga Navalar, (1822-1879) a Hindu revivalist, adopted to modern prose and western editing techniques. Vattukkotai Arunachalam Pillai (1820-1895) who later assumed the name J.R.Arnold after conversion to Christianity published the first collection of short stories in 1899. Mohamed Kasim Sidee Lebbe (1838-1898) authored the first Tamil novel of Sri Lanka in the year 1885
After independence (1948) secular and progressive writing began to surface, and soon by 1950 bloomed into two major streams: Nationalist Literature and Progressive writing. Nationalist writing was a response to two provocations. One was then emerging Sinhala Nationalism and the other was the criticism that the Sri Lankan Tamil writing was heavily influenced by the writings in Tamilnadu. The two streams thrived during sixties and matured among articulated debates. With the advent of little magazines from campuses, a breed of new writers entered the arena in 70’s.
Then came the exodus, triggered by bloody civil conflict in mid eighties. Educated and informed middle class migrated all over the globe, from Iceland to New Zealand Exodus ushered in diaspora literature in Tamil.
Cruising through the history, Sri Lankan Tamil writers may be classified into various groups such as the Early Pioneers, Nationalists (including those providing the regional variety from the regions namely Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Vanni, Jaffna, Mannar, the North-West districts, Colombo, the Southern districts and Upcountry.), Progressive writers, New writers, writers in self-exile.
Interestingly Rajaeswary balasubramanian does not belong to any of these groups. She is a diaspora writer, but didn’t migrate during the Civil war. She relocated to London after her marriage in seventies. She hails from the region and has written a novel (Thillaiarangkaraiyil) and a few short stories depicting the life of the people in that region, but has not restricted herself to that domain. Her leanings to the leftist ideology are well known and have written about the victims of social oppression and about their sufferings, their humiliations and deprivations. Yet her writing cannot be dismissed as too doctrinaire.
That is the uniqueness of Rajeswari Balasubramanaiam. Her works do not carry a tag or sermon a message. They are born out of her concern for the human kind, not just for Tamils. One can come across, East European refugees, Pakistani immigrants, Caribbean maids, German Jews, Indian librarians and of course Sri Lankan students, in her novels. In Rajeswari’s fictional sphere Daveena Shirlings, Laura Simposons,Melony Samsons, Emilys easily rub shoulders with Senthils, Raghavans, Yogan and Ravis.
Almost all her novels raise poignant questions on the status of women in our cultural milieu. They speak in volumes, how woman, be it a conservative Sri Lankan society, or a modern and cosmopolitan England, are exploited, victimized or abused. In Nalaiya Manitharkal (Humans of Tomorrow) one of her characters points to the irony of life when he compares the domestic violence with political oppression of Tamils. “Do we not revolt and seeks arms when we were subjected to oppression politically? But why we are mute spectators when it comes to domestic violence?”
Violence, be it physical or mental, springs from vanity. In the name of family prestige, women in Tamil community are subjected to deprivation or humiliation. During fifties women were denied higher education, fearing they may elope with someone outside the caste. Rajes records this stark reality in her Thillaiarrangairaiyil (on the banks of River Thillai) “But for Ramanathan Vathiyar, there would not have been a new school and girls would not have benefit of education. Gowri would not have become a teacher. And she would have by now become mother of two or three kids. If those kids were girls, they too would have been higher education and would be spending their life in kitchen” writes Rajeswari.
It is not uncommon for Rajes to see the in fury when it comes to oppression of any kind. Her novels, risking their aesthetics, many a time voice this anger. Protagonists of Rajes speak for woman rights, gay rights, rights of refugees, human rights and civil liberties of Tamils in the island seeped with racial hatred.
Another trait of Rajeswari’s characters, which might shock an average Tamil reader, is live in relationships. Paramanathan –Mariam (oru kodai vidumurai), Newton-Mary, Myra-Yogalingam, Senthilvel-Lara (Thames Nathi Karaiyil) David-Jane, Narayanan- Chitra (nalaiya manidhargal) Satyamurthy- Senthamarai, Rajan-Radhika (Pani peyyum Iravugal) Karthikeyan-Sylvia (Ulagamellam Viyaparigal) are some to list.
Rajeswari deals with contemporary issues in her works. One of her characters, Daveena, in Nalaiya Manidhargal, produces a documentary on female circumcision. In another novel, Ramanathan suggests artificial insemination as a solution to barrenness. Science blends with art in her themes.
Rajeswari’s style and narration are straight forward. They do not linger in labyrinth of words. Perhaps she likes to be lucid rather than obscure, even if it could invite criticisms. Her plots are picked from real life, from her encounters with her fellow beings and are not seem to have born out of imagination. This brings a reader close to the characters. She uses ‘augmented realism’ as her technique and that enriches her work.
Rajeswari stands out among her contemporary writers because of her themes and her characters. She will stay as a landmark in Sri Lankan Tamil writing because of this distinctiveness