Meeran’s Stories

Meeran balances sadness and hope, magic and reality, values cherished and values hammered on. He watches greed drying up not just the wetness around us, but even the moisture in our hearts. The words ‘Edukkado…ee…shaitaney’ (cast away this devil) is for all the negativity, exclusion and discrimination around us. He writes about the sensuality of a young girl dreaming of an Arab captain even after her body becomes old, and of the young boy who passes off copied poems as his, rewarded by the teacher for at least dreaming of poetry. A corpse talks to his ungrateful siblings and a Lebbai speaks to mermaids. When there is no water anywhere around, how does it spring copiously in the US soft drink company? The villagers wonder if the water comes from America! Meeran climbs up the Elephant rock in his hamlet and sees the whole world.

Without blaring, Meeran gently whispers into our ears about the lives of his people, their faith and superstitions, the lush fields and the rocks, the women and their children, the prayers and the festivals and even the pickles and snacks. 

Generalizations are wrong. Like metaphors, they are to be seen in the spirit in which they are made. They are not to be analysed for the accuracy of their precise verbal formulation. They are to be experienced for an undeniable if un-provable truth. 

Let me hazard one such broad-brush assertion: India is unaware of India. India’s north is staggeringly ignorant of India’s south, India’s Muslims are strangers to its Hindus, its Hindus a mystery to its Muslims. Dalit India isto the rest of India, a blur of un-knowing. 

Meeran’s Stories give us a glimpse, at once, of the inner life of two entities, two identities. First, of South India. Second of Muslim South India. They are about a particular people but more, they are about people. They are about a particular place but more, about the place of feeling in the desert of custom. 

To read them is to taste the salt in the air where, as Sarojini Naidu has said in Coromandel Fishers, ‘a low sky mates with the sea’. 

Prabha Sridevan has captured Meeran’s Tamil narration in a prose that is in English but in name; it is in Meeran’s own dialect of Tamil sounded through the beckoning azan of a universal experience of human life under the harsh sun of the mystery called Fate.

[Prabha Sridevan’s] translation is such a near approximation to the South Travancore Muslim dialect that I felt as if I was reading that in Tamil.

Meeran’s Stories make for deceptively easy reading, mirroring the apparently uneventful lives of his characters. The narrative style, without editorial comments, is powerful in its starkness. Through what he leaves unsaid, Meeran allows readers to reconstruct the cultural context. The twist in the tale, the hallmark of a good short story, is sharp and blink-and-you-miss-it short.

Justice Prabha has done exemplary service by translating these heartfelt stories by beloved Tamil author “Meeran” and making them available to the world. Her translation is vivid and accessible. She takes us to the essence of Meeran’s world and thereby to the very people he wrote about.
A must-read book.
MANISH SRIVASTAVA (review on Amazon)

Thoppil Mohamed Meeran

Thoppil Mohamed Meeran (1944–2019) was born in the coastal hamlet of Thengaipattinam in Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu. He wrote six novels and several short story collections from which these stories are taken. He won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 1997 for Saivu Narkkali. He also received many awards including the Tamilnadu Ilakkiya Perumantram Award, the Ilakkiya Chintanai Award and was honoured by the Tamil Nadu Government. He translated the biography of Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. His novels Saivu Narkkali (The Reclining Chair) and Oru Kadalora Graamatthin Kathai (The Story of a Seaside Village) have been translated. 

In his writings, Meeran bemoaned what man has made of man and what man has made of nature. It pained him that men who are the noblest of creations should inflict cruelty in the name of religion, caste and gender. He wrote about real people and also about those located in another reality. His writings have an enveloping compassion, an inclusive humanity and hope.

Prabha Sridevan

Prabha Sridevan is a former judge of the Madras High Court (2000–2010) and the former chairperson of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (2011–2013). Her judgments have dealt, among other things, with the right to freedom of speech,  protection of heritage buildings, rights of the oppressed classes, rights of persons with disabilities, gender equality,  the economic worth of a homemaker’s work, compulsory licensing of a cancer drug, and challenge by Novartis to India’s Patent Act. She writes  in English and Tamil on issues of law and life. Seeing in the Dark (OUP, 2015), a collection of short stories by Chudamani, was her first work of translation. Her second Echoes of the Veena (Ratna Books, 2018) won the Valley of Words Award 2019 for translation. 

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