Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of California, Berkeley
Tamil Subject, Tamil Short Story: Tamil Short Story Writing in the post-Independence Period
In this paper I argue that the Tamil short story was the dominant literary genre through which a distinctly humanist, culturally Tamil identity emerged in the immediate post-Independence period. Through a historical and literary analysis of the Tamil short story genre from 1950 to 1965—during which time Nehru had instated English as the interim language of government, I describe Tamil literary experiments to create an ideal Tamil subject who both identified with and resisted complete assimilation to notions of the model Indian citizen. The short story served as the optimal medium for this project not only because of its ability to reach wide readership through periodicals, but also because of its compactness and its ability to sketch mundane scenes and catch momentary glimpses of characters' everyday lives.
After Independence, the central Indian government strove to construct an all-encompassing, democratic notion of "Indian-ness" in order to imagine the newly inaugurated nation as a cohesive historical and cultural entity (Bose and Jalal 1997). In the literary public sphere, this was accomplished through government institutions such as the Sahitya Akademi, India’s national academy of letters, created to "spread unity among the linguistically, culturally, and religiously different regions" (Pinglay 2004). The central government also attempted to unify the nation through programs such as Nehru’s "Three Language Formula," which established Hindi as the national language, English as a link language, and regional languages as compulsory subjects for state education.
It was in the context of these central governmental endeavors, as well as the reorganization of state boundaries along linguistic lines, that the Tamil short story of the 1950s and early 60s took shape. Through the themes and characterizations expressed in this genre, I examine the ways in which the Tamil literary sphere conversed uniquely with the central government’s pan-Indian effort to conceive the Indian nation.
Ms. Mani is a doctoral student whose research interests include modern Hindi and Tamil literature. Her dissertation work examines short story writing of the 1950s-1960s in Hindi and Tamil. She focuses particularly on the relationship between themes of nationalism, language, and gender that short stories in these languages raise during the tumultuous period immediately following Indian Independence. She is currently in India completing her language study and dissertation fieldwork with the support of the American Institute for Indian Studies Language Fellowship.