(Image Credit: Vanathi Pathippakam)
A compendium of short stories, written in the thirties (with the exception of the concluding story that was penned in 1948), Sirippum Kanneerum, in addition to laying bare the exemplariness of Kalki as a master storyteller, also provides an insight into the visionary thinking of an author who was way ahead of his time. Blending vitriolic wit with dollops of wisdom, each of these stories address in an inimitable fashion the extremities of a socio-cultural ecosystem, in ferment. Advocating bold notions – concepts virtually deemed taboos – such as widow remarriage, Sirippum Kanneerum also addresses the nagging frustrations of bureaucracy and even advocates wariness against scammers!
The thin volume gets off to a roaring start with “Abalaigal” (loosely translated as the ‘vulnerable’). A trivial fight over a broken vessel between two neighbours of Madurai Veeran Kovil Street in Madras (as Chennai was known at that time), assumes unforeseen shapes, embeds unanticipated tentacles before engulfing an entire state into a completely avoidable mess. Lalithangi, a new occupant to the area, takes up cudgels with Komalangi a permanent fixture in the area. An involuntary accident that results in Komalangi’ s vessel being destroyed, triggers a cascading series of events where husbands, communities, communal factions, municipal officials and ultimately, even the Government gets unwillingly and unwittingly involved. A tale dripping with sarcasm, Abalaigal, also lays bare the dangers of making mountains out of molehills, a phenomenon that has attained unfortunate and dangerous embellishments in an era where social media is a ubiquitous presence!
Thanga Sangili (“Gold Chain”), is a hilarious story that warns the readers about falling prey to commodity scammers. The perils of being consumed by an unabated greed are also mixed in to lend a humanistic, if not moralistic perspective to the story. This was way before emails from Nigerian Prices started making the rounds!
The longest story in an otherwise little book, and also based on the title, Sirippum Kanneerum is an absolute masterclass! A plot within a plot within a plot in a story within a story within a story, Sirippum Kanneerum is a Matryoshka Doll, whose every nestled unraveling contains jolts that make the reader gasp. The protagonist of the story has been relieved of his duties along with a horde of his colleagues merely because of the fact that the company employing him is a German firm and Hitler by declaring war on England and France has made himself an enemy of the Empire. While the protagonist wonders what his role in the spat between Churchill and Hitler is, he is also forced to ponder his future. His only hope is Rao Bahadur Dasharatha Rayar. A chance acquaintance over a morning walk that ultimately led to friendship. Rao Bahadur Dasharatha Rayar is a man of immense material means. Influential in every sense of the term, procuring a decent job for an unemployed friend should be no cause for concern at all for the affluent personality. However, just when the narrator musters enough courage to seek succour, a luxury car whizzes by and Rao Bahadur, casting a derisive look at the car, proceeds to heap scorn over its occupant. Very soon, the protagonist realises that there is a portentous link between the automobile, its occupant, and himself. A link that may jeopardise the very prospects of a job….
The book rounds off with the most realistic tale that explores in stark detail the exasperating workings of a stubborn bureaucracy. Vaazhga Kudirai Pandhiyam! Veezhiga Vyavasaayi’ (Long live Horse Racing, Let the Agriculturist Fall’) is an exercise in exquisite sarcasm. Paying heed to the clarion call of an India self-sufficient in food grains following Independence, Sivasankara Mudaliyar decides to put his vast and unutilized acreage to good use. Informed by an altruistic bent, Mudaliyar decides to grow food crops that would benefit the needy. Harbouring great expectations, Mudaliyar vigorously strides to obtain the necessary permissions and permits for transforming a barren expanse of land into a sea of green. An unsuspecting and hapless Mudaliyar realises that even altruism has to bow at the altar of processes and procedures. Running from pillar to post, Mudaliyar chases permits like an ignorant dog chasing its own shadow! Reasons ranging from the sublime to the silly make Mudaliyar see the entire Milky Way, let alone stars! Finally driven by sheer exasperation, Mudaliyar………
Sirippum Kanneerum is a breezy one sitting read that highlights both progress and stagnation, a contrast and contradiction that is plaguing our great nation even to this day!