Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over two years

Poomani is a distinguished and reputed Tamil novelist, short story writer, essayist, translator and film script writer and also a serious film maker. He has 13 published works to his credit, and his works have been translated into English, Hindi, Bengali, French, and German. His works have also been prescribed as text books in colleges and universities. Many scholars have researched his creations for their M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees.

The author Poomani wishes to focus on the Nadar community and its struggle against the oppression of Hindu castes and other dominant groups. His focus is also geographical, restricted to the southern Tamil Nadu districts of Madura and Tirunelveli, and his investigation will concern the events of a few decades around the turn of the 20th century. Although Poomani’s lens is quite clearly pointed towards the struggles between various caste formations, the history of the times is heavily mediated by presence of the colonial authorities. The records of the colonial British form the centre of the research. It can be said that Poomani perceives in this social history a moment of rupture that throws light on the larger struggle for Indian independence that was also blossoming at that time.

Poomani will study the historical backdrop thoroughly as preparation for the writing of his novel. He “is not going to deal with the story of the gradual rise of the Nadar community from the level of slaves to [that] of rulers.” His novel “is not going to dramatise events and picture the Nadars as successful heroes by singing their praises. Nor is it going to show the other communities that fought and lost the battle as cowards who ran away from the battlefield. Instead it is going to study the success and defeat of all humanity in fair and unfair battles.” Poomani also believes he is addressing a lacuna in Tamil literature – that of fiction entirely based on fact.

Ultimately, though, the strength of this project lies in Poomani’s conviction that the phase of history that he will be examining is a momentous one. He seems to treat the particularities of the Nadar struggle against oppression as metonymic and hinting at larger canvases – the Self Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu and the burgeoning Indian freedom struggle beyond. In spite of that, he sees himself as writing a primarily emotional novel, with flesh and blood characters expressing themselves against an accurately rendered historical backdrop.