Wooden Cow, a translation of T. Janakiraman´s path-breaking novel Marappasu, is the coming-of-age story of a young, beautiful, intelligent, fiercely independent, yet deeply emotional woman who does not believe in the institution of marriage, or in human bondage of any kind, and her unconventional and volatile relationship with a renowned and gifted musician. Bound by their love of music, and their rejection of social morality, they have equally strong differences.
Ammani´s laughter is her ammunition against the many ironies of life and love, and a mask for her complex, tumultuous inner world—one which Janakiraman unravels with rare insight and empathy, but without judgement. In Ammani, we meet a modern, layered character who is unsettlingly real and credible and who, despite her contradictions, remains true to herself and endures.
Janakiraman belongs to the Manikkodi group of writers whose work established the foundations of modernism in Tamil literature. His language—distinctive of his birthplace Thanjavur—is colourful, playful and sensual, marked by simplicity and honesty. His sensitivity and courage in depicting the transience of human relationships, his astute observations of people and their motivations, his deeply musical ear and ability to weave Carnatic music into the interstices of everyday life, and his ever-present wry humour make this unusual novel both contemporary and timeless.
Lakshmi Kannan, an acclaimed writer and poet herself, absorbs the silences of the unsaid and recreates them seamlessly in translation. She evocatively brings to life small-town Tamil Nadu, especially Annavasal where Ammani grows up, and its whimsical, lovingly-etched inhabitants. This is a must-read for all lovers of literature.
T. Janakiraman (1921–82), affectionately known as Thi Jaa, is an iconic, widely read and revered Tamil writer, and one of the most influential figures of twentieth-century Tamil literature. A master of both the short story and the novel form, he won the Sahitya Akademi Award (1979) for his short story collection Sakthi Vaithiyam. Mohamul, Amma Vandhal and Marappasu are among his best known novels. Considered a modern classic, Mohamul was adapted for a film, and translated into Hindi by Bharatiya Jnanpith. Thi Jaa wrote, with P. G. Sunderarajan, the travelogue Nadandhai Vaazhi Kaaveri, tracing the historic journey of the river Kaveri; R. K. Narayan considered it one of the finest books in Tamil. It was translated into English as Eternal Kaveri: The Story of a River by K. Krishnamurthy (1993).
Lakshmi Kannan (born 1947) is a well-known contemporary bilingual writer and poet who writes in English and Tamil under the pen-name ‘Kaaveri’. She has published twenty-seven books that include novels (The Glass Bead Curtain, 2016, reprint 2020), several collections of short fiction, poems, and translations. Sipping the Jasmine Moon (2019) is her fifth collection of poems. Her English translations of her own Tamil fiction include her novel Going Home (1999; Aathukku Poganum); India Gate and Other Stories (1993), Nandanvan and Other Stories (2011), and Genesis: Select Stories (2014). She received the ‘Ilakkiya Chintanai Award’ for Tamil short fiction, and the Katha Award for translation. She was a Charles Wallace Trust Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury at Kent, UK (1994); a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1999); and a Sahitya Akademi Writer in Residence, Delhi (2009).
Anita Balakrishnan is former professor and head, Department of English, Queen Mary´s College, Chennai.
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