Voice for Tamil writings

Latha says there are not enough genres of writing in Tamil here.
Latha says there are not enough genres of writing in Tamil here.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Award-winning Tamil language writer K. Kanagalatha, or Latha, as she prefers to be known, has been dubbed the female voice of Tamil literature in Singapore.

But the author waves off the title. "There are plenty of other Tamil female writers," she says as she rattles off a list of names including Krishnamurthi Mathangi, whose novel Oru Kodi Dollargal was shortlised for last year's Singapore Literature Prize and Jayanthi Sankar, who has 23 books to her name.

While her calling has been to write about the position of women in the community - as immortalised in her works of fiction such as the 2008 Singapore Literature Prize-winning short story collection Nan Kolai Seyium Penkkal (The Women I Murder) - she also bemoans the lack of reading material for children and teenagers here in Tamil.

  • Other Indian authors

  • NA MUTHUKUMAR

    India's award-winning Tamil poet, columnist and lyricist Na Muthukumar is responsible for the lyrics of more than 1,500 songs in Tamil cinema including Pokkiri (2007), Billa 2 (2012) and Vettai (2012). He is also known for weaving his poetry into his lyrics.

    Catch him at: Na Muthukumar And His Poetry Of Songs, as he discusses modern Tamil poetry and how he incorporates verse into film music. In Tamil.

    Where: The Arts House, Kumon Blue Room

    When: Saturday, 2.30 to 3.30pm

    Admission: Festival Pass ( $20)

    JEYAMOHAN

    Author and literary critic Jeyamohan writes in Tamil and Malayalam and has produced novels, short stories, plays, philosophy texts on Hinduism and Christianity as well as screenplays for hit Tamil films such as Kaaviya Thalaivan (2014) and Naan Kadavul (2009).

    Catch him at: Writing For Performance, where he will discuss writing stories, dialogues and screenplays with literature as an entry point, as well as the relationship between literary and performing arts. This session is in Tamil and is co-organised with the Indian Heritage Centre.

    Where: Indian Heritage Centre

    When: Saturday, 10am to 2pm

    Admission: Free

    Also catch him at: Is The Tamil Literary Scene Outward-looking Or Insular? ; a panel discussion contextualising Tamil literature's place in the global scene. The session, which is in Tamil, also features Singaporean author and Cultural Medallion recipient KTM Iqbal and poet-lyricist Na Muthukumar.

    Where: The Arts House, US Embassy Screening Room

    When: Saturday, 5.30 to 7pm

    Admission: Festival Pass ($20)

Of the female characters whose struggles or strength she depicts, the 47-year-old associate editor at national Tamil-language daily Tamil Murasu says: "These are people I come across in my line of work and people I meet in society. I would say it's part of my own search too."

Her two collections of Tamil poetry, Theeveli (Firespace) (2003) and Paampuk Kaattil Oru Thaazhai (A Screwpine In Snakeforest) (2004), explore issues such as race and gender.

While some of her material handles heavier topics such as oppression and neglect, she quips that "it's not all that pathetic" and explains that these are voices that would otherwise be buried amid the male-centric literature in the Tamil sphere.

But that is not the only gap she has observed. "Another problem I find is that there aren't enough genres in Tamil writing. Basically, we write stories only about social problems and things that sound very moralistic."

For Tamil literature, the biggest challenge is getting young Indian Singaporeans interested in reading and writing, she says.

While making Tamil books available in digital formats may help make such content accessible to teachers and students, she says the problem in some genres is the lack of content. While there are thrillers, crime novels, romance and science fiction published in Tamil Nadu, she says it is ultimately "very limited" for Tamil readers.

She is especially bothered by the lack of books for young adults, citing the absence of the equivalent to Mills & Boon romance novels or the popular Shopaholic series of chick-lit novels by British author Sophie Kinsella. Children's books are also few and far between.

The author is part of various panels at the Singapore Writers Festival. One forum, titled Vision For A National Canon, also features poet Chow Teck Seng and translator Annaliza Bakri, and addresses intercultural communication between the different national language mediums.

"We need more inter-language translations. The Government is trying its best and the National Arts Council is sponsoring a lot of programmes and supporting translations, but more has to be done," she says.

She cites the situation in India, where translations of successful novels and poetry collections from Hindi to Tamil to Telugu are supported by the Indian government and the National Book Trust of India, making such books cheap and readily available.

"Something like that needs to be done for Chinese, Tamil and Malay books too," she adds.

She is no stranger to translations of her own books; her 2007 collection of 14 short stories was translated into English with the title The Goddess In The Living Room, and published by Epigram Books last year. Her poems and short stories have also been translated into French and German.

  • BOOK IT/VISION FOR A NATIONAL CANON

  • WHERE: The Arts House,KumonBlueRoom

    WHEN: Monday, 7 to8pm

    ADMISSION: Festival Pass ($20)

These have given her a wider readership, but she says that in the process of translation, "you tend to lose some nuances".

She admits to having had a tough time with the editor who handled The Goddess In The Living Room, saying that some expressions were completely missed because of cultural differences. "Some things you just can't express in other languages."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Voice for Tamil writings'. Print Edition | Subscribe