The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction

It’s collections like this, The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, that make me wish I had a lot more time to read. Unfortunately, pulp magazines are long past their heyday in the U.S. Venues for fun but lower quality fiction aren’t particularly numerous, so lots of that sort of writing has migrated to self-published platforms. Self-publishing lacks the distance of a third party editor. But apparently pulp publishing is alive and well in India, or at least the Tamil speaking part of that country.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction

Blaft is a publisher based out of Chennai, India. How they managed to get their books publicized and distributed in the United States, I do not know. But I’m damn glad they did. Translator and curator Pritham K. Chakravarthy and editor Rakesh Khanna set out to present a variety of Tamil pulp stories in English. All but one were translated for the very first time for the anthology. The bulk are crime fiction, but there are one or two fantasies, romances, and even a story that fits the mold of science fiction.

I’m not quite sure why, but the anthology had me noticing cultural differences a lot more than the previous anthology of South Asian stories that I read, Delhi Noir. But it also has the distinction of including the first romance story that I’ve ever enjoyed. Last summer I read a number of romance stories and the best of them was very middle of the road. But Ramanichandran’s Dim Lights, Blazing Hearts was absolutely delightful. More on it in the story listing below. Why couldn’t I have found something like this from a U.S. author?

Hurricane Vaij by Subha
Narendran and Vaijayanthi of the Eagle Eye detective agency get hired by the leader of the main opposition political party to find out what happened to his son. Standard pulp with a little bit of science fiction thrown in. There’s a mad scientist involved, with a little bit of the Manchurian candidate thing. But what got my notice was two other things. First, could you really have a political party of any import that bases it’s ideology on anti-religion? Religious parties such as the B.J.P. exist, and to a lesser extent the Republican Party in the U.S. is religious. But specifically anti-religious? I know it wouldn’t fly here. Second is the idea of a famous detective outside of a story! Several of the stories in the anthology star famous detectives. As in, random people in the story know who they are and read about their exploits.
Idhaya 2020 by Rajesh Kumar
Short four page story about a super-smart computer/robot. You know exactly where this one is going! Never ask an artificial intelligence to do something perfectly.
Matchstick Number One by Rajesh Kumar
Saravana Perumal is a judge. His current case is that of three youths who raped and murdered a young woman, and he’s about to release his judgment. His family overhears him taking a large bribe to decide the case in the young mens’ favor. Being fine, upstanding citizens, they object and seek to undermine him. It’s a morality tale that takes a few twists and turns.
Silicon Hearts by Rajesh Kumar
N.A.S.A. decides to run an experiment: married astronauts have a kid in space! Silicon Hearts kinda weirded me out because it places some Indian sensibilities and story choices into American characters.
The Rainbow by Rajesh Kumar
Kanniappan works as a guide making 10 or 20 rupees a day. But he usually drinks most of his earnings, eats a good meal with some of the rest, and buys lottery tickets with the remainder, rather than feed his wife and four children. Meanwhile, his sister cannot afford to get married because he has no money. There were multiple points of culture shock for me. What upsets Kanniappan’s wife is not the money he drinks or even what he wastes on restaurant eating, but the money spent on the lottery. And that failing to support his family doesn’t shame him. Instead, the shame that finally comes derives from someone else paying for his sister to get married.
The F.L.R. by Rajesh Kumar
Professor Vinayak has invented the F.L.R., or Fate Language Report, which can tell a person exactly how long they will live. It’s not as sophisticated as an astrologer, but not as biased either.
Me by Vidya Subramaniam
An unmarried daughter clashes with her mother over her mother’s reluctance to approve a marriage for her. Her three younger sisters got approved marriages. A tale of two selfish people and which one is right.
Ripples by Vidya Subramaniam
The fights and accommodations between a married couple Manonmani and Ravi. The story reminded me of something my friend Jason said once. He’d been married a few years by then and had attended a bachelor party at a local strip club. It was just nice to see another naked woman again.
The Rebirth of Jeeva by Indra Soundar Rajan
In the 1970s and and 1980s, there was a batch of television shows that featured itinerant heroes saving small towns from the clutches of nefarious evil-doers. Think Kung-Fu, The A-Team, Knight Rider, and even Quantum Leap. Here we have the beginnings of a similar idea with Indian trappings. Uma and her college friends take a trip to Velanmangalam, where they intend to hike and view an ancient temple. However, on arriving, they find that townspeople recognize Uma as Jeeva, a woman murdered about 20 years earlier by the local bad guy. As the reincarnation of Jeeva, Uma must defeat Thyagu and save the town. Unlike those T.V. shows, it would be kind of hard to be a different reincarnation every week.
The Rich Woman by Ramanichandran
A short morality tale about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence. In this case, a man wanted to marry a rich woman but his mother did not approve. Now, he sees the woman he was to marry around town with her husband and is jealous.
Dim Lights, Blazing Hearts by Ramanichandran
Did I mention that I love this story? Aruna is the assistant to Devanathan, the owner of a large construction company. Devanathan’s son Gunaseelan doesn’t usually work in the office. The first time he does, he and Aruna clash because he assumes her professionalism is merely a ploy to get his attention. Naturally, there’s an attraction. I love the story because Aruna is smart and capable and not driven by romance. Gunaseelan is smart and respectful. The story even passes the Bechdel test, with Aruna and several other female office workers discussing business. The conflict is based on sitcom plotting, but I can live with that since everything else is so wonderful.
Sweetheart, Please Die! by Pattukkottai Prabakar
Madhumitha Sundaresan is a modern girl. She attends college where she falls in with a bad crowd, doing drugs and having sex. Then she disappears just before her wedding is to take place. Her father hides the disappearance from Madhumitha’s mother (mother has a heart condition) and hired Bharat and Susheela of the Moonlight Agency to find her. Mr. Prabakar hides a few clues for the reader, much like an old time traditional mystery novel. Is it the mooning admirer, the drug dealing sex partner, or possibly even the father who is ashamed of his daughter?
Excerpt from My Name Is Kamala by Pushpa Thangadorai
This piece comes from a true crime novel. I gather that Mr. Thangadorai spent a lot of time interviewing prostitutes in the brothels of Delhi and wrote this fictionalized account. I don’t know whether the incidents can be attributed to one person, or if everything is melded together from stuff that happened to lots of people. Kamala was kidnapped as a young girl and is kept locked in a brothel. She’s an old hand by the part excerpted, but still harbors dreams and plans of escape. The story mostly avoids the brutality of sex slavery, but still is a bleak picture.
Tokyo Rose by Tamilvanan
Famous detective Shankarlal is well known in Japan as well as India. On vacation, he solves the mystery of everything turning blue which has Tokyo-ites concerned about nuclear war. But he also must solve the riddle of Bollywood film star Neelavalli’s kidnapping. She and her secret husband Mudikondan are also vacationing in Japan. The police are extremely grateful for Shankarlal’s help.
A Murder And A Few Mysteries by Prajanand V.K.
Revenge by Prajanand V.K.
A couple of short crime stories by a young writer. Simple stories without a lot of complex motivations or plotting. Perfect to fill out empty space in a magazine, which is what they were used for. And while they are simple, they are quite similar in quality to a lot of the more complex stories in the anthology.
Glory Be To The Love That Kills! by Resakee
Sasi and Raghu are co-workers and lovers. They’d like to get married, but Sasi’s father insists she go with his choice, or he’ll kill himself. Sasi can’t bear this, so she agrees to marry his choice. But she and Raghu cook up a plot to murder her husband instead. Interesting to me not because of the lengths that the lovers will go to get what they want, or that Sasi’s father is such a dick to her about her choices. What sticks in my head is that he has to attempt suicide to get his way. I thought fathers in India had way more power over their families than that.

So there you have it. My only real complaint overall is that the binding on the book is really stiff, so it’s hard to hold open with one hand. There’s a second volume of of Tamil pulp fiction put out by Blaft. I’ll have to scrounge up a copy sometime. I also have their book Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel which has a most awesome title so I just had to pick it up.

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