THE MAGIC IN HIS REALISM
India Today|May 24, 2021
Having won the 2020 Sahitya Akademi Award for Tamil, Imayam explains why he resists all labels

BEASTS OF BURDEN

Written by Imayam; translated by Lakshmi Holmström NIYOGI BOOKS

The novelist V. Annamalai (Imayam) wears his Dravidian heritage with pride, but he has also always rebelled against the idea of a Dravidian or Dalit literature. “When you write, it’s literature, but when I write, it’s Dalit literature?” he has famously demanded.

Sellatha Panam, the novel for which he won the 2020 Sahitya Akademi Award in Tamil, is about love that turned to hate, and the woman dying in a burns ward because of it. His unflinching novella about honour killing, Pethavan (available in English as The Begetter), was based on the particular case of a woman, or, if you like, on the many cases that occur daily in India whenever two people marry across caste divisions.

Sellatha Panam may have won the prize, but of Imayam’s substantial and controversial body of writing over nearly three decades, his defining work remains his first, Koveru Kazhuthaigal (Beasts of Burden), published in 1994. It tells the story of Arokkyam and her husband, the vannaans (washermen) living on the far edges of the village’s Paraya colony. The label vannaan does not do justice to their services—washing, mending, winnowing grain, building wedding pandals, birthing babies, treating the sick, seeing off the dead and guiding the survivors in the ways of their forefathers.

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