A Tamil literary organisation devoted to short stories for 50 years
Tamil writer S Ramakrishnan (second from left), who was awarded 'Ilakkiya Chinthanai' award for 2019. The organisation's 12 best short stories of that year was also released on April 14

A Tamil literary organisation devoted to short stories for 50 years

It is not a mean feat by any scale. For the last 50 years, Ilakkiya Chinthanai, a literary organisation in Chennai has been actively and passionately involved in trying to cultivate and encourage readership for the short story format. It has almost been a kind of responsibility the organisation has shouldered for all these years.

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It is not a mean feat by any scale. For the last 50 years, Ilakkiya Chinthanai, a Tamil literary organisation in Chennai has been actively and passionately devoted to cultivate readership for the short story format. It has almost been a kind of responsibility the organisation has shouldered for all these years.

According to many Tamil scholars, the first short story published in Tamil was Kulathangarai Arasamaram penned by Va Ve Subramaniya Iyer or Va Ve Su Iyer in the year 1915. But some scholars reject this claim. However, by that account, the Tamil short story format is then celebrating its 106 th anniversary this year. Of those 100 years, Ilakkiya Chinthanai too has contributed its mite to the origin and growth of the short story format over the last five decades.

Ilakkiya Chinthanai has conducted programmes to appreciate short stories as movie connoisseurs do with film appreciation. Through short story appreciation sessions, it has introduced an entire generation to the world of the short story. Best stories were read and recognised every month, and this has literally shaped new forms of storytelling and pushed writers to find new kinds of stories.

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While there are platforms like Facebook to publish one’s poetry and publishers publish long format fiction works such as novels, a writer has to be solely dependent on weekly or monthly magazines to publish his or her short stories. Though publications bring out short story collections, they accept the ones that have been published already in magazines to be able to give an edge to the collection. Besides, many writers restrain from publishing their short stories in social media like Facebook because people do not take time to read long stories and there is no real engagement with the audience.

Thus, magazines rule over the short story format. The short stories are either published in ‘Ilakkiya Sitrithazhgal’ (Tamil for little literary magazines) such as Kanaiyaazhi, Kalachuvadu, Uyirmai, etc. or in the commercial magazines like Ananda Vikatan, Kumudham, Kungumam, etc.

Till the birth of the new millennium, all these commercial magazines have dedicated at least 20 to 30 pages for short stories in every issue. Though a short story need not necessarily be short, these magazines give writers freedom to decide their own word limit by introducing different varieties of formats such as Oru pakka kathai (one page story), Oru nimida kathai (one minute story), Satrey periya sirukathai (a longer short story) and even ‘Arai pakka kathai’ (half page story) and ‘Pathu vari kathai’ (ten line story). However, all these magazines now publish just one or two short stories since they believe that the current generation does not like short stories.

Ilakkiya Chinthanai was founded at a time when people had more time for leisure and spent time reading short stories and ‘Thodarkathaigal’ (series) published in magazines.

It was started by two brothers P Lakshmanan and P Chidambaram (none other than the former Union Finance Minister) in 1970. Both are voracious readers of Tamil literature. Lakshmanan believed and still holds the opinion that if the short story format dies, the language also dies.

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Mu Ramanathan, an engineer and an associate of Ilakkiya Chinthanai recalled the evenings of the last Saturdays of every month when they used to meet at the Srinivasa Gandhi Mandapam in Alwarpet, Chennai. “A reader-cum-critic would select a short story published in the magazines in the previous month. He would explain the reason behind selecting to read a particular story and the audience would discuss the story among them,” he said, adding that it was a golden period for short stories.

At the end of the year, an eminent writer or critic invited by the organisation picks the best story from the 12 stories discussed over a year. The writer of the best story is given the ‘Ilakkiya Chinthanai’ award and is be honoured in a function at a popular marriage hall in Chennai during the Tamil month of Chithirai (falls between April 14 and May 15), explained Ramanathan.

“It is rare for a Tamil writer to get such a huge recognition,” pointed out Ramanathan, who is a writer as well.

All the major names in the Tamil literary world today, have received this award at least once or twice in their lifetime. A writer, who had even won a Sahitya Akademi award but hadn’t received this award yet, would not be considered popular. That is the reputation of this organisation.

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Some of the famous litterateurs who were decorated by this award includes Ashokamitran, Indira Parthasarathy, R Chudamani, Aandal Priyadharshini, Pavannan, Cho Dharman, Kalanthai Peer Mohammed, Bharathi Krishnakumar and M Murugesh. The award for the year 2019 was given to S Ramakrishnan for his story ‘Sitridhazh’ (little magazine) published in Ananda Vikatan. It is to be noted he won 2018’s Sahitya Akademi award for his novel ‘Sanjaaram’.

“In 2020, the organisation stepped into the golden jubilee year. But due to COVID-19 lockdown, we were unable to celebrate the occasion. Hence, we conducted the celebrations this year,” said Ramanathan.

All the 12 stories that were discussed in a year would also be compiled and published as a book, bearing the title of the award-winning short story. These books are being published by Vanathi Pathippagam in Chennai. This year it has compiled all the 50 award-winning stories and published it as a book under the title ‘Ilakkiya Chinthanai Parisu Petra 50 Sirandha Sirukathaigal’.

” An essay by an eminent critic would also accompany each book. It is a first-of-its-kind initiative in Tamil literary criticism. Besides, from 1976, the organisation gave away an award for best books in Tamil and from 1987, it also published a book of literary criticism written by a researcher who closely studied the works of some writers. Moreover, for the last 15 years, the organisation presents lifetime achievement awards to the individuals who contributed to the development of Tamil,” Ramanathan said.

What is the future for short stories? Ramanathan said the since the founding members of the organisation have become old and unable to work as hard as in the past, young readers  should come forward and continue this tradition of appreciating short stories.

“Earlier, the readers selected the short stories from the magazines which came regularly to their homes after subscription. So they selected stories from conventional magazines like Vikatan, Kumudham, Kalaimagal, etc. But now, many digital magazines are publishing short stories. Organisations must also take those online magazines into account,” he added.

It is hard for a Tamil writer to be recognised by the society today, Ramakrishnan said. A Tamil writer is subjected to all kinds of humiliation but writers continue to write.

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