New Dharshans: In this masterpiece, the author weaves a vivid portrayal of deep impact of socio, political, cui rural conflicts and problems on the remote rural areas, affecting everyday life. Putting 'man' in the center, this humanistic novel amplifies the declining levels of humanism, honesty, kindness and righteousness in the world at large. While doing so, this pacy novel highlights the relevance of traditions, communist ideals and reiterates the necessity for humanity to trace and revisit its roots. Set in the backdrop of turbulent events of India in 1970's, this novel was a trendsetter in the sub-genre of Tamil realistic fiction.
Ponneelan: Ponneelan is a multifaceted writer who is renowned for his absorbing novels, short story collections, biographies, critical essays and translations. His first novel 'Karisal' (Black Soil) depicts realistically the struggle of the peasants of the post independent period. 'New Dharshans' written in the back drop of Emergency during 1970-76 which won the Sahitya Akademi award 1994 upholds democracy against dictatorship of anykind. His recent major novel 'Marupakkam,' considered as his lifetime achievement picturises the present cultural struggle that spread in the south during the Mandaikkadu riot. In all his works, Ponneelan tries his best to illuminate his main ideal - democratic humanism. He is also a cultural activist for peace and progress. He guides and inspires manywriters of Tamil Nadu, especially budding youngsters. Presently, he is the President of the All India Progressive Writers Association, New Delhi.
S. Nagarajan: Translator of this work from Tamil, Dr. S. Nagarajan is the former Principal of Sri SankaraBaghavathi Arts and Science College, Kommadikottai. Some of his well-known works are 'English for Competitive Examinations,' 'English for Effective Writing: 'The Big Boss' and 'Spoken English Made Easy' (hi-lingual). 'New Dharshans' is his second translation work for the Akademi, the first one being C.S. Chellappa’s ‘Vaadivasal’.
The novel New Dharshans by Ponneelan has emerged from the Tamil progressive camp with new word, new meaning and new taste.
Rejecting the idea that in this fast moving world it is not possible to read lengthy novels, only shorter ones and very small ones can cope with the present day speedy life, this novel large as an epic has emerged.
Dismissing the traditional idea that serious literature is uninteresting, slow moving, boring and reading it is a punishment, the novel, telling a story in a very fast manner is born.
Here comes a novel declaring aloud that the news propagated by some that the realistic creative process is dead is not a fact but a rumour.
In New Dharshans, burning political, economic and cultural-even worldwide affairs have been engraved in the smallest body of a tiny village of the southernmost tip of the country, just like Lord Bala Krishna exhibited the whole universe in his little mouth.
Soviet Peristroika and the changes that occurred there have made the Communists throughout the world to reassess seriously their understanding of life, their theory, their practices, their organization and their relationship with people.
As far as the Indian Communists are concerned, they faced a crisis in this soil itself. It was the Emergency period [1975-77] when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appeared as a Socialist to the Communists, a Fascist to the Naxalites and a Semi-Fascist to the Marxists. What diametrically opposite views! Childish expectations on one side and the same intensity of childish enmity on the other side! How miserably have these assessments lost their meanings in the Emergency period itself! Apart from this, have we ever analyzed the politics of this period in all its dimensions?
In New Dharshans the politics of the Emergency period is staged like a street drama in an experimental manner. Like the Russian civil war which originated around the Cacusus mountain slopes and rolled into the River Don region, this novel depicts the political stands that commenced from the Allahabad High court and from the Delhi Parliament and from Sanjay Gandhi flowed and rolled into a tiny village at India's southernmost end, affecting the daily life of the traditional village, mingling with its diverse problems-problems of wage, caste, feudalism and servitude. Every nook and corner of the village - every living being is shaken by the Total Revolution and the Emergency.
There were the traditional feudal lords in the village who suspected Indira Gandhi at first as a socialist and got frightened, but then understood her and joined hands with her. There was the factory owner Kaliappan, a New Congress Party man who wanted to exploit the situation and capture the power-seat of the village. There was the cunning merchant Ramachandran ready to join hands with anybody to exploit the whole village. Also was there the Youths Association, the nursery of new thinking as far as the village was concerned. And there were the Dalits belonging to the Colony, perpetually suppressed not only by the traditional caste fanatics but also by the new exploiters. How this chameleon-like politics of India makes them all divide among themselves, form various groups and fight each other is the theme of the novel. In this background, there is some philosophical re-thinking about the would be social change in India. All these and still so many other things are combined together and made into a whole in the novel New Dharshans.
It seems, this novel of Ponneelan can be read and understood at least from two angles.
As stated earlier, it can be read and understood through the socio-political back ground of the nineteen seventies. This background is depicted candidly. Each and every political news carried by the dailies gets itself reflected in the Big Street, in the Cashew Factory, the Colony Street, in the Youths Association office and also in the relations between these people, affecting deeply the normal life of the village. And in the light of each news, the village re-evaluates its problems, its fronts and begins to react. This aspect makes New Dharshans completely a political novel.
The novel can be approached from yet another angle also. Leaving the immediate Indian political situation, this novel can be read as a deep re-thinking about Indian Communism. Now the meaning of the title New Dharshans becomes larger and deeper. If it can be explained through the last word of the novel, the search for a world outlook which anchors in humanism becomes the message of New Dharshans. Now New Dharshans is not a mere political novel. Extending beyond that boundary, it flows into the vast field of culture, discussing human values like tradition, humanism, morality, moral responsibility, sincerity etc.
Ponneelan has indomitable faith in Man. His belief is that life by its very nature is beautiful. That the soul of the ordinary villager is simple, strong and optimistic is his starting point. Though living for ages in utter poverty and terrible servitude, the toiling man never loses his hope in life. The deep affection he has for his own work in his everyday life and the passionate love he exhibits in his family life-all are testimonies of his love and faith in life.
Ponneelan strongly believes that his love of life and Marxism intertwine very naturally with each other. Because he believes so, he has no hesitation in proclaiming himself as a Marxist.
But the luxuriant humanism he cherishes and the Marxist political practices he encounters do not coincide so easily and genuinely as he wishes. Differences crop up. Problems arise. Occasions when one rejects the other also occur. The Emergency period depicted in New Dharshans is one such complex period.
Periods like this trap Ponneelan also. How to integrate one with the other? Even in crucial circumstances, he is not at all prepared to reject his love of life. There is no reason for rejecting it-for giving it up. When Marxism becomes so "single dimensional" and powerless to embrace that love of life, he feels sad and anxious. But the Marxism which he embraced so lovingly, believing that it is the only philosophy nearest to Humanism, due to its dogmatic one dimensional political practice becomes impotent to embrace rich human values. Now Ponneelan becomes desperate. This compels him to search for a new dharshans.
Ragavan, the major character of New Dharshans is the man who fondly founded and nurtured the Youths Association in the village. He is the lovable brother of his youths. He prepares them to believe that Indira Gandhi would bring Socialism. He makes them accept and welcome Emergency declared by her. Whenever doubts arise, he sets them aside for All India as well as world political needs.
But then Emergency Dictatorship spreads out its ugly tentacles. Without any humanistic consideration, the bureaucracy and the police implement the Twenty Point Programme to the whims and fancies of the rich Congress capitalists.
Only now Ragavan realizes that the Emergency imposed from above-the emergency imposed by capitalists with the help of the bureaucracy and the police will never serve the people, however progressive it may sound. Before he asserts himself, things go out of his hands. The people of the Big Street, the factory owner, the wholesale merchant, the Youth Congress, all join together to smash the Youths Association office and the Dalit Colony. The Dalit youth Chelliah is butchered in broad day light. Ragavan and the other youths flee the village.
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