- Hello, Mr.Gouthama, welcome to Melange ! Could you please tell us about you and what you are ?
From the International arena, you welcome me and my writings. I thank you and International readers of sci-fi as well on behalf of Tamil.
I am primarily a fiction writer operating in the arena of Tamil literature for the past 30 years. I have to my credit 15 works – five collections of short stories, nine books of essays and one collection of poetry. Among them, I would like to record here on a note of pride that my book, ‘Political Travails of Time Travel,’ has been translated into several global languages including Italian and published to rave reviews by readers and critics. My poems, too, have also been translated in several languages.
Right from the beginning, I have been ablaze with an insatiable and inexhaustible desire for the world literature. But, owing to a lack of sufficient mastery of English, I had to fall back only on Tamil translations. My constant search for and reading of world renowned works have reflected in the global literary trends permeating my own writings. Among the greats who impacted me heavily was Italo Calvino whose novels I was reading, my head spinning with heady wine. Enthused and inspired by his novel, ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler,’ I took over where he left off with chapter 21 and wrote the chapter 22 in Tamil. Friends showered me with accolades. (I published this novel in Tamil).
But, unfortunately, I had never landed an opportunity to write in English, hamstrung as I was by my skepticism over the prospects of operating in the English arena lit up by literary titans, not properly equipped with training in English proficiency.
It was my english translator Mr. Maharathi, who first stripped me of the mental block. Loving keenly and reading voraciously the great global literature, he encouraged me to write on, removing the scales from my eyes and convincing me of the global character of my writings. He advised me to write non-fiction and then, fiction.
Accordingly, the piece, ‘A Show on Future Weapons: Discovering Hidden Politics’ was written, a political commentary on the Future Weapons programme of Discovery Channel. It was published in world renowned ‘Truth Out’ to my pleasant shock. Consequently, shared by over a hundred online magazines, it went viral, sending me in a tailspin. The article touched the zenith of popularity to the point of the Discovery channel disabling certain links.
While progressive thinkers, media professionals, Anti-war movements, peace lovers, human rights activists and art and literary stalwarts have failed to see through the ‘Future Weapons’ programme, being totally unaware of the micro-political layers of the TV event, I, a man of ordinary stock, have perceived the point and presented it. This speaks volumes for something that I have within to tell this world and sets me on cloud nine.
However, the greatest goof-up I made was that I had sent the article in question to several online magazines to the great discomfort of the ‘Truth Out’, which, subsequently, refused to entertain any of my writings.
As a sequel to all of this, several of my writings about international issues have not come to light in big magazines. As a silver lining, my article on the politics of Nobel Prize, on which I put heavy stakes, was published in Pravda, a Russian magazine.
What was the irony that haunted my heart was that my article on the Discovery programme, which grabbed much of the global limelight, was given a neat go-by by the Tamil media, which did not even condescend to give a four-line space to it.
At this junction, I think it worthwhile to utter a few words about our Tamil milieu. On our home turf, it is an in-thing to celebrate only those writing for celluloid as writers of any salt. This trend transcends the barrier between the mainstream popular journals and literary magazines on the fringe.
Moreover, the Tamil literary world is plagued with disgusting things such as superficial outlook, parochialism. Set against this demoralizing background and yet working seamlessly with a serious literary perspective, I just turn a Nelson’s eye to the Tamil media.
- Highly interesting is your literary background. Your critical sci-fi work has grabbed a little attention. How did you move to the sci-fi plane? What is sci-fi from your perspective?
Hailing from a backward village, my father was a mythological story-teller. He narrated not only myths but also folk tales. In all his narratives, there used to be a speculative nature. For instance, he used to say that in order to stall the fox stealing and eating cucumber, it was enough to fling three pebbles at it. A little boy I was then, I thought that our dog would sit in those stones and stand guard. It was his tales that conjured up a phantasmagoria of innumerable scintillating scenarios in the tiny universe of my childhood.
It was then natural for me to get fascinated with the works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Anton Chekhov, Korolenko et al. Their writings dripping with Russian realism enriched me significantly. Those were the times when I stood thoroughly convinced that realism is the foundation of art and literature. It was then that I had a social and artistic consciousness rooted within me that without the fundamental feature of realism, any writing would crumble like nine pins.
It is worthwhile to point out that Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, in his ‘Reading Writing Reality,’ has crafted realism as a metaphor for social consciousness, juxtaposing the experiences of reading and writing realism.
But unfortunately, by extension of realism, there emerged tendencies to dismiss ancient traditions and cultures as superstitious. It was Gabriel Garcia Marquez who threw all such tendencies to the winds and his work, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ opened up lots of avenues within me.
Here I would like to recall with a sense of nostalgia that my father was a folksy foreteller who cast a magic on his listeners, divining by means of eight stones. This system of prophesying akin to Tarot card system was called ‘Muthezh’. Driven by the impact that realism had made on me, I used to mock the fabulous tradition, rubbishing it as superstitious. But, I was weaned to magical speculative writing and on this count, it was Marquez who played a major part.
Moreover, thanks to the films such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ ‘Star Wars,’ I leapfrogged to the sci-fi thought. In our little place, sci-fi action films were galore. Among the most interesting one was ‘Tron.’ Several such films can be cited. At that juncture, the most important film that catapulted me to the serious sci-fi genre was Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris.’
Then as a bolt from the blue came ‘Back to the Future’ whose trilogy DVDs I grabbed hold of and watched them repeatedly with the fervor of a madman.
The celestial travel of son of God by divine flight, as narrated by my father in his mythological series, and the time travel performed by Robert Zemeckis stirred in me several dimensions and set my heart aflame with a love for the concept of time travel.
Meanwhile, my friend Mr. Singaravelan, who happened to read one of my stories, commented, “It felt like reading Asimov.” Sparking waves of surprise in me, the remark felt like a transport to the seventh heaven.
Now, I have been pushing the boundaries of that story, hopping to the novel genre, thanks to my die-hard spirit of sci-fi.
- Who are the writers who inspired you to write fiction and essays?
First and foremost is Borges. And other Latin American writers too. It was the similarities and identical features of our folktales and the booming Latin American writings, which drove me to take the Latin American literature as my beacon.
And as for non-fiction, lots deserve elucidation.
For the past 20 years, the wave of post-modernism has been sweeping all languages all over the world, counting Tamil.
But, unfortunately, post-modernism was introduced in Tamil in highly distorted or mutilated forms. It is a free-for-all of sorts in which any Tom, Dick and Harry write about whatever they lay their hands on, without any social awareness, terrorizing simple readers with obscure and obscurantist thoughts they name as auto fiction, meta fiction and collage fiction. The concept of post-modernism was in utter chaos. To set it right I decided to bring out the original writings of post-modernists.
I collected the conceptual writings of 50 essential post-modernists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Baudrillard, which projected their special outlooks and perspectives and brought out them. The plurality of the post-modernist thoughts had sunk into my currents of thinking, my outlooks taking on several dimensions. Moreover, ‘Rhizome’ of Deleuze-Guattari had impacted me to a great extent.
Thanks to this alchemy that I underwent internally, I began writing art and literary non-fiction.
- Why did you write as you did the ‘Political Travails of Travel’? What is its driving force?
It is quite obvious that all over the world, the process of distorting history is apace. Initially, it was done by religion and now is taken over by governments.
As a result, there is an Orwellian danger of the history dating to several centuries ago turning upside down and being handed over to the succeeding generations, wearing the mask of real version.
For instance, it is part of the Tamil history that the Jains (Samaṇar) were impaled with sharp stakes as a punishment for what was considered as their religious blasphemy. It is known ‘kazhu’ in Tamil. (‘Kazhu’ means an instrument of punishment. The accused would be made to sit on a spear-like weapon and then, the weapon would be pushed too deeply through the anus and would come out of his mouth).
Recently a researcher argued that there was no evidence to prove that the episode happened.
Such ‘research’ works are executed with a mythological elegance only by those leaning towards the powers-that-be, bringing their art and literary experience and knowledge to bear on the job.
All these distortions are part of a larger political stratagem aimed at bringing under the control of the rulers the society steeped in folklore, myths and cultural richness. This was what anthropologist Lévi-Strauss said. He is an expert who drove home the connection between mythology and reality.
Here, in our country, the rich folklore and diverse cultures are per se against power. Inspired by the idea of bringing to light how the powers-that-be were twisting the plurality of the folklore tradition to their advantage, fitting it into their religious scheme of things and wiping out its essence totally, I went for non-fiction.
Our independent folklore deities strutted about in the midst of the authoritarian religion’s pantheon of gods. That the myriad folksy deities were usurped and converted into the images of the powerful ruling establishment has sparked an outrage in me, a countryman to the core.
For an instance, we can cite the case of Goddess Kali, part and parcel of the divine Indian iconic identity. Lots of theological and philosophical interpretations of the monstrous image with its tongue jutting out have been rooted in the Indian soil. The divine tongue, which expanded into several imageries in the Bengali literature, is considered as the identity of the native soil. Mythological scholar Devdutt Pattanaik says, “ It can be taken not only as an expression of ire but also of all elements and features of life in communion with Nature.”
It is worthwhile to note that Gunter Grass, a German novelist, who once came to Kolkata, has written a piece about the social milieu of the city, titled ‘Show your Tongue.’
The trend of twisting this folklore imagery was driven home to readers powerfully by a news item published in The Times of India(11.11.15), captioned as ‘Kolkata breaks away from tradition.’ It conveyed the message that the practice of worshipping the wrathfully native deity of Kali had changed and instead, a new trend of worshipping the peaceful image of ‘Samunda’ in southern Kolkata emerged in that year. The divine tongue of ‘Kali’, an iconic identity of the Bengali folklore and culture, would hereafter be assimilated into the features of the big and officially powerful ‘Saamundeshwari.’
Galore are similar cases.
At this point, the story, ‘Lilith’ by Primo Levi, keeps storming into my mind. It is a writing that lays threadbare the things distorted in the manner above mentioned.
The God, in collaboration with Adam, created Lilith who, angered by what she considered as the Almighty’s failure to accord equality to her, turned into Satan. It was only afterward that the God created Eve. Thus goes the story which can be viewed only from the ‘anti-outlook’ angle.
All these thoughts swarming my mind, I began writing my essay.
I had thought that only through time travel, the reality of men and matters buried or distorted in history could be dug out. How I long wished time travel helped set right all historical mutilations! This book is the brain-child of such a wishful thinking.
- Why did you choose these two stories for your essay?
The two stories, of all sci-fi tales, are the most important. Read at one go, they would create in the minds of the readers an inner journey, filling them with the dimensions of internal visions and the logic of objective reality.
Time travel has, by and large, been the leitmotif of all sci-fi writings. It is a tradition of sorts, originating from H G Wells, and laying roots in various dimensions. This is what a serious and sustaining reader of sci-fi genre can corroborate. There is no sci-fi writer who hardly writes about time travel. In Hollywood, with its use ad nauseam, it has almost become a cliché. Of this genre, Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Back to the Future- Trilogy’ gains more importance.
Ray Bradbury and Alfred Bester have handled the theme of time travel in their stories. The reason why their writings have attained importance is that they have taken up the chaos theory and put forward their outlooks, contrary to each other, quite logically.
Bradbury’s world fills with chaos theory presented aesthetically and with deep and grave descriptions of time. Bester’s is quite contrary, in that it puts forward logical oscillations and visions of time-space, bringing them into question. These two streams of story-telling art cast a spell on readers, presenting before them two different possibilities and strip them of life spaces.
The stories hardly stop with being just interesting. They go beyond the boundaries and get operating in our structure of realism. When it dawned on me that these stories superimpose fresh and new visions on the outlooks about time, constructed in the framework of religion and philosophy, it felt like floating in the esoteric, eerie and enigmatically gigantic space.
- Well! How is your Tamil literary milieu vis-à-vis sci-fi and speculative fiction?
Sci-fi, in fact, draws a blank in the modern Tamil literature. It has long been misconstrued as kids’ stuff or as popular potpourri. The fact that our commercial Tamil writer, the late Sujatha Rangarajan, was always harping on sci-fi has driven sci-fi to be branded as commercial.
Hence, is there no keen ‘searching tendency’ among Tamil writers? This question can’t help popping up in your mind. But the irony is that Tamil, credited with being a classical language, the eldest of all world languages, has got modern writers who, except a few, have all no acquaintance with, let alone serious knowledge of, serious writings in English. Moreover, there are, more and less, no Tamil writers writing in English. That is the reason why the Tamil literary world is not keeping abreast of the latest in world literature.
Several here are not aware of the latest phenomenon, in the neighboring China, of sci-fi genre growing by leaps and bounds, attracting the world literary trends towards it.
Not only that, the speculative fiction has not been introduced in Tamil in its proper sense. In my journal, ‘Unnatham,’ I published some modern speculative fiction writings translated in Tamil. Unfortunately, only third-rate Tamil writings of cheap value are projected as belonging to the genre of speculative fiction. This is the modern Tamil paradigm being constructed and presented in the global arena.
I hope that an awareness of speculative fiction and sci-fi will catch up with the next generation!
- Thank you for your valuable interview. Any parting message or shot?
I thank the global reader sincerely; for, it’s he who is willing to read my writings; it’s he who welcomes the tiniest of the tiny; it is he who hardly gives a damn about the fact that I am a writer making a livelihood out of a language yet to gain global recognition and again, it’s he who seldom wonders whether this simple writer can say anything about time travel, which has hardly been said by great scientists and intellectuals in the global arena of intellect.
Gouthama Siddarthan is a noted Modern Poet, short-story writer, essayist and literary critic in Tamil, who is a reputed name in the Tamil neo-literary circle.
There are 15 books so for written and published, which include series of stories and essays.
A Tamil literary magazine titled UNNATHAM is being published, under his editorship. It focuses on modern world literature.
Ten books authored by his are being published in nine world languages (Tamil, English, Spanish, German, Romanian, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Italian and Chinese) before one month..
Now, his column writing in Spanish and Italian magazines!
Domenico Attianese is an Italian writer, screenwriter, editor and script doctor.
He has published in Italian on portals, publishing houses and on Amazon, also collaborating on collective projects with other authors. As a screenwriter, he has a pilot for a TV series selected by an American production company, with another on the way, and a short film coming in 2019.
As an editor he has collaborated on numerous essays and short stories and as a script doctor he has worked for some Italian production houses. he is also one of the co-founders of Melange, an online Italian cultural magazine, of which he is also editor and contributor.