Insightful, modern classic

Insightful, modern classic

G Nagarajan, the maverick Tamil writer, is one of the few. In this book, G Nagarajan as people called him, writes about one day in the life of his protagonist, Kandan, a pimp, a procurer, against the seamy back-drop of the marginalised sections of society. It also explores the nature of time, the ephemerality of life, and the touching need of human beings to belong.

The book has an in-depth introduction by David Shulman, and it is translated by Abbie Ziffren with A Julie. The inscription at the beginning of the book sets the mood and tone of this picaresque novella. “God is not always in his heaven, all is not always right with the world…. It is not all bad, but it is not all good….. But it is life—the only thing that matters”—Thomas Wolfe. The author is an existentialist; in fact he has been called a Tamil Camus, whose works he was greatly inspired by. As Shulman says in his introduction:  “He combined the grimy  “realism of Gorky with the lyrical despair of Camus.”

Tomorrow is one more Day is G Nagarajan’s most significant work; it relates the disjointed scramble of events in the day of the anti-hero, Kandan, who seems to watch them detachedly, as if they were happening to someone else. The term ‘picaresque realism’ has also been applied to this genre.

The author has a feel for the concrete textures of life, especially on the periphery of society. The book itself, a slim volume of 97 pages, makes for easy reading, but I must  confess that Shulman’s introduction sent me to the dictionary, both English and French!
In an insightful exchange between Kandan, and Muthuswamy, his friend the philosophy  of the book unfolds itself: “There is so much injustice in this society” said Muthusamy. 

He points out that people like Kandan are forced in to sleazy life-styles because of their poverty:“Are there any jobs open to you? Or do you have the money to start your own business?” They go on to discuss exploitation, and how helpless they are to abolish it. They also discuss the merits of communism, which is significant because G Nagarajan himself was a member of the communist party at one time. At another point, Anthony, a broker, says: “It’s the nature of the world that there are people who cheat, and people who get cheated. If everyone acted right, there wouldn’t be any competition or progress in life. Life would be dull.

The sordidness of the subject and the back-ground are alleviated by touches of humour. Chettiar, one of the characters, is highly humiliated at being cursed by Irene, an Anglo-Indian woman: “and English curses at that! A jutka-driver pastes a poster invoking the heroes of Tamil classics to help abolish sales-tax, and parks his jutka outside a beedi-shop in order to get a few free beedis.

Later in the book,“the magistrate bursts out laughing, and a few lawyers also laugh, and some people in the court-room also laugh, asking each other what they were laughing about.”

One wonders why this edition has such small print. And though the translation reads smoothly for the most part, the change in tenses is slightly confusing, as are the phonetics in the Tamil names, words, and phrases.

But these are minor flaws, and one must commend Penguin for having included this book in it’s Modern Classics Programme. More strength to the series.

Tomorrow is one more day
G Nagarajan
Translated by
Abbie Ziffren with A Julie
Penguin, 2010,
pp 128, Rs 199

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