“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
– James Baldwin
Literature is a vital medium through which humans have documented their culture, history, and philosophy. In Malaysia, Tamils too have utilised this medium to create a literary space of their own, telling the tales of their lives in all their complexity in both Tamil and English. Here are three significant works on Tamils in Malaysia:
Peichi by Ma. Navin
Ma. Navin’s Peichi is a brilliant literary work on plantation Tamils in Malaysia that has garnered critical acclaim from Tamil readers across the globe. Centred around the time period of the 1980s and 1990s, the novel goes into painful and piercing depth about the exploited lives of Tamil labourers in the oil palm estates. It is a gripping tale of migration, mysticism, and oppression. Although Tamil literature has had a near two-century history in Malaysia, there has been little work that properly details the lives of Tamil workers. Ma. Navin’s Peichi is a significant step towards filling that void. Peichi is a vulnerable, sensitive, and brave account of the untold lives of estate workers. Ma.Navin’s knowledge of the Tamil language, culture, and history elevates the novel into a celestial realm of excellence. Truly an important modern work that has helped revive the Malaysian Tamil literary scene.
Sensuous Horizons: The Stories and the Plays by K.S. Maniam
In this collection of plays and stories, we are transfigured into the poetic universe of K.S. Maniam’s creation. A renowned literary figure in Malaysia, K.S. Maniam’s writings have given a new soul to the lives of Tamils in Malaysia through the English language. In this collection, he brings forth his own unique perspective on the shifting lives of Tamils of all classes, from plantation labourers to the new middle classes in urban areas. This collection has both prose and drama, so it gives the reader the various literary formats that K.S. Maniam is brilliant at handling. This work also explores the shifting culture between men and women and how the gender hierarchy is transformed under changing socio-economic circumstances.
The first of its kind, Muthammal Palanisamy poignantly writes an autobiographical work about herself as a Malaysian Tamil woman. It is a painful yet poignant tale of migration, family, love, and all the beauty life has to offer. It is also an account of how the plantation Tamils that came from Tamil Nadu found a way to strive through all the alienation their new host land presented them with. Muthammal is one of the few Malaysian Tamils to have a strong bond with her ancestral land and family back in the Tamil Motherland. It was at their humble request that she translated her work, which was originally written in English, into Tamil, titled Naadu Vittu Naadu.
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