Jallikattu, the traditional bull-taming contest, held as part of
Pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu between a man and bull forms the central theme of the Tamil novella ‘Vaadivaasal’, originally written by N. Kalyan Raman. The bull taming contest is named ‘Chellayi Jallikattu’ and takes place in a remote village named Periyapatti Zameen in interior Tamil Nadu and is visited by two men: Pichchi and Marudhan from the neighbouring village in the east, Usillanoor.
The title ‘Vaadivaasal’ refers to the arena where the game of jallikattu is played. The 88 page novella revolves around the happenings on a single afternoon and reports faithfully how the drama involving human emotions, pettiness, desire, magnanimity and camaraderie unfolds when the bulls and men arrive at the arena. With an old man as the central character, the novella talks about the death of Pichchi’s father, Ambulithevan, who had been gored to death at the same arena a few years ago while trying to tame Kaari, a vadipuram bull.
While the first half is about the two men who breathe in experiences with a local and sharp shrewdness, the next half concentrates on how the animals are brought out, leaving the field open for anyone among the crowd or otherwise willing to tame the bull. Kaari’s arrival in the story is delayed considerably even as we find references to him through the initial parts of the story. The book’s pace accelerates almost to the level of breathlessness when Kaari and Pichchi are face to face.
It is during adversity that the need for survival is felt at the greatest. The final pages highlight Pichchi’s frantic ways to ensure his survival and success as he sizes up with Kaari. This instance alone is enough to prove the author C.S. Chellappa’s command over how to narrate stories in a vivid and engaging manner. It is important to recognise the effort put in by N. Kalyan Raman who has tried his best to retain the rustic tone of Tamil. It is indeed hard to say whether if Vaadivaasal is a story about Pichchi or Kaari. For whatever it is, the only thing that we are informed for sure is that it is about pride. The pride that hurts both: the human Pichchi and the animal Kaari.
Summing up, Vaadivaasal is one of the finest translations I have read in recent times. The clarity and description in the author’s style of narrating has made me explore more of his works. The 88 page novella has been edited with a scholarly eye and care. The glossary at the end which contains a list of local Tamil words which are used to describe incidents in the novella only enhance the value of the book.
P.S.: This review is part of the Reading India Challenge hosted by #TSBC and covers the state of Tamil Nadu. To know more about the Reading India Challenge, you may read about it here: