Poetry, Fiction, and Authorial Identity in D. Dilip Kumar's Short Stories


Poets appear as central characters in two of D. Dilip Kumar’s (1951-) Tamil short stories: first, as a feckless, drunken husband in the 1988 experimental piece “Nikala Marutta Arputam” (“The Miracle that Refused to Happen”), and second, as a romantic, suicidal misfit in the 1992 “Manam Enum Tōṇi Parri.” The title of the latter is the first line of a poem from the Śaiva Tirunāvukkarasar Tēvāram, and is used as part of the moody soundscape of the story, but has little bearing on the actual plot (the author and I have titled the story “Scent of a Woman” in English). I will explore three moments in which poetry appears in these stories. First, in “The Miracle that Refused to Happen,” Mr. James, the protagonist and for all practical purposes the only speaker in the entire story, utters a poem of his own composition towards the end of a disastrous monologue aimed at his wife. Second, James also begins to spout passages from the King James Version of the Psalms, and here I will examine how the Psalms in Tamil carry a very different feel from the same lines in the English of the King James text, and how the passages are used in this instance to manipulate and break down the resolve of his wife. My third example is drawn from “Scent of a Woman.” The story is semi-autobiographical, and the two poems that are featured in it are recited in intimate conversation with the story’s romantic heroine at moments of decisive and critical turns in its very structure. Exploring the several instances in which Dilip Kumar pays homage to the antiquity of the Tamil language and to its literary conventions, I will consider how verse is embedded in prose, what the shifts in register accomplish in terms of plot and character development, and how one mode of discourse is ultimately valued over another.