Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Songsters at the CrossRoads

This week Madras is celebrating Madras Day ( - the city was founded on august 22, 1639. Mostly lectures, an autorickshaw race from Madras to Kanyakumari!!, a couple of quizzes, some national publicity.

On Monday there was a interesting lecture on முச்சந்தி இவக்கியம், about street corner songsters between 1910-1950 before film songs took over. These were the kaal-anna and arai-anna books published on topics of the day from sensational murders to the freedom movement to local bigshots' deaths, even a debate between English Coffee and Tamil பழைய சோறு(leftover rice)!

The presenter Dr Venkatachalapathy (who has authored a book அந்த காலத்தில் காபி இல்லை - "In Those Days There was no Coffee" - Kaalachuvadu Padippagam) made mention of how popular these pamphlet books were, even among the illiterate. In Madurai they were published at Pudhu Mandapam near the Meenakshi temple. A passing reference to kaal-anna books is in Kalki's "Thyaga Bhumi". Their popularity can be guaged by their selling in the thousands when Swadesamitran and the Hindu sold around 3000 and 2500 copies respectively. One interesting feature was that established writers spoke denigratingly of them as low grade literature. They finally faded away when movie songs overtook them in popularity.


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