Tag Archives: pulp fiction

Return to India

With the generous support of both the South Asia Institute and the UT Libraries, I had the good fortune to travel again to India in January 2017.  The primary focus of my travel was to continue the active development of the Libraries’ “South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Collection.”

“Comprehensiveness” is not ultimately the goal for this nationally distinctive collection, in part because the material itself is ephemeral and passes out of print quickly. In fact, the very fleeting nature of the material, particularly that published in serial formats and on low-quality “pulp” paper, is what makes collecting it so imperative.  Private collectors often don’t see the value in its popular content—it isn’t “high brow” nor particularly literary, some of it is geared towards women, while others are purely entertainment-oriented.  Public libraries (both in South Asia and abroad) might seem well situated for the content, yet they often aren’t equipped nor charged to preserve such fragile but highly used material.  As a result, in gathering this material at our research library, even if only at a representative level, we are assuring both current and future researchers a corpus of material within which to explore literary conventions as well as alternative uses of South Asian languages (particularly that not in high registers), to contemplate social norms and anxieties as represented in fictional accounts and graphic design at a particular moment in time, and to question the consumptive practices of publishing and distribution.  In order to be as broadly representative as possible with the collection, I am seeking to include multiple languages and different types and periods of publication.

Building upon earlier efforts in Telugu and Urdu already in the collection, on this trip I sought to acquire materials in Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil.

Mary Rader in Delhi with Aaron Sherraden and  Neha Mohan.

In Delhi, and with the gracious help of Asian Studies PhD Student Aaron Sherraden and former SAI Outreach Coordinator Neha Mohan, I was able to acquire the works of authors such as Anil Mohan and Surendra Mohan Pathak.

Mary Rader at a bookstall in Trivandrum.

In Trivandrum, and following advice and guidance from Asian Studies Malayalam Lecturer, Dr. Darsana, I was able to acquire the works of authors such as Kottayam Puspanath, Ettumanur Sivakumar, and Meluveli Babuji.

Mary Rader at the Chennai Book Fair.

In Chennai, I was able to acquire materials in different publishing formats by authors such as Rajeshkumar, Suba, Uma Balakumar, and Indira Soundarajan.

I continue to be struck by how different the quality of publications is between languages as well as the places of distribution.  Malayalam print production seems best, even for lesser known and more “low-brow” content, while Tamil publications get rebranded and reissued at multiple price points and quality levels.  Train platforms of course continue to be active sites for purchasing this material but sellers there lament a decline, one they explain either by reduced readership overall and/or by the dominance of smart phones rather than books for “time-pass.”  Highly graphic covers dominate the pedestrian markets while less controversial covers of the same content find home in proper bookshops.

As we continue to acquire more and more of these materials, the Library is also in the process of digitizing the covers as they are compelling and research worthy themselves.   An online exhibit is expected to be released in mid-2017.   If you have any suggestions for, questions about or just want to see these materials—I’m happy for all input and eager for the collection to be used!

Harvesting Hardboiled Literature

Sricharan Navuluri.
Sricharan Navuluri.

The UT Libraries has been busy working on our role in national collaborations for deepening and diversifying South Asian collections while simultaneously making them more accessible. One of these efforts exemplifies our multi-pronged approach, namely the growing — albeit idiosyncratic — niche collection in popular and pulp fiction in regional South Asian languages. The various projects associated with this collection have harmoniously united to form a synergy of resources for scholars of South India.

On a brief acquisitions trip to South India last year, Mary Rader, the South Asia Librarian and Global Studies coordinator, obtained a treasure trove of popular and pulp fiction novels to jumpstart our efforts. These novels were primarily in Telugu, the chief language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and third most spoken language in India.

“Abhiśāpaṃ” by Yaddanapūḍi Sulōcanārāṇi.

Popular and pulp fiction literature gained popularity across India during the 1950s and 1960s — a time of tremendous social activism in the subcontinent. For example, after India gained independence in 1947, many social reformists and their movements sought to encourage women to learn to read and write. As a result of these efforts, women writers across the socioeconomic spectrum took advantage of the medium of popular and pulp fiction to address contemporary societal dilemmas. The issues these women wrote about included problems they faced personally as well as those issues that permeated throughout Indian culture. Thanks to these movements, the 1960s were dominated by female writers who wrote fiction that subtly critiqued social issues while piquing the interest of the common reader with imaginative storylines and exuberant characters. In this vein, pulp and popular fiction presented a very raw and realistic take on life, which allowed the middle class to see elements of their lived experiences within the confines of these beautifully illustrated, modest books.

“Kālakanya : saspens, miṣṭarī thrillar” by Madhubābu.

These popular and pulp fiction authors also had close connections with the movie industry, aside from writing for popular cinema magazines. Another one of the authors whose works we have acquired — Yaddanapūḍi Sulōcanārāṇi — wrote sought-after fiction that was frequently used as the plot of many successful Telugu movies.  Her love stories and dramas were popular for younger generations and directors such as K. Viswanath adapted her stories into extremely popular films that addressed a wide array of social issues.

“Sampeṅga podalu” by Si. Ānandārāmaṃ.

Another set of contemporaneous novelists replicated the detective novel literature that was popular in the U.S. during the 1930s and 1940s. Proliferous authors like Sāmbaśivarāvu Kommūri, Madhubābu, and Rāmmōhanarāvu Sūryadēvara produced dozens of novels providing quick entertainment while still addressing contemporary social issues in a more informal context.

"Ekkavalasina Railu" by Dwivedula Visaalakshi.
“Ekkavalasina railu” by Dvivēdula Viśālākṣi.

As we continue to develop this distinctive niche collection, we are also working to make our Telugu materials more accessible.  As part of the South Asian Language Journals Cooperative Table of Contents Project (SALToC), we have been annotating Telugu journals within the Libraries’ collection.  As we worked on the annotations, unique parallels with our pulp and popular fiction emerged.  Our first contribution to SALToC was the creation of a table of contents for Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, a 200+ issue weekly cinema magazine that included short stories by amateur authors. In the early 1960s, weekly and monthly journals like Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika flooded the market with editors who eagerly encouraged women to write. Many of the short stories written by these women gained critical acclaim. In particular, a short story called “Sampenga Podalu” or Tuberose Vines, written by C. Ananda Ramam in Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, jumpstarted her career as a successful popular fiction novelist. Similarly, another of the authors whose works we have acquired – Dvivēdula Viśālākṣi – had the beginning of her career founded in a short story she wrote for another one of these popular journals.

We have a lot more annotating, researching, and acquiring to do and we have started work in other regional languages like Tamil and Malayalam. In the meantime, check out the amazing resources we are compiling.

Written by Sricharan Navuluri — South Asia Library Assistant working with Global Studies Coordinator Mary Rader.

Scholarly Discovery in an Indian Book Stall

Indian Book Stall

The Libraries recently joined a national program to deepen and diversify the national collection for South Asian Studies and focused on a new niche for collection efforts: pulp fiction in South Asian languages.

While the Libraries holds one of the largest and broadest collections of South Asian material in the country, there is also a recognized need to remain active and creative in supporting the sometimes idiosyncratic but always deep research of the scholars at our universities — research that could not be undertaken without unique, international and multilingual collections at their disposal.

Beyond our local needs, however, we also feel the imperative to acquire and preserve materials in US research libraries, lest the ever present dangers of politics, funding and environment threaten them being lost forever — recent news stories of tragic weather events or the destruction of objects from art museums only further drive this point home.

Thus, large research libraries are striving to keep these deep, distinctive collections at the forefront through cooperative collection development initiatives across institutions. In 2014, the Libraries joined a national collaboration for South Asian collections through which librarians across the country seek to leverage existing practices in order to develop simultaneously a robust national collection and unique local collections. There’s a recognition that materials supporting the long-tail of research do not need to be duplicated across many U.S. institutions; rather, harnessing individual skill sets, building upon local interests and working with backroom technical support, the Libraries have concentrated on local niche specializations to develop.

Telugu pulp novelRecently, Libraries’ collections development staff began exploring a relatively narrowly focused pulp fiction collection that the Libraries can provide in support of this distributed national collection. While on a brief acquisitions trip to India in early 2015, I was able to seek out and acquire a number of popular literature titles in Telugu language (one of the languages we teach here at UT) that would not have been represented in the national collection if I had not picked them up while in Hyderabad. That booksellers were reluctant to sell them to a research library as they are not “proper literature” and are “really for time pass for women” is another story for another time; for now, let’s remind ourselves that approved subjects of research change over time — what was once dismissed (women’s literature, popular culture, and the like) is now hot stuff.

The Telugu materials that were chosen for acquisition parallel the pulp detective novels that were prevalent and popular in the American 1930s and 1940s — an era that produced the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Regional expressions of the genre exist in many South Asian languages; for example, Hindi pulp emerged in the 1950s and became extremely popular — especially as a diversion for train passengers — and remained so until the digital age. Capturing and preserving as many examples of the genre from the region will help us further understand pulp as both a literary movement and cultural documentation.

In light of current trends in scholarship that indicate a growing interest in unconventional or non-traditional subject matter, it only makes sense to focus efforts on collections practices that enhance these underrepresented areas for the benefit of research and casual interest.

Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp FictionThere’s a growing scholarly interest in everyday and popular literature as a venue to explore and understand the production of culture. For examples of efforts in this vein, the work of recent UT graduate Laura Brueck or recent publications such as the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction. There’s also an increasing recognition and appreciation for the cultural artifactual value of common materials. The covers of recently acquired pulp fiction titles in Telugu are suggestive in many ways — ways common to printed literature everywhere, as a recent library presentation by English professor Janine Barchas suggests.

The Libraries are excited about this new collecting area and through foreign acquisitions trips in 2016, with plans to develop it in other languages as well, most notably Tamil and Malayalam. Stay tuned to keep watching this unique and distinctive collection grow….