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Anthologize and Be Damned


Paul Zakaria

MALAYALAM SHORT STORIES: AN ANTHOLOGY
By Kerala Sahitya Akademi
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1976, xxi plus 357, 25.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 2 April - June 1976

Good intentions in anthology-making are never good enough unless they are backed by a clear sense of direction, a balanced overview of the ground under survey, and—if it is an anthology of translations—an uncompromising stand on the quality of translations coupled with a precise awareness of the ‘other lan­guage’ audience and its standards. The book under review is a disastrous example of (what must have been originally) good intentions running amuck. Going by the title and copyright pages one gained the impression that the Kerala Sahitya Akademi was itself the anthologist. One was no end thrilled thinking of the troubles that august body must have taken to transform itself into an anthologist. But a certain apolo­getic patch in the scholarly Introduction to the book by Professor Sukumar Azhikode alerted one unhappily to the possibility that he himself could be the anthologist ­unless, like a good samaritan, the Professor is holding the baby on behalf of the Akademi. How one wishes the latter were true! For it would be sad—and very disturbing—to see a critic and scholar of Professor Azhikode's eminence, with an undoubted understanding of the Malayalam literary scene, making a hash of a simple enough anthology. I am sure it cannot be so and Professor Azhikode cannot have been a party to this insensitive, distorted and ill-translated picture of contemporary Malayalam short story, which the Kerala Sahitya Akademi has seen fit to project. Nevertheless, one thanks him for the comprehensive Introduction; perhaps the only saving grace of the book. The primary criterion adopted in selecting the stories seems to have been the participating writers' connections, one way or the other, with the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. The mini-introduction to each writer provided at the beginning of the stories will bear out this fact. Apparently, the Akademi wants us to believe that the art of the short story in Malayalam owes itself to the Akademi. If any other criterion has been applied it is invisible to ordinary eyes. Professor Azhikode has, of course, carefully stated in his Intro­duction that ‘this is not a historical, or topical or personal anthology; but a very conservative one, being’—he claims in the same breath—’a collection of representative short stories in so far as any anthology could be a representative one’. Obviously, to Profes­sor Azhikode, to be conservative is to be representative, the anthology is, he ...


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