Thuppariyum Sambu
Created by Devan

The United States was certainly not the only country to have a pulp fiction explosion. In the forties, the libraries of the Indian province of Tamil were crammed with "thuppariyum kathaigal" (detective stories) which caught the attention of thousands of readers.

During the late 1940s, the popular Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan serialised the adventures of THUPPARIYUM SAMBU. These were the often-humurous accounts of a failed bank clerk who somehow ended up a private detective, despite having no real talent for deduction. He was short, bald and endowed with a huge nose. He carried a tattered umbrella and walked around in torn dhoti and overcoat. He was what the Tamil brahmins commonly referred to as an "asadu "(nincompoop).

Yet, through a series of coincidences and blind luck, he always persevered, much to the delight of his many fans, solving crime after crime over the years. He became the mascot of the local police and a public hero, and also became quite rich, thanks to numerous grateful clients. And then New Scotland Yard bestowed the ultimate honour on Sambu by inviting him to London to solve a case which had baffled the Yard for nearly two years.

Sambu was the creation of the late Devan, and is generally considered one of the best of the Tamil short story and fiction writers of his time. "In our house," Indian columnist V. Gangadhar fondly recalls, "as soon as the new issue of Vikatan arrived, there was a scramble to get hold of it and read the latest Sambu adventure. Week after week, Sambu caught murderers, recovered stolen jewellery, unmasked robbers, exposed kidnappers... all through sheer good fortune. Those who benefitted from Sambu's sleuthing gifted him with bungalows, diamond necklaces, gold rings and cash. Some two years back, while on a visit to Madras, I looked into a Tamil book shop and came across several volumes of Sambu stories. I grabbed them, finished them at one setting and discovered that age had not withered nor custom staled the infinite variety and pleasure of Thuppariyum Sambu."

SHORT STORIES

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Thanks to V. Gangadhar and Venkat for helping put me straight on this one.


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