Synopsis: Beyond The Sea by P. Singaram

Beyond the sea pic

Joining the Indian National Army has changed

a young man’s outlook on the world.

How will he get back to love and life after the war?

A Tamil novel set in Penang.


Beyond The Sea

P. Singaram’s Beyond the Sea is a classic of modern Tamil literature, and one of the few Tamil novels of its era to be set completely in Southeast Asia. R. Karthigesu’s excellent translation brings this work to an English-speaking audience for the very first time. The novel’s gripping wartime plot and its evocative scenes of everyday life in Penang continue to compel the attention. This beautiful new edition by Areca Books will be of interest to general readers and scholars alike.
Sunil Amrith, Professor of South Asian Studies, Harvard University
Author, Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants

A novel by P. Singaram

Original novel in Tamil, Kadalukku Appaal by P. Singaram, published by Kalaimagal publications, 1959.

English version by R.Karthigesu, translated from Thamizhini Publishers, Chennai, 2012. To be published by Areca Books.



As a young man working in a Penang kittanggi, Chellaia fancies his boss’s daughter. His life and job as a moneylender is disrupted by the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. Like many young Indian men, he joins the Indian National Army (INA). Towards the end of the war, when the Tamil soldiers hear about Japan’s surrender and the sudden death of their great commander Subhas Chandra Bose, they start to disband. On their retreat from Ipoh towards Kedah, the soldiers seek refuge among civilian families in the rubber estates, but encounter Japanese troops and communist guerrillas. As a former INA soldier, Chellaia finds himself thinking about questions of loyalty and affiliation:  “Looking up at the sky, his heart was troubled. Why are we stranded in this jungle and for whom? … Who are the white men, Japanese and Chinese? What is the relationship between us Tamils and them? Why are we hunting and killing each other? … What is liberation?”

After making it back to Penang, Chellaia waits around to see what the return of the British will bring. Some Indian sojourners, stranded by the war, are now planning to return to their hometowns in India. Chellaia tries to get back to work and settle down to civilian life. However, the war and army life have changed him. His altered demeanour means he can no longer readjust himself to the moneylending profession. What is worse, he is no longer deemed a suitable match for the woman he had hoped to marry.

About The Author: P. Singaram

P. SingaramSingaram was an important South Indian writer of the modern period, considered one of the foremost Tamil novelists despite having authored only two novels, both set in Southeast East Asia, where he spent many years as a young man. His novels are set in Medan in Indonesia and Penang in Malaysia.

“P. Singaram’s Puyalile Oru Thoni (A Boat in a Storm) is perhaps the only great Tamil novel about the Southeast Asian experience of the first half of the twentieth century; it opens with evocative descriptions of this urban world of many diasporas. The setting for Singaram’s novel was the Sumatran town of Medan; his imagination was shaped by his experience of Penang, where he lived in the 1930s and 1940s.”

– Professor Sunil Amrith, Harvard University.

Life. Born in 1920 in the Sivagangai district in Tamil Nadu, P. Singaram’s family was involved in textile business. He went to Singampunari Primary School followed by St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Madurai. In 1938, at the age of 18, he moved to Medan, Indonesia to work. A few years into his marriage there, both his wife and baby died. In 1946, after the war, he returned to India and lived in Madurai. He worked at Dinathandhi newspaper until his retirement in 1987. He gave away his earnings to social welfare trusts just before he died in 1997.

Literary Influences. P. Singaram arrived in Southeast Asia – as the world slowly came together the second time for a great World War. Living in Medan, he visited the nearby port of Penang often where he found solace in the Penang Library. This is where he read Hemingway, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Chekov and Dostoyevsky. He believed A Farewell to Arms to be an important milestone in American literature and rated Anna Karenina more than War and Peace. His adherence to the very essence of his roots impressed Ramakrishnan, Konangi and many other Tamil writers.

(Source: Wikipedia

Beyond The Sea Full cover

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P. Singaram’s Novels. Greatly frustrated with the delays and difficulties he faced in publishing his work, Singaram only finished two novels in his lifetime.
  • Kadalukku AppalKadalukku Appal was written in 1950 immediately after he returned to India. It won first prize in a novel contest and was published in 1959.



Puyalile Oru Thoni

  • Puyalile Oru Thoni was written in 1962. This novel was set in Penang and Sumatra during the Second World War. Published in 1972, it is regarded by some Tamil writers to be the greatest modern literary work published in Tamil. Several notable film-makers have expressed their desire to make this epic novel into a movie.



(Source: Wikipedia

About the Translator: R. Karthigesu


Dr R. Karthigesu was a former Professor of Mass Communication from University of Science Malaysia where he taught broadcasting and journalism. Karthigesu held a BA degree in Indian Studies (Malaya), MSc in Journalism (Columbia) and a PhD in Mass Communication (Leicester). Before venturing into academia, he was a well-known broadcaster with an illustrious career with Radio Television Malaysia.


After retirement, he devoted his time to Tamil literary writing. An award-winning author, he authored five novels, five short story anthologies and two collections of literary essays in Tamil.


Dr. Karthigesu passed away on 10 October 2016.



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