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Home > Tamil Language & Literature > Jeyakantan > Short Story Collections of Jeyakantan - ஜெயகாந்தனின் சிறுகதைகள் > Jeyakantan - A Review of Selected Works - Sankaran - Postings in Soc.Culture.Tamil 1995-1996
Jeyakantan - A Review of Selected Works
1 January 1996
jeyakAn^than first made his mark as a short story writer. And a short story writer par excellence he is! The only other writers in the same league - quality and quantity-wise, are pudhumaippiththan and thi. jAnakirAman.
Before jeyakAn^than (JK hereafter), modern thamizh literature was of a pseudo-formalist style. The popular wrieters before JK burst on the scene were pudhumaippiththan, kalki and lakshmi ( Dr. thiripurasun^dhari).
pudhumaippiththan was of course far superior to the other two and a trail blazer of great originality. But even he wrote mostly in a formal literary style. Very few of his characters speak the language, the patois, which one would consider natural to them, appropriate to their station in life or to the geographical location. Thus in his masterpieces like kadavuLum kan^dhasAmippliLLaiyum , or ponnakaram, the characters don't speak the language one would expect them to. It is not stilted by any means. But even in his realistic stories (almost all of them are) the language is somewhat akin to the formal, "literary" style found in his other masterpieces such as: chiRpiyin naragam , or biramma rAkshas , or kANYchanai , or sApa vimOchanam . Same is true of most of the short stories of the other three maNikkodi greats - n^a. pichchamUrthy, b.s. rAmaiyA and ku. pa. rA. Mouni of course had a style of his own, appropriate to the stream-of-consciousness interior monologues so characteristic of his stories.
Then, JK came like a breath of fresh air. His characters spoke "naturally". His Madras city workers spoke as only the underclass of that city can and do speak. When muniyammA the roadside aduppukkadaikkAri shouts "E, ... savAdhi ... I... I..." in yelling out for her son sabApathi in the story poRukki ( in the collection oru pidi sOru, pp. 102-109) it is THE authentic voice of her people. There is no literary window dressing here, no striving for effect, no artificiality, no artefact. She speaks as she does because she has to. Or that is the strong impression in the reader's mind. It is one of JK's earliest stories, written in 1955.
Yet, we find the sure touch of the master who is supremely confident of his craft and his style. iruLan and murukAyi in nan^dhavanaththil Or ANdi (1958) in the collection inippum karippum speak their own language. Anyone who has been to the small towns and villages of thamizh nAdu will recognize their voice, their words and understand why iruLan must sing "nan^dhavanaththl Or ANdi" and not "ennaik kaNdu nI vAda unnaik kaNdu nAn vAda" etcetera.
The contrasting styles of the city slickers (pattaNAm) and the country "bumpkins" (pattikkAttAn) in "pattaNam sirikkiRathu" (1958) and the madhuraith thamizh of mInAtchi and ponnammAL in "tharkkam" (1959) confirm that the writer speaks of things he knows and knows very well from personal observation. In short, his realistic stories ARE realistic both in content and style. Of course, he shows that he can handle the formal, literary style when it is demanded by the situation in his stories of (philosophical or historical) inquiry such as "thani manidhan" (1955) or the birAmmaNAth thamizh as in "suyadharisanam" (1965) or "agginip piravEsam" (1966).
There have been many imitators and followers of one or the other of his linguistic "styles" but none as good in handling the different styles appropriate to each situation. Only thi. jAnakirAman comes even close. Thus, the first revolution that JK wrought in MTL was in the use of the thamizh language in all its glory, with all its subtlety and its complexities, and yes, its limitations too.
The short story collection oru pidi sORu was the first of his works to be brought out in book form. It was initially published by puththakap pUNGgA in 1958 and the second edition was brought out by MBN (mInAkshi puththaka nilaiyam) in 1963. This collection contains 12 stories:
oru pidi sORu (1958); pAl bEdham (1957); 'pUvANGgaliyO pU' (1956); vElai koduththavan (1956); 'rAsA van^dhuttAru...' (1957); rikshAkkAran bAshai (1956); thamizhachchi (1955); edhu, eppOdhu? (1957); poRukki (1955); thani manidhan (1955); 'tiredil' (1958); and, pattaNam sirikkiRadhu (1958).
All of them, except 'thani manidhan' are written in the colloquial language appropriate to the characters in each story. All of them except 'thani manidhan' and 'thamizachchi' are entirely about the common people, mostly people who are cityside pavement dwellers, port workers or harbour coolies, a woman who makes a living selling flowers, about some aspect of their daily lives, and almost all of them are tragic or tragi-comic. They all display JK's lifelong concern with the little joys and sorrows of these "little" people, their struggles, their dignity and sense of honour in the face of adversity. All of the stories also display his respect for women and advocacy of woman's equality, if not superority, which is a constant theme in all his works. In fact, I cannot think of another thamizh writer whose concern for women and for woman's issues can match JK's (the one possible exception is the Izham thamizh writer se. yOgan^Athan.) Each of the stories also end with a power-packed punch line which defines its major theme.
I will begin with the earliest of these stories: 'poRukki' written in 1955.
Briefly, the story revolves around muniyammA, or 'mimimmA' in Madras lingo, who sells steamed 'Appams' (steamed rice noodles extruded fresh from rice flour and spice premixed and kept ready just before extrusion; it IS hard work!), on the street and sells them to her poor customers early in the morning, her son 'sabApathy' (or affectionately 'savvAdhi' in his mother's lower class, Madras city lingo) and the elected councillor of the Madras city corporation - sun^dharam n^Ayudu. MuniyammA is a hard working, godfearing, traditional woman, and probably a single mother, who respects authority and power. savvAdhi, her good-for-nothing son, is a parasite who lives off his mother's earnings from her hard work, but probably he is as much a victim of the 1950's Indian capitalist society, as he is a parasite. In other words, his idleness may be partly forced by circumstances and agencies beyond his control. The councillor is just another parasite, but more dangerous and hence more reprehensible. It is not economic forces which make him out to be a parasite, living off the hard work and gullibility of the poor like muniyammA, but he chooses to be a parasite and an exploiter.
As the story opens muniyammA calls out for her son savvAdhi who is as usual whiling away his time instead of helping her in attending to her many customers who have a hard day of work ahead of them and themselves have little time to spare. After a few minutes savvAdhi appears on the scene with other lowlife friends just like him, only to wheedle out some money from his mother so that he can go to one of the thamizh movies with his friends. Just then the corporation's public health officers swoop down on muniyammA and take away her meagre tools of trade, thereby also depriving the assembled poor customers of their morning breakfast, because the officials declare that there is a cholera epidemic and they have to root out these unhygeinic, roadside "restaurants" to control the epidemic.
As muniyammA loudly castigates them with choice abusives, the councillor happens to drive by and asks why they are raising hell. savvAdhi, tells him what has happened and, in a moment of bravado, asks the councillor why he is not helping his constituents against the high-handedness of his corporation officials. The councillor is in no mood to brook this affront to his person and authority from such lowlife and tells him off, calling him in the process a mongrel dog ( parA n^Ay ), and drives off in a huff.
A few days later, it is election time and the councillor "SImAn sun^dharam n^Ayudu" is up for re-election and he needs now the support of these underclass voters, and also "party workers" to march around carrying placards and shouting "cast your vote for sImAn sun^dharam nAyudu" etcetera. And, as at the beginning of the story, 'minimmA'is yelling for savvAdhi again. As he promptly appears this time, she shouts at him to go and work for their 'benefactor' nAyudu. As the lazy son demurs, she shouts at him again to go and work for the councillor as he would be paying the workers some pittance which however is a lot for the honest, hardworking people like her in straitened circumstances. At the mention of money, the 'parasite' savvAdhi jumps to action and the story ends with this parasite joining the procession of the ragtag army of 'people for nAyudu' "enthusiastically exhorting everybody to support (that worse parasite) nAyudu in the coming elections.
The SETTING of the story is Madras city, or more accurately one of its poorer areas where its industrial workers and its underclass, live, circa 1950, just after Independence and probably after the first municipal elections to the Corporation of Madras, in independent India.
As I wrote in the previous instalment, the setting of the story is the poorer, industrial area of Madras city, post-1950, but probably prior to 1956.
The PLOT does not involve any overt conflict among the characters as in a novel, except for the brief show of bravado by the underclass in the not-so-worthy representative person of savvAdhi before the exploting councillor. But it does create that conflict in the reader's mind and leaves her angry and bewildered.
As for CHARACTERS, the protagonist is of course the honest, working people like muniyammA and her customers and also their ignorant and irresponsible hangers on like savvAdhi and a delightful cameo character, a tubercular old man, even poorer than muniyammA. The antagonist is the rich, exploiting parasite of a councillor and others like him who think of the protagonists as mere vote banks to be seen, but not heard, and that too only once very five years at election time. But we have even within the protagonists, a nice foil in savvAdhi to muniyammA and also the tubercular old man who is a genuine victim. Unlike muniyammA who calls forth our admiration, and the old man who evokes our compassion, savvadhi is deserving of our disapproval and rebuke only. Hoever, even savvAdhi is more weak and venal than vicious unlike the councillor and his class of people.
The STRUCTURE is mostly situational as is to be expected of a short story. We meet in rapid order, the honesty, dignity and humanity of the protagonists, savvAdhi and his parasitic behaviour, the councillor and his arrogance and finally his opportunism and the gullibility, yet shrewdness, of the poor who wish to make hay while the sun shines by insincerely "campaigining" for him and pocketing his money.
The STYLE is superb and original and pure jeyakAn^than! We thrill to the rapid fire, staccato and loud lingo of the Madras city poor, its basic honesty free of all literary frills, the matter-of-fact patois as opposed to the mannered but uncivilized speech of the councillor who drags himself to lower depths and meaner language.
The street scenes, the hustle and bustle of the place evocatively brought out by the haste and impatience of the customers, the lazy doddling style of savvAdhi and the impatient language of the councillor when confronted by the crowd and finally the electioneering procession of the paid "supporters" all go on to create the indelible ATMOSPHERE of the story.
The THEME of the story is the contrast between the lifestyles of the honest, compassionate and hardworking poor and those of the exploiting, dishonest, power hungry, corrupt and morally bankrupt bourgeoisie.
So much for traditional literary analysis! One must read the story in the original to appreciate it fully. This is a story by a secondary school drop-out, who is hardly 23 years old! The language, even now, comes out like a cleansing storm sweeping away the accumulated debris of all that came before it. There is not a single scene askew. Not a single word out of place. Both the precision and economy of language are out of the ordinary in comparison to almost everything written before, and to most that came after.
The authorial voice is under strict control except for the last blast of a punch line ( ippadiththAn thErdhal thOrum sollukiRAn an^dha Ottup poRukki sun^dharam; an^dhach chamayam avan kodukkum oru rUpAyk kAsukkAka adhai nambith tholaikkiRAn in^dha echchiR poRukki sabApathy! ) Although the didacticism which so mars the later jeyakAn^than is not entirely absent, it is strictly within allowable bounds, preserving the unity of all the above elements of fiction. It doesn't jar. It doesn't jolt. It just makes the reader sit up and notice. Also, there is rich irony in the choice of name for sabApathy. sabApathy means First in Counsel, or Chief Counsellor, Leader of the Pack. The spineless, parasite savvAdhi can hardly be a leader!
The only thing which may be said in criticism is that while it may make the reader angry, it does not make him wonder what might happen to the characters after the story has come to an end. It is too rounded, too "finito". As robindranath and prEmchandh and pudhumaippiththan have all said with reference to the Short Story, even after it has ended it should leve us slightly disturbed, somewhat curious as to how life might unfold for our characters next. Here is the relevant quote from pudhumaippiththan from his essay siRukadhai 2 , p. 38, pudhumaippiththan katturaikal, madhurai: minAkshi puththaka nilaiyam, 4th edition, 1978.
[Begin quote in thamizh]
Wel, well, well. After having said that, one could say in defence of this particular short story that life for the poor is monotonous. It doesn't change much. It would go on pretty much the same way, UNLESS there is a revolutionary change in society. Don't we all come across the same savvAdhis even now? thAmaraikkani, vadivElu nAyakkar, thIkkuLikkum thambikaL, thoNdarkal who even now believe that mu. ka. actually walked all the way during his padhayAththirai, the guNdAs who demolished babri masjid, bAl thAkrE's thugs? Only, they are not only more ignorant and venal now, but also more viscious. But the optimist in JK could not imagine it then - or now!
14 January 1996
Now let us briefly consider the title story oru pidi sORu . [oru pidi sORu, literally one handfull of (steamed/cooked) rice, means a little rice/food to eat.]
The story revolves around the Madras city pavement (or sidewalk) dwellers: rAsAththi, her son - the child maNNANGkatti, her "neighbour" and friend mAriyAyi and mAriyAyi's husband mANIkkam. rAsAththi is a poor migrant to the city from South Arcot district who came to the city in search of jobs and income. Having found nothing permanent, she joined the thousands who live on the city's pavements. She has no husband. If and when she finds some job like breaking stones to make gravel for roadlaying or carrying bricks to the bricklayers in construction she gets some money, hardly enough to feed herself and her son. If not, she goes hungry or lives on the charity of some neighbour who may have a little food to spare or else lives off the avails of prostitution. But she is not a regular prostitute, but just the occasional streetwalker who resorts to it to get some food. Her little son maNNANGkatti (literally, a lump of clay) is the offspring of just one such liaison. Neither rAsAththi nor the boy has any clue as to the identity of his father.
mAriyAyi, the neighbour, is "married" to mANIkkam, another itinerant temporary labourer just like them. But she is also occasionally reduced to street walking, just like rAsAththi and for the same reasons.
As the story begins, rAsAththi is pregnant, almost at term, and expected to give birth anytime. She is not in great physical shape. She is looking for her son and yells out for him. maNNANGkatti suddenly appears and pesters her for some money to buy something. She has nothing to give and starts to yell at him as he pulls at her and she is about to fall. In her distress, she wants to catch hold of him and give him a thrashing. But he is too nimble for her and escapes her. In her anger she says "Wait till you come for food. Then see what I do." The kid says "Oh. Don't hold your breath. I have already eaten." Suddenly he feels the sting of mAriyAyi's hand on his bare back as she shouts " You thieving bastard! You little, shameless thief! You stole the little food I had kept to feed my husband when he returns from a hard day's work!" On finding her son beaten and abused, rAsAththi gets mad and starts abusing mAriyAyi. Soon, harsh words are exchanged laying bare each other's sexual escapades and the two women are at each other's throats and in the ensuing confusion, the kid runs away. As mAriyAyi is getting worsted in the fight, she tries to escape by punching rAsAththi in her stomach. Just then mANikkam appears and scolds her for punching a pregnant woman in her stomach and pulls her away. rAsAththi is in great pain and retires to her corner in the pavement.
Suddenly she feels hungry and also pangs of pain. She is unable to move and shrieks in pain. mAriyAyi runs in, and examines her. She thinks that rasaththi is beginning to go into labour. But rAsAththi doesn't think so but believes that it is just hunger. mAriyAyi gives her a little rice and asks her to go get some water for staeming the rice while she will try to get some firewood. rAsAththi is barely able to drag herself to the public water pump. maNNANGkatti who had run away earlier to escape the beatings is nowhere to be seen. The other women at the pump give her some water and she moves to her corner and a makeshift stove ( aduppu ). But her legs give way. She goes into labour and is in svere pain. It s obvious that it is going to be a difficult birth. As mAriyAyi and the other women rush to her, she just pushes an aborted fetus out and in the process bleeds to death. mAriyAyi is just devastated at the death of her friend.
As the sun is about to set, the kid returns "home" hungry and expecting his mother to feed him. But as he nears his place he senses that something has gone terribly wrong. Once he finds out that his mother, his sole relative on this earth, is dead he is completely lost and becomes almost catatonic. While he is still in that state the street-people carry away the dead fetus and his mother to the crematorium and cremate her there. mAriyAyi and mAnikkam return home and she cooks something for them to eat. As they are about to begin eating, mAriyAyi is reminded of the fact that the kid maNNANgkatti - the same kid whom she had thrashed the previous day for stealing her food and because of whom she had gotten into a bitter fight with his mother, had not eaten all day. Her own motherly instincts are aroused and she goes out to look for him. He is nowhere to be seen. mAnikkam now joins the search and he finds maNNANGkatti at a roadside temple on the way to the crematorium. As he picks him up, the child begins to cry and asks for his mother. mANikkam is also moved to tears as he carries him home.
mAriyAyi gives him some food. But instead of eating it the child puts it away. As she tries to persuade him to eat, he says: " No, no. I am saving it for my mom." And then he begins to cry. Suddenly, he falls on mAriyAyi's neck and begins to hold on to her and cries out "mother!" ( ammAv .) mAriyAyi also holds on to him crying and calls out "Son!" ( mavanE! ) and starts feeding him from what little she has.
The story ends there.
The SETTING of the story is some obscure corner of one of the nameless pavements in downtown Madras, most probably the Georgetown - Royapuram - Harbour area, given that the period is around 1950-1955. We get the bare essentials of the setting as warranted by the short story (Once again, see the Edgar Allan Poe refrence in Part 6). But, it is memorable all the same.
Well, the reader gets an exact picture of the setting of the story in the scattered descriptions in these few words.
I missed a couple of things in my summary in the last posting. The first one is the "main" job of rAsAththi. As the passage above shows, she tried to make a living by working as and when required in the neighburhood firewood ( viRakukkadai ) shop. The second important detail is that before she died, rAsAththi got the rice grains, water and firewood and cooked the rice. Her son appears just then. He is also hungry and pesters her for food. But there is not enough for both and she feels her need is greter than his. But the kid is too hungry. They both go for the rice. The entire rice is spilled. The kid runs away. She throws the empty pot at him as he runs away. It hits the road and breaks.
CHARACTERISATION in the story proceeds at several levels. We have characterisation of rAsAththi, mAriyAyi, mANikkam and maNNANGkatti BY externals - physical appearance, surroundings, BY reactions of other characters, BY speech, BY action and BY the authorial statements. They are all in sync. And the reader comes out with the impression that she knows these 4 characters very well. mANikkam is the only subordinate character and JK in very few words rounds him out nicely. Remarkable economy and restraint! And, great concentration on the central characters.
The CONFLICT in the PLOT is sketched very clearly. Of course, we have telling portrayals of the actual physical conflicts between the two women, between mother and son and between mAriyAyi and maNNANGkatti. But we also have the subtle, understated, but very effective description of the underlying conflict between the environment and the individuals and the emtional conflicts between the mothering insticts, the humanistic instincts of the poor and their survival instincts and the struggles that ensue. We also see the DEVELOPMENT in the characters - mAriyAyi and maNNANGkatti, as the conflict between these two dominant instincts is resolved towards the end. Nobody who is familiar with life in India in general, and urban India and especially Madras in particular, can or would question the probability of the actions as they unfold. They just ring "true." And there is a remarkable unity of setting and plot, of setting and the overall atmosphere so that the reader puts down the story shaking his head, "Yes. I have seen such things happen!"
JK also communicates his POINT OF VIEW so convincingly that the reader has no doubts in her mind at least as to where he stands with respect to his characters (uniformly sympathetic and not at all judgmental) and as to minds of the two surviving central characters - mAriyAyi and maNNANGkatti as representatives of a class AND the mother-child nexus, which he chooses to examine and to reveal.
The underlying THEME here as in poRukki earlier is the basic decency and humanism of the poor, the downtrodden, los olvidados of society, against great odds and the dominance of the mother-child relationship and the need for it and its life-sustaining and life-affirming quality. They ARE human beings, just like you and me, and have the same like and dislikes, feelings and emotions, hopes and despair. that is the message. And, it IS strong, but not overstated, JK is not trying to HAMMER it into our heads.
And, finally the LANGUAGE. Once again, jeyakAn^than reveals the unquestioned master that he is of the language of the street people. One can search all of thamizh fiction and find only JK capable of speaking their language as if to the ghetto born! Only, the female, dalit christian writer bAmA ( 'karukku" and "saNGgathi ) in recent times has amanged to match, or better, this ability to be the true voice of the oppressed and the poor. In fact, the language and the characterisation and the setting and the plot development are so wedded together that it is difficult to single out their separate roles and functions in bringing out the effect of the story. It is a very sentimental, almost a melodramatic story; a classic tear jerker. But, as you read it you forget the "artificiality", and after finishing it you are hardly conscious of the art!
And, unlike in "poRukki", you are left wondering, you are left curious, your mind is disturbed, about the future. What would happen to maNNANGkatti? Would the "truce" and affection between him and mAriyAyi last? Would things ever improve for the mAriyAyis and maNNANgkattis of this society? You think that you know the answers to these questions. Yet, you keep hoping!
I would like to add the following observations to my-already-lengthy posting on oru pidi sORu . The THEME of the story could also conceivably include the sense of guilt overpowering both mAriyAyi and the child maNNANGkatti over rAsAththi's death. Not necessarily the corrosive and well earned guilt of, say, Zola's Therese Raquin but the gnawing sense of guilt suffered by, say, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Then, at story's end, the reader is left pondering how this would affect the future course of life of both these characters, but especially, the child.
I will conclude the discussion of the collection oru pidi sORu now by quickly running over the other stories. pAl bEdham is more overtly in the nature of a moral tale like those in the panchatantrA. It is about man's (and woman's!) inhumanity and ingratitude towards animals, especially cows. Thus, there is a nice silEdai in the use of the word pAl [Milk as well as gender]. It is an early indication of JK's strong sense of ethics and morality, and also an early intimation of the tendency to moralise and preach which is all too obvious in his later works.
15 January 1996
pU vANGgaliyA pU is about two people - a female flower vendor and a male customer who regularly used to buy flowers from her for his newlywed wife, until the wife dies suddenly. The vendor doesn't know why he has suddenly stopped buying and tries to interest him in buying from her again. One day however she is not found in her regular "stall". Now, the customer becomes curious. A couple of days later the vendor gives up her "stall" and begins to sell flowers house-to-house. The customer hears her and calls her in only to find that she is n o longer wearing her mark ( pottu ) on her forehead, nor any flowers. He realises that she is now a widow and cannot have any use for her own flowewrs. In a moment of impulse, he buys some flower and then places it on her hair. She is shocked and runs away. Again, a n emotional story told in a restrained tone.
\vElai koduththavan is a sweet, love story about two working class young people, neither one of whom has any other relative in the wide world. It is about how they get to know each other in a very short while, initially suspicious of each other, but get attracted to, and trusting of, each other and begin to live together. A rather "revolutionary" topic for the thamizh readers steeped in kalki, lakshmi, and other writers in the mass market magazines of the day.
rAsa van^dhuttAru ... is the tragic tale of a woman, now very old, whose husband has left her in the harbour area of Madras city, as he went away to join the army in the days of drought, promising to come back to her soon. He never does. But she has grown old waiting for him in the same place for several years true to him and his memory till she dies. Again JK's use of language and ability to bring the setting alive are masterful.
rikshAkkAran bAshai is a satire on how the self-proclaimed civilized, upper classes look down upon the toiling masses and considers them and their lingo uncivilized and barbarian, but do not fail to stoop to even more vulgar and mean language of their own when their economic interests are threatened, whereas the working classes retain their dignity.
thamizhachchi is a different kind of story. It reminds the reader of two pudhumaippiththan stories - kadavuLum kan^dhasAmip piLLaiyum , and ponnagaram . It is also rich in allusions. Jk shows here that he can wield the formal, literary style just as well and as powerfully and tellingly, as the language of the labouring classes and pavement dwellers of Madras.
n^Aradhar infuriates iLaNGgO adikaLand kaNNaki (author and heroine, respectively, of the ancient thamizh epic silappadhikAram) by describing the current (1950s) state of morality of the people of thamizh n^Adu and their living conditions. So, they come down to earth to see for themselves.
They actually come down to madhurai, the city of kaNNaki's early triumph and tragedy. They arrive at the madhurai bus stand just around sunrise. An overzealous policeman stops them, mistakes them for a prostitute and her pimp, and questions them , but is not satisfied by iLaNGgO's factual explanations. Then he thinks that kaNNaki has some valuables tucked away around her waist in her saree and lounges forward to grab it. iLaNGgO shouts: " dEy! avaL kaNNakiyadA, kaNNaki " But the keeper of the law ignores him. An enraged iLaNGgo then flattens him with one blow and they move into the city. Then they go to the temple and are saddened by the state of disrepair everywhere, and by the sight of a thamizh woman eating from left over food thrown on the street (echchil ilai).
Next, they come across a sudharsanam piLLai (obviously modelled after the kazhakam orators) who waxes eloquent over the glories of the thamizh people and their language in some public meeting. When iLaNGgo approaches him after the meeting as a thamizh poet he rudely ignores him first, but after seeing kaNNaki he invites them to come and stay with him in his house. The visitors talking among themselves praise his hospitality enna virun^dhOmbum paNpu . Around 10 p.m. iLanGgo decides to go the vaigai river. On the way he is waylaid by a bunch of prostitutes who accost him. He doesn't understand their language. One of them boldly drags him into her hut. Then he realises what it is all about and runs back to piLLai's house.
The door is locked. He knocks and knocks, but for a while there is no response. Then he hears a loud laugh - the same awe inspiring, blood curling laugh which was heard when kaNNaki burnt down ancient madhurai. The door opens and there is the vision of the kaNNaki of that day before him with unkempt hair and enraged eyes and blood stained hands and nails and at her feet is the dead, inert body of their host. iLaNGgo shouts "dhEvI!" and is left speechless.
The scene shifts to vaigai river bed. iLaNGgo adikal is in deep sorrow and crying uncontrollably like a baby. nAradhar meets them and tries to assuage their hurt feelings. iLaNggo admits that nAradhar was right, and he wrong about the thamizh people, nAradhar tries to pacify him by saying, "You were still steeped in the ancient glories and expecting them to continue. I was just telling you the modern reality." iLaNggo admits that this modern thamizh n^Adu is not for him and with a sorrowing heart accompanies nAradhar to his "heavenly" abode.
But, kaNNaki? In a masterful ending, JK says that she stays back and chooses to live amongst her people! - kaNNaki? ...Am; avaL pOkavillai. nammidaiyE vAzhkiRAL.!" Sheer, inspired genius, that! That line keeps reverberating in the reader's ears and mind, long after he has finished reading it and over the years, in sleepless nights in forlorn lands over the seas and hills and mountains.
That story also shows the great respect JK has for women and the great hopes he places in them, in their life-sustaining and life-enhancing qualities. He is truly, our first genuinely feminist writer!
To continue with my summary of the other stories in jeyakAn^than's short story collection, oru pidi sORu .
edhu, eppOdhu [What to do, and When?] is a satirical story, rich in irony and humour, but very short, in fact the shortest story in the collection. It is about "Mount Road maikkEl" who just wanders the roads in search of cast away food ( echchil ilai ) because he is poor and has no job and .... (we don't know what else). One day, as he is idly circling the roads in the city, he sees one of those evangelicals and a small crowd. The preacher hands out a printed notice. maikkEl picks up one and reads it ( Yes. he is literate). It is in thamizh. It warns the reader about the dire consequences of not following the teachings of the one true God and His only begotten Son and to beware of the Day of Judgment. He comes to the passage: "Knock! And, It shall be opened. Ask! And, Thou shalt be given.....Tommorrow will take care of itself." As the puzzled maikkEl ponders : "Where am I supposed to knock? What will be opened? What am I supposed to ask for? What will be given?" etcetera, he suddenly hears a loud thud. To maikkEl's well trained ears, it is the sound of a cast away banana leaf with some leftover food. He immediately drops the evangelist's notice and runs to the food and starts eating. End of story.
One is reminded of Gandhi's quote of the Hindi proverb: "bhUkE bhagati na bhu(v)AlU!' [To the hungry, God appears in the form of bread (first).] \thani manidhan [Man, Alone] is the odd man out in the collection. The time is the age of the nomadic man, before agriculture and settlements and civilization began - the age of the hunter, food-gatherer. A MAN ( AN ) is separated from his clan after a bitter fight with a rival clan. Both clans, take him for dead and the defeated people of his own clan run away. But he is not dead, only grievously wounded. He drags himself to a secluded place.
Suddenly a WOMAN ( peN ) from the rival clan finds him. She hides him from her people, nurses him back to health, and they move away from all others and live by themselves in the wide open forests. They delight in, and live for, each other. They hunt and gather and eat and live together. Soon she is pregnant with his child. But, this idyll is not to last. There are dark clouds on the horizon. One day, the sound of war drums shatters the peace. >From above, they look down upon the valley and river bed below. They see a group of people on warpath. They get closer and from their hiding place they observe the intruders. Lo and behold! They are his clanspeople! Now the two can hear them talking. The strangers speak his language! Their words are sweet music to him. He wants to go back and join them. She gets afraid and angry by turns.
She had given up her everything, her clan, her people, her way of life, her language for him. But the ungrateful wretch wants to go back! How could he? He realises that if he takes her back with him to them, his clan will decide that he has gone "native" and kill them both. He decides to jettison her and go back and join them. He decides to hide his true intentions from her and tells her that he will never, never ever leave her. She jumps with joy and hugs and kisses him. But she is wary. She doesn't let him out of her sight, night or day. Seasons change. The clan decides to move. And he is in a dilemma. She watches him like a hawk. The clan makes the final preparations for their move. It is now or never for him. They begin to march away. She is happy that they are at last leaving. He is behind her. Then he makes up his mind. He draws his bow and shoots his arrows at her, not just one, but three, one after the other in quick succession. She falls face down. As she turns over and tries to see who shot her, she sees him running away to join HIS community, HIS clan, leaving her behind, who doesn't belong! She crawls along the same path which he took staining the path with his blood, when she found him seasons ago.
As she lays a-dying,
Obviously, those who understand thamizh would readily recognize that my translation, does not, cannot do justice to to the powerpacked brevity of JK's words.
What is interesting here is that a 21 year-old, high school dropout, fortunate enough to find himself in the company of many self-schooled, older scholars and also the privileged who had given up their wealth and priviliges and joined the communist party in the hope of building a classless society, has already begun to question and HENCE think for himself. And that too, in a tradition-bound, class and caste-ridden society. Remarkable! And, we see the gnawing doubts and concerns about the conflict between the rights of the community, the society, the group and the rights of individuals. Are we merely members of a herd, or are we individuals who should/ought to look for each other coming together as individuals? Can society only progress by ignoring, nay, violating individual rights, only by violence and treachery? Obviously, this intelligent, rational, thinking-for-himself man is not going to be allowed to continue in the Communist Party of India (or of any country)!
And, there is that overarching question which would never go away - the question of man's inhumanity to, and exploitation of, and violence towards woman - his betrayal, his treachery and her guileless and selfless love, his predilection to be clannish, mechanical, and her creativity, her courage to be an individual, to swim against the tide; basically, woman's courage and sacrifice and man's cowardice and violence. A story which doesn't end, a story which never has, nor can have, The End or finis written, a story which leaves more questions in the reader's minds, and, does all this while it holds his attention and doesn't preachify!
The next story tiredil , for treadle in the old, offset printing presses is about a bachelor treadle-operator, on whom falls all the important work of the press. He dreams of printing his wedding invitation in his "own" press and getting married and bringing his wife home to his aged mother. He even asks his employer for some money to help him accomplish it. And the man agrees, after asking him to stay late and finish off a job. vinAyakam (irony here. vinAyakar or ganEsh removes all impediments to success and happiness) finishes the job. But he feels sudden shoots of pain in his groin area. As he walks back home, he can bear it no longer. It is strangulated hernea. He is rushed to the hospital just in the nick of time and operated upon. However, while discharging him, the doctor tells him that he cannot marry. viNayakam is back at the press soon printing customers' wedding invitations and bitter about his own lost dreams. It was a tear jerker, and when it was first published, it was a story much talked about and admired. I leave it to the cognoscenti to judge JK's knowledge of disease, diagnosis, medical treatment and cure!
The last story, a delightful, descriptive yarn pattaNam sirikkiRadhu is about a young couple from the village who come to visit the city pattaNam with their baby. The cityslickers make fun of their appearance, their "smell' ignoring their own stench from body odour. But it also subtly shows how the city corrupts the simple, honest, unspoiled but by no means dumb, villagers.
17 February 1996
inippum karippum , menaing 'Bittersweet' or 'Sweet and Sour', was the second of jeyakAn^than's collection of stories to be brought out. It was published by mInAtchi puththaka nilaiyam in 1960. At least three more editions were brought out in 1962, 1966 and 1971. It contains the following 11 stories:
In my estimation, this is the best of JK's short story collections and one of the best in thamizh literature. Two of the stories piNakku meaning 'Strife' and tharkkam meaning 'Argument' would any day get my vote for inclusion among the world's best short stories. uNmai ithu; veRum pukazhchchiyalla. Almost all the stories are about some human foible - in this collection, primarily "obstinacy", sometimes as a reaction to the hurtful act of another person or persons - which drastically affects a person's course of life and also the lives of others close to that person.
Before considering any of these stories, it is interesting to examine what JK has to say about himself, his stories, their subject matter, source and theme. In the PREFACE, among other things, he writes:
(My translation; so, please provide for error due to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Sankaran)
A: Autobiographical Works
1. Or ilakkiyavAdhiyin arasiyal anubavaNGgaL (428p) Oct 1974
2. Or ilakkiyavAdhiyin kalaiyulaka anubavaNGgaL (316p) Sep 1980 L
B: Biographical Works
3. vAzhvikka van^dha gAn^dhi (198) 1973 (Translation of Romain Rolland's French biography of Gandhi, with the help of Ms. jeyajjanani)
4. oru kadhAsiriyarin kadhai (71) May 1989 ( Life of munshi prEmc(h)an^d(h) )
5. munnOttam (212) Sep 1972
6. avarkaL uLLE irukkiRArkaL (147) Oct 1972
7. n^inaiththup pArkkiREn (192) 1973 C
8. sudhan^thirach chin^thanai (160) Jan 1974
9. bArathi pAdam (100) Nov 1974
10. oru pirajaiyin kural (148) Feb 1975
11. imayaththukku appAl (96) Aug 1979
12. vAkkumUlam (87) Feb 1980
13. yOchikkum vELaiyil.. (127) Nov 1982
14. pOnadhum nan^dhadhum (80) Jan 1983
C: Collections of Short Stories
53. oru pidi sORu (144) Sep 1958
54. inippum karippum (158) Aug 1960
55. dhEvan varuvArA (176) 1961
56. mAlai mayakkam (142) Jan 1962
57. yugasan^dhi (288) Oct 1963
58. uNmai sudum (188) Sep 1964
59. pudhiya vArppukaL (168) Apr 1965
60. suyadharisanam (152) Apr 1967
61. iRan^dha kAlaNGgaL (184) Feb 1969
62. gurupIdam (184) Oct 1971
63. chakkaram n^iRpathillai (138) Feb 1975
64. pugai n^aduvinilE... (124) Dec 1990
65. sumaithANGgi (???) (???)
(1) There is also a slim volume of English translations of jeyakAn^than's short stories. It is titled: GAME OF CARDS and OTHER STORIES: JAYAKANTHAN - ENGLISH RENDERING, by K. DIRAVIAM and it is published by Asian Book Company, 14 Peters Road, Madras 600 014. The translations are not very very dood and don't do any justice at all to JK's genius.
(2) Under ESSAYS, I should have also included a collection of JK's PREFACES titled "jeyakAn^thanin munnuraikaL." I do not have a copy of this book.
(3) I have misplaced my copies of "unnaippOl oruvan", "in^dha n^Eraththil ivaL," and "sumaithANGgi." Some of the readers may recall that "unnaippOl oruvan" was made into a very fine movie. It was the first thamizh movie to win an award ( The third prize or the Bronze) at the all India level (President's awards.) Satyajit Ray's masterpiece ChArulathA made from Tagore's short story "noshta n^Ir" (Broken Home) won the Best film award. The totally undeserving Hum DOnO ( of the Anand Brothers) - a Bollywood Hindi Film extolling national integration and sacrifice ( in the year following the India-China war) won the silver and JK's film won the Bronze (The Best Regional Film award, I believe.)
(4) JK also wrote occaional poetry. Some of it is quite good. One of them particularly, "nI yAr" which appeared in No. 32 of the si. su. chellappA magazine ezhuththu (1960-61?) is excellent. I will include it in my next posting.
There are other earlier short stories which appeared in janasakthi, sakthi etcetera and essays written elsewhere, foe example, in kalpanA which have not appeared in any of the collections and are therefore not included in this BIBLIOGRAPHY. But over 60 major works in a span of 32 years is a great achievement. In addition, when one looks at the quality of these publications and their influence over future generations of thamizh writers and the reading public, there can be no doubt that jeyakAn^than is a major writer of international standards and that he deserves to be more widely known in India and abroad.
Recommended works to read if not all!
After I posted the jeyakAn^than bibliography, a few nettors wrote saying that they wouldn't have the time to read all of jk's works, and asked if I had a shorter list of recommendations. Well, there is no substiute for the entire works. But I am posting ths shorter list as per the readers' request. However, one man's meat is another's poison ... etc. Caveat lector!
The following collections in their entirety.
I have used the following additional sources in writing this piece.
Guerin. W.L. et. al (1992) A HANDBOOK OF CRITICAL APPROACHES TO LITERATURE - Third Edition. New York: OUP.
Dickinson, L.T. (19??) A GUIDE TO LITERARY STUDY. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
O'Faolain, S. (1951) THE SHORT STORY. Old Greenwich, CT: The Devin-Adair Company.
Poe, Edgar Allan: "Hawthorne's Twice-told Tales," in Hough, R.L. (editor) LITERARY CRITICISM OF EDGAR ALLAN POE. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.