Thi. Janakiraman: a classic radical

TSalvation. Janakiraman, or Thi Jaa, as he was affectionately known, is immediately recognizable by more than a generation of Tamil readers as the author of subversive novels such as Mohammed (Thorn of desire) and Amma Vandhaal (translated twice into English as The sins of Appu’s mother and Remember Amma). His writing career was marked by Manikkodi, a small magazine that set the benchmark for modernism in Tamil literature in the 1930s. Thi Jaa has written and published over 150 short stories, nine novels, seven short stories and four travelogues. He has also translated world literature into Tamil, including the Swedish writer’s work By Lagervist The dwarf and that of the Italian writer Grasia Deledda The mother. In 1979, he won the Sahitya Akademi prize for his collection of short stories Sakthi vaithyam.

In a 1962 essay entitled “Etharkkaga ezhuthugiren” (“Why I write”), Thi Jaa states his credo with a simple frankness: “Writing gives me a lot of pleasure; it is a composite pleasure – like the pleasure of love: there is the thrill of waiting, the pain of disappointment, the joy of union – but on the whole it is a pleasure…. And I write on subjects that I know. People I know and things I know. I never write about things I don’t know.

Thanjavur was the land of Thi Jaa. It was there that he was born in 1921 and where he lived until his thirties, and what he knew and wrote best. As the snapshot says, you can breathe in the lush green scent of the Cauvery Delta in Thi Jaa’s writing. Imbued with Thanjavur’s cultural ethic, his novels are an intoxicating blend of tradition and transgression. Time and time again, they explore the male-female relationship and its endless entanglements in a rapidly changing world, particularly seeking to understand the inner workings of female minds.

The women of Thi Jaa

The women of the fictional universe of Thi Jaa — Yamuna in Mohammed (1964); Alankaram and Indu in Amma Vandhaal (1966); Kunjammal and Bhuvana in Semparuthi (1968); Ammani to Marappasu (1975) – are all acts of the radical imagination. They illuminate the story with their extraordinary grace and elegance. They may not have the benefit of education and employment, or the support of wealth and property, but they own their body and mind, are outspoken and straightforward about desires of their hearts, and totally oblivious to the limits that tradition and society have drawn around them. .

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In Thi Jaa’s fiction, eros is more than a personal expression between two people. Fortified by consent, it is a powerful expression of individual freedom and autonomy; indeed, it is the very vital force that moves the characters forward. And relationships are maintained not by social custom or moral obligation, but by a tumult of intense emotions. This Strm und drang This is what made Thi Jaa’s fiction both unique and vulnerable to criticism at the time it was written, but equally timeless and immediate well over half a century later.

Thi Jaa’s centenary occasion saw a resurgence of interest in his life and works. The most notable commemoration is an encyclopedic volume titled Janakiramam, compiled by Professor R. Kalyanaraman and published by Kalachuvadu in June 2021. It is the first of its kind, with no less than 101 essays in Tamil (and a single essay in English) that delve into Thi Jaa’s expansive work of diverse perspectives, all linked by the common thread of passion for his writing.

Recent translations

The year 2021 also saw the publication of three works by Thi Jaa, two novels and a collection of short fiction films, in English translation. Semparuthi, translated into English by Periyaswamy Balaswamy like Crimson hibiscus, and published by Ratna Sagar, is a vast generational saga that begins in pre-independent India and spans 40 years of the life of Sattanathan Pillai. Although he seems to dwell on Sattanathan, his moral dilemmas and his tightrope walk between aspiration and reality, Semparuthi is also the story of the three women in Sattanathan’s life, especially his wife Bhuvana, she of the eponymous crimson hibiscus in her hair. In Semparuthi, Thi Jaa invests an ordinary story with extraordinary nuance and insight, and turns it into a study of psychological realism.

Thi Jaa’s Marappasu, translated into English by Lakshmi Kannan as Wooden cow, holds the unique distinction of having been translated by the same person (and published by the same publisher, Orient Blackswan) twice in 40 years. A novel about free will, Marappasu It is also the moving story of its flamboyant protagonist, the dancer of Bharatanatyam Ammani, who literally wants to embrace the world. Ammani lives her life on her own terms, both when she has multiple intimate relationships through the narrative and when she considers the possibility of committing to a partner towards the end. In either case, she is simply exercising her free will and refusing to bow down to the patriarchy.

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In his prefacing essay Wooden cow, titled “A Dappled Deer or a Growling Leopard?” “, Translator Lakshmi Kannan admits:” Translating a text is one thing, but revising an existing translation is a whole different proposition. The language of a translation made so many years ago would likely be archaic. Words have their own mortality. Words change connotation, and time in turn deposits a new color or a new sparkle or the dust of obsolescence on the same word.

Certainly, Thi Jaa’s works are a challenge to translate, not least because the cultural idioms, music, humor and cadences of Thanjavur’s Tamil dialect “with cunning and half-spoken innuendos” that permeate his narrative do not deliver. not easily their wealth. in another language. However, both Crimson hibiscus and Wooden cow will open new doors and hopefully attract new legions of readers to the wonderland of Thi Jaa.

If Thi Jaa’s novels are vast canvases of desire and nostalgia, her short stories are vivid and skillful slices of life. Eleven of his most beloved short stories have been collected in a volume titled Ecstasy and other stories, translated by David Shulman with Tamil publisher Cre-A Ramakrishnan (died 2020) and Thi Jaa’s daughter Uma Shankari, and published by Penguin Random House India. Several of them, such as the title story “Silirppu” (1953), “Seythi” (1955), “Paradesi vandhaan” (1956), “Mulmudi” (1958) and “Payasam” (1971), have has been worshiped after over the years and was among the most popular reads shared on YouTube during the pandemic.

Description and dialogue are the meat and marrow of these stories, which dwell on the dreams, disappointments, and many pettiness of middle-class men and women you come to know and love and take. in charge during a bounce. A master of the right word, Thi Jaa records the peculiarities of the people around him with relish and a gentle, mischievous humor that bears no trace of wickedness.

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However, Thi Jaa’s writing is not without its share of moral indignation either. In his introduction titled “The Subtleties of the Heart,” David Shulman writes: “Like other Tamil writers of his time, he was an incisive social critic. His sense of injustice is reflected in his handling of matters of conscience. Many stories speak of a set of tragic events, almost always expressed or suggested laconically, as if he wanted, intuitively, to let his readers draw their own conclusions and feel in their bodies the intensity of the pain of his characters. – also the pain of the author. But disaster, in a tale by Thi Jaa, is often the trigger for insight that can heal and transform the mind. One is not left with the harshness of tragedy or the unmitigated presence of wickedness. In fact, there don’t appear to be any real unredeemed villains in the entire Thi Jaa Corpus.

Thi Jaa was a modernist and an esthete in the best sense of the word, a man deeply rooted in his time and his land, for whom writing was an act of resistance against the Brahmin orthodoxy in which he had been brought up. The real world of his stories, the villages and people and the way of life he describes have all been forgotten. But the shimmering world of his words, which, like his wives, cannot be surrounded by the dictates of convention and will not fade into the background, is sure to endure.


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