Author of hundreds of short stories, several novels and articles, J. M. Sali’s literary journey began in his childhood.

It is a story of achievement for an author of around 55 books in the field of Tamil contemporary literature. J.M. Sali, who was awarded the coveted Cultural Medallion of the Singapore Government, was also honoured on May 5 by the Trustees of Devan Endowments, Chennai.

Sali began as a writer for children through the fortnightly Kannan. He was groomed by its editor ‘Aarvi,’ who had observed the flair for writing in young Sali.

Sali was a prolific writer even as a college student. He migrated to Singapore after a short stint in the AG’s Office, Chennai, as he was offered the assistant editor’s post in the island’s newspaper, Tamil Murasu.

Joining Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, which was later changed to Television Corporation of Singapore, he rose to become its senior broadcast journalist and news editor in Singapore. He received the Cultural Medallion award from the Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Recently, Amizhtha Tamizh Aaivarangam, Chennai, also felicitated Sali in the presence of Prof. Sundaramurthy, Prof. T. Gnanasundaram, Amudhasurabi editor Tiruppur Krishnan, Prof. Maraimalai Ilakkuvanar, poet Mu. Methta and Ilakkiya Veedhi Iniyavan, apart from a host of his admirers.

“I owe this award to Tamizhavel Go. Sarangapani, former editor of Singapore’s Tamil Murasu”, said the writer, with his trademark humility. He is a man of few words. “I left for Singapore on a ship from Nagapattinam when I was young and Tamizhvel Sarangapani trained me in all aspects of the newspaper. At one stage, he even asked me to write editorials! He had such confidence in me!” said Sali.

He was the only Tamil writer whose name was announced by the Information and Culture Minister in the Singapore Parliament in 2005 The aesthetically produced souvenir for the recent award carried Sali’s elaborate profile, which was followed by the rest of the recipients’ in Malay, Chinese and English (the four official languages of Singapore).

“In the international literary arena, Sali has won the Cultural Medallion and this is the recognition accorded to our Tamil language,” pointed out Dr. A.R. Sivakumaran, National Education Council’s Tamil Language and Culture Department of Singapore.

On translations

The 80,000 Singapore dollar grant would enable Sali to get some of his outstanding novels and short stories translated into English and other languages. “Many of the Ministers who met me on the occasion suggested that the stories written in the Singapore ambience should get priority in translation. ‘Alaigal Pesuginrana’ would, therefore, be taken up first. As a tribute to Sarangapani Sir, who treated me as his son and taught me the nuances of the print media , I am planning to write a book on him. Other translations would be decided in due course,” said the award-winning author.

Sali’s winning streak started when he won the first prize for ‘Iru Kangal’ in Kannan’s novel competition, followed by Children’s Writers Association’s prize for ‘Thanga Kiligal’, Tamil Nadu Government’s prize for ‘Kana Kanden Thozhi’ and ‘Ariviyal Munnodigal’, Singapore National Book Development Council’s prize for ‘Nonbu’, besides awards such as ‘Kanaiyazhi’ Virudhu and Chennai Kamban Kazhaga Virudhu.

“I started writing when I was just a student in my native village Iravancheri, in what is now Tiruvarur district. I graduated from the Government Arts College, Kumbakonam, and came to Presidency College, Chennai, for my Master’s, ” reminisced Sali. “After serving for a few years in Ananda Vikatan, I went back to Singapore to join the broadcasting media. Later, when Mr. Balasubramanian and Manian visited Singapore they met me and asked me to return to Chennai and re-join Vikatan. I obliged and began my second innings in Ananda Vikatan and then moved to Mayan, a magazine for the youth, started by Manian. But after a few years, Singapore’s radio and television called me back as they required my services. Although I retired after working with them for a long time , the job related to translation continued and I extended my stay with the Television Corporation of Singapore, winning the Long Service Award twice.”

While his collection of short stories has been prescribed by Madras University and Queen Mary’s College, his novel Vellai Kodugal has been accorded text book status by the Bharatidasan University, Tiruchi, and Kozhikode University in Kerala.

The New College, Chennai, has prescribed ‘J.M. Sali Short Stories’ for its students. While many of his short stories have been translated into English, Hindi and Urdu, one story, ‘Sayal,’ was also translated in Sinhalese and was published in Sri Lanka. Sali has penned 30 novels, 400 short stories, 200 articles on various subjects and 80 radio and television plays.

Sali also served as contributing editor to Singa from 1987 to 1990 and as a member of the editorial team for the anthology of ASEAN Literature, volumes I and II. He has conducted several Tamil short story writing workshops at various organisations, including the National Book Development Council of Singapore, the National Arts Council and the National Institute of Education. Sali’s contribution in other fields of public institutions include, translator for Health Promotion Board, Land Transport Authority and Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. “J.M. Sali is one of Singapore’s most treasured Tamil writers,” claims Prof. Sivakumaran.

Sali has the satisfaction of having trained and produced a number of writers in Tamil who specialised in all areas of contemporary literature. His impact and contribution was recognised when he was appointed in the editorial department of Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS). At 74, Sali’s mind often turns to religion. “People refer to us in our village in Tamil Nadu as ‘the ones who came to Islam.’ I only know the past three generations of my family. I strongly feel I am a Tamil first. Other things come later!” proclaims Sali.

(J.M. Sali can be contacted at 94884 18522)