Tamil Nadu

Firebrand writer who dared to question social mores

Writer Jayakanthan (centre) with Congress leaders K. Kamaraj and E.V.K. Sampath. -  

Tamil novelist, short-story writer and essayist Jayakanthan significantly enriched modern Tamil literature by portraying the lives of those on the fringes of society. And he shocked the same society with his nonconformist views, often questioning long-held views on women and chastity.

Sri Lankan Tamil literary critic K. Sivathamby used to say that one of the greatest contributions of Jayakanthan was the change he brought about in the “process of thinking” in the Tamil literary world.

“He wrote about the subjects not explored by others. He identified the agon, a literary device in Greek tragedy indicating conflict, in the lives of the subaltern and popularised it,” he said.

Born in 1934 in Cuddalore, Jayakanthan ran away from home to Madras and became a member of the Communist Party at a very young age.  

While writing about his life in Chennai he would say, “I counted among my close friends rickshaw pullers, prostitutes, rowdies, pocket-pickers and rag-pickers. That is why I never hated them. In fact, I have an affinity towards them. His first short story appeared in a little known magazine Sowbakiyavathi. He went on to become a prolific writer, authoring over 35 novels and novellas, innumerable short stories and two autobiographies—Oru Ilakkiyavathiyin Arasiyal Anubavangal and Oru Arasiyalvathiyin Ilakkiya Anubavangal—besides writing articles and composing poems. 

His novels Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal, Oru Nadigai Nadagam Paarkiral, Yaarukkaga Azhudhaan and Cinemavukku Pona Chithalu were adapted as films. Jayakanthan himself experimented with film-making and directed Yarukkaka Azhudhaan, Unnai Pol Oruvan and Paathai Theiryuthu Paar.

His novels and short stories published in literary magazines and popular journals made him a household name in Tamil society. And in a state where Brahmins are at a receiving end, Jayakanthan viewed the community sympathetically and his works bear testimony to his views.

 In the Communist party, he was close to K. Baladhandayutham. JK, as he was known, said in his autobiography that it was Baladhandayutham, just released after serving a life term, who drew him to politics with his thunderous speeches.

 He took pride in his skills as a writer and fiery orator. He spoke his mind, undaunted by anyone or anything. At a meeting organised at Sathyamurthy Bhavan to condole the death of Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai, he made the leaders squirm by lambasting Anna and the DMK. But he mellowed down with age and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, despite Jayakanathan’s contempt for the Dravidian movement, respected him and finally won him over. “I have always been against the Dravidian movement. But the leaders have always been kind to me,” he said at a meeting later.

 He shared the passion of many CPI leaders for Nehruvian socialism and had great respect for Indira Gandhi. He later joined the Tamil Desiya Katchi launched by E.V.K. Sampath and both of them, along with poet Kannadasan, went over to the Congress subsequently. He also edited a pro-Congress daily Navasakthi for a while.

Once his popularity declined, and as the Congress’s political fortunes nosedived, he withdrew into a shell. Yet, his courage of conviction was something very rare, and he never hesitated to swim against the current. Long before Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, he denounced the LTTE as a fascist organisation at every opportunity, much to the chagrin of Tamil nationalists.

 He wrote very little in the last phase of his life. 

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 4:55:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/jayakanthan-firebrand-writer-who-dared-to-question-social-mores/article7084282.ece

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