LITERARY REVIEW

Sensitive and powerful



Jayakanthan’s novel throws up several unvoiced questions for the reader to mull over. SELINE AUGUSTINE

NEW Horizon Media, whose English imprint is Indian Writing, publishes contemporary literature in Tamil and translations of Indian writings into English. Love and Loss is an initial offering of “the best in Tamil fiction translated into English”.

Jayakanthan walks tall in the Tamil literary firmament, with an oeuvre and bagful of awards that will be the dream of any aspiring writer.

K.S. Subramanian has translated many of Jayakanthan’s works. Unnaipol Oruvan is the Tamil title and was made into an award-winning movie.

In this particular translation, KSS has transcreated successfully the slum milieu of the 1960s, dialogue and characterisation from the original. V.K. Raghunathan’s deft touches of copy editing have lent a sparkle to the novel’s language and the narrative.

Powerful story

A powerful story of a mother torn apart by her love for her son and her new found love. Stated bluntly like that, it barely captures the pathos of the situation Thangam finds herself in. A construction worker, her man had abandoned her before she could give birth to her son Chitti.

After initial recalcitrant behaviour, Chitti, short for Chittibabu, falls in line and is quite the exemplary son, thanks to the salutary influence of his master Thondar Doraikannu. When Thangam invites the astrologer Manikkam into her house, Chitti sees red and all hell breaks loose.

The narrative leads you on into believing that what Thangam does with her life is her business and no one can fault her for it. Chitti’s anger explodes and time and again the adolescent’s words singe the very soul of the piteous mother.

Fair-skinned Manikkam is the foil for both the mother and the volatile son, and is portrayed as loving but a little weak and gentle by disposition.

The childless Alamelu’s viciousness is offset by Ayah Annamma’s humanism. Thangam’s sentiments on her deathbed after delivering a baby girl are unexpected and a revelation.

Turnaround

In a total turnaround, she approves of her son’s righteous indignation and expresses the belief if she’d had a stern father or older brother like Chitti, she would have stuck to the straight path of life.

A mother’s strategy of ensuring her newborn will be taken care of after her departure from the scene.

At the end, Chitti’s neighbours come to his aid when the 13-year-old returns home alone with a baby sister. The same people who disapproved of Thangam’s actions are now willing to help out with the “result” of her action.

Is this to be seen as how a baby on the scene can make all the difference?

Jayakanthan, as is his wont, throws up several unvoiced questions in the course of the novel and makes the reader mull over them.

The book must have caused a stir when first published more than 30 years ago.

One is struck by the sensitivity with which he has skimmed over difficult issues and refrained from resorting to melodrama or bathos.

Love and Loss; D. Jayakanthan, translated from Tamil by Dr. K.S. Subramanian, Indian Writing, Chennai, Rs. 150.



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