An evening with Jeyamohan

“Meet the writer’  programme with Tamil writer Jeyamohan was as fabulous as it always used to be. This time it was classic Jeyamohan stuff. The writer was at his best and it was like Tenduklar playing in his home ground in Mumbai. The topic was ‘Literature, Great Literature and Classical Literature’, and Jeyamohan kept the audience in awe with his deep knowledge of the differences between the literary forms.

Moderator Chitra Ramesh announced the topic out of the blue. That did not deter Jeyamohan’s verbal velocity.

He started with Kamba Ramayana and described why it was the only classical literature in Tamil. He spoke reverentially about Prof.Jesudasan who kept reading Kamba Ramayana till his end. I have read Jeyamohan’s earlier articles on Prof.Jesudasan and knew what was to come. And Kamban played the same magic on me as he did on the late professor. I was in tears when Jeyamohan explained the manner in which Kamban describes the scene when Ram leaves Ayodhya. Having been exposed to Kamba Ramayana at an early age, I was able to relate to every adjective that Jeymohan mentioned during the course of his speech on Kamban.

Delving more on Kamba Ramayana, Jeyamohan said that between the post-sangam era and the Kamban era ( close to 1000 years ), many philosophies had come and gone – Jainism, Buddhism, Advaitam, Bakthi Literature etc. Thus when Kamban came on the scene, he had the rich cultural background to start his story from and demarcated the Tamil Culture on a firm footing.

Jeyamohan explained the architecture and form of a great literature – it should have form and direction, should be of a compound nature and should reflect the times in which the story took place. Additionally there has to be a balance in the story, with the different characters being depicted in their highs and lows and with no one character overshadowing the other. In this, he referenced Janakiraman’s ‘Moha Mull’, a Tamil novel and explained why it was not a classic – being a Tanjavur / Kumbakonam based novel, it didn’t even have a mention of the different temples that the two places are known for.

A writer is a chronicler of time and history and therefore his novel needs to have historicity in it. Only then it can be termed a a Great Novel. For this, the writer needs to be a research student. He should have done so much research that he should have the history of each character with all its ups and downs.

A seed contains the entire forest within itself thereby having the ability to recreate the forest if the need arises. A classical novel is one such. It should represent the microcosm of the society that it is based on. A classical novel, while depicting the hunger of the cat, should also, in equal intensity, describe the pain of the rat that becomes the food for the former. It should have the depth, detail and concern for all its characters.

Why was Seevaka Chinthamani not as widely read as Silappathikaaram ? one asked. Jeyamohan attributed this to the time at which Seevaka Chinthamani was written. As it was written after the end of the Jain era, the book did not get the wide readership that Silampu got.

He went on to say that Sanskrit was the most widely prevalent language in India and the most common one as well. However, it was not the tongue of any particular group of people, while Tamil continues to be the tongue of many and therefore the classics in Tamil are alive.

What happens to the classics in Tamil ? How do our classics , epics like Kamba Ramayan reach the younger generation? asked another. Jeyamohan said that this transition and handing-over of classics has been happening  and would continue and said that if two people are found together always, they are referred to ‘Ram and Lakshman’, while a powerful person is still referred to as ‘Hanuman like’. Society’s genetic connection with the epics ensures the longevity of these literature types and this connection is likely to continue.

‘Puyalile oru thoni’,  a novel by Pa.Singaaram has Malay, Singapore and Indian scenes. However the novel doesn’t have the singularity of thought and hovers all over the place and hence cannot be called a ‘classic’.  The most voluminous novel written about Singapore was by M.K.Menon. It ran into 6 volumes.

‘Neelakanda paravaiyai thedi’ and ‘Aarogya Niketanam’ were the other classics that defined the standards for a classical novel.

While talking about the different forms of literature, there was a question about Thirukkural – the amazing Tamil couplet series. He said that Thirukkural should be classified as a ‘sutra’ like the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. At a superficial level, Thirukkural could be covered in less than 30 minutes. But by juxtaposing the words and letters, the couplet delivers far greater thought and deeper insights into the way the world functions than what is generally believed. In this context he quoted the famous couplet :

“விசும்பிற் றுளிவீழி னல்லான்மற் றாங்கே

ஆங்கே பசும்புற் றலைகாண் பரிது.”

This, if looked at from a superficial level, tells us that only when it rained, even grass grew on earth.This vanilla meaning doesn’t convey anything other than stating an obvious fact. But Thiruvalluvar, the poet, is a far greater intellectual to just state this plain fact. So, if one looks at this couplet as a ‘sutra’, the meanings that it provides are awe inspiring.

Eg: ‘விசும்பு’ refers not to the sky but to the outer space. There is life on earth just because of an extra-terrestrial droplet that had fallen on earth from space. This is not fiction but popular science that life forms began on earth from an extra-terrestrial impact. There is yet another dimension to this couplet. The poet has used’grass’ not in an absent minded manner, but with a deep insight that ‘grass’ is the first ever evolved version of food. Men either eat grass as grass or other animals that ear grass. The first element of the food chain on earth starts with grass.

This deep insight has to evolve inside of oneself. And that evolved enlightenment can be called vision or ‘darshan’.

Due to the ‘sutra’ nature of Thirukkural in that it contained much more than what it seemed to contain, in the times of yore,  people should have read only one couplet for a day or for even a month and meditated on the meanings of the words and on the placement of the words. With the demise of traditional methods of learning, we should have lost the deep insights as well.

When there was a question on the destruction or amalgamation of smaller gods / demi-gods into the holistic Iindu pantheon, Jeyamohan provided a grand insight that is not mentioned in literary circles for fear of being branded ‘backward’. He said that the European pagan religions were completely destroyed by Christianity so much so that the gods of those religions were depicted as demons in Christianity, while in India, all the demi-gods were absorbed into the greater Hindu pantheon and were made Hindu gods. The demi-gods and village deities still had a position in the wider Indian school of religious thought and were not destroyed as in Europe. In this regard he even quoted a recent event where a ‘Chairman’ of a municipality in south Tamil Nadu has been made a god and absorbed into the Shaiva school as the ‘Chairman’, when he was alive, had been benevolent to the people of the region.

Jeyamohan concluded by saying that a writer of novels could be defined thus : ‘He should, by the repertoire of his linguistic skills, provide a magnificent vision and a sense of visual splendor resulting in an intellectual download to the reader, however providing a singular vision that does not hover all over.’

One of the most enjoyable evenings when I got drenched in the flurry of literary knowledge and linguistic extravaganza.

(Meeting was on 21-Aug-2016 at Ang Mo Kio Library, Singapore. This is written in English for the sake of non-Tamil readers)

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