An ardent admirer of JK&’s (as Jayakanthan was popularly known) once invited him to dinner and he readily obliged. While serving him hot food, the fan also gave him some hot news. Introducing her daughter-in-law, she said, “She was the wife of my son&’s intimate friend, who died in an accident. She was left in a quagmire. My son expressed his desire to be of support by marrying her. Without a fuss, I agreed, and here she is now, my daughter-in-law.”
“Great! From where did you get the courage to do it?” JK asked, obviously admiring her bold step.
“Where else if not from your writing? I read all that you write,” was her reply.
That speaks volumes of JK, a household name in the Tamil world. And almost every reader of Tamil fiction must have jumped for joy when his name was announced for the Jnanpith award for 2002.
A dynamic writer of profound social significance, Jayakanthan shot into the limelight through his radical short stories “that struck a terrible blow to the decadent social order that continues to perpetuate atrocities on the common man in the name of religion and morality”. A writer of rare power and refreshing realism, he virulently attacked the corrupt value system and championed the cause of the downtrodden. No wonder his short stories earned for him bouquets and brickbats – and both in abundance — because of their realistic treatment and progressive approach.
It was customary for JK to narrate his plots to friends and closely watch their reaction before he put them on paper. Very rarely would his friends find any difference between the oral and written versions of his short stories. In fact, he gave complete shape to a story in his mind itself, unlike O’Henry who confessed that “the end strikes me first. And I work towards it”.
Titles mattered to JK to such an extent that he never began a story before deciding on a name for it. According to one critic, his titles are in themselves literature.
JK began his literary career when he was not yet 20 and he turned into a celebrity almost instantaneously with editors of leading Tamil weeklies seeking him out. Within 10 years he was a household name, especially popular among the middle class that was increasingly being exposed to rapid changes in life. He had 40 published novels to his credit, apart from 15 collections of essays and more than 200 short stories. Ten of his eminent works found their way to films, too.
JK was not even 40 when the Sahitya Akademi honoured him with its much-coveted award for his widely read novel, Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithartkal. Fourteen years later, Tamil University of Tanjore awarded its prestigious Rajarajan award for his novel, Sundara Kaandam. Several other awards, titles, accolades and fellowships followed, by which time JK was 62.
Christened “Murugesan” by his parents, Dhandapani Pillai and Mahalakshmi Ammal on 24 April 1934 at Manjakuppam in Cuddalore, JK proved to be an unwilling schoolboy. A dropout, he reached Chennai and found shelter in his uncle&’s house. And that was the turning point in his life. From that day on, “Cuddalore Murugesan”, as he was then known, had no confusion left and his remarkable quality was, and remained a clarity of mind. He died in April this year.
A multidimensional personality, JK was inspired by two Communist leaders, Jeeva and Balathandayudham. As he grew up, Perunthalaivar Kamaraj&’s ideals attracted him and so he became a staunch supporter of the Congress party.
His transformation didn’t stop there. He became more and more spiritual, the last refuge of every man, and in the 1980s he withdrew from all his favourite activities, thereby leaving his fans to wonder what happened.
His auriferous pen took rest for several years but woke again with a start. As an admirer of the Kanchi Sankara Mutt, JK wrote Hara Hara Sankara immediately after the arrest of Kanchi Sankaracharya and Sri Jayendra Saraswathi. The eulogy apart, the work proved to be a great experience for his readers.
An orator, par excellence, JK kept his audience spellbound for hours at a stretch with his powerful dramatic delivery. In fact, he literally roused the people of Tamil Nadu through his compelling eloquence. It must be mentioned in passing that he edited two newspapers, Jayaberikai and Navasakthi, and two literary journals, Gnanaratham and Kalpana.
JK&’s two autobiographical works, Orr Ilakkiavathiyin Arasiyal Anubhavangal (Political Experiences of a Writer) and Orr Ilakkiavathiyin Kalai Ulaga Anubhavangal (Experiences of a Writer in Filmdom) admirably chronicle their author&’s contribution to the social and political scene of Tamil Nadu and his forays into the celluloid world. His other non-fictional writings serve ample testimony to the fact that he was a pioneer in that genre, too. Influenced by the works of Subramania Bharathi, Mahatma Gandhi, the Azhwars, Nayanmars, Siddhars, Thiruvalluvar, Kamban and St Ramalingam, his works are sweeping in their range and subtle touches. He was vigorous in his portrayal of life and this he did in a style that was at once realistic and virile.
In one of his radio talks, JK declared, “I write because my writings are bound to pave the way for a social revolution. Since such a revolution is possible only through literature, I write… my pen is my God.”
Such was JK, the dedicated writer. Perhaps this is the reason why his works were translated into almost all the Indian languages, as also Japanese, Russian, German and English. He was the second Tamil writer to receive the Jnanpith award, the first being Akilan in 1975.