Interview with Writer Paa.Jeyapirakasam
Suriyadeepan is another face of this writer endowed with a deep sense of social consciousness, starting with the collection called Jerusalem. So far ten short – story collections of Paa.Jeyapirakasam have been published. Now, he is busy penning two novels one based on Anti – Hindi struggle during 1965 and the other having rural background. His poem collection captioned ‘Edhirkkaatru’ and his collection of essays titled ‘Thekkathi Aathmaakkal’ too reveal the face of rural life so familiar to him.
Starting as a Lecturer in the faculty of Tamil and then moving over to the Department of Public Relations, rising to the post of ‘Joint Director’ he has retired from service from 2000. For a decade he was the Editor – in – charge of Mana Osai, a magazine that aimed at stirring the literate masses out of their apathy against social maladies. ‘In this time when all the faces with their distinct identities have been destroyed and remain listless, a writer and an artist has to function as the conscience of the society’ holds he. And, true to his words he had always been actively engaged in various struggles for undertaken with the express aim to speak for the vulnerable and voiceless sections of the society. Thus, taking part in Anti-Hindi struggle, opposing the way the language Hindi was forced on the Tamils he spent three months in Palayamkottai prison.
The writer is intent on speaking Tamil without tarnishing its sweetness by mixing words from other languages, which proves a pleasure to the ears. He has a son and a daughter and lives in Pudhucheri now. With the dialect peculiar to the countryside surfacing every now and then the author shared with us his views and aspirations with seething anger and anguish against all kinds of discriminations, injustices and malpractices that are rampant in our society.
What was it that inspired you to wield the pen? Was it your rural life?
The small village called Ramachandapuram near Vilathikulam ,which was part of Tirunelveli District before and is how in Tuticorin district, is my hometown. In those days there was no bus – facility and no proper roads too. From there Vilathikulam is eleven kilometers away and we had to walk the entire distance. Just before fifteen years or so our place had got the bus facility.
And there was no safe drinking water. We used to drink the water from the stream. That would be very tasty. The water would be stirred by the breeze and bang against the banks and so there would be a kind of ‘aliru’ formed in the water. That’s the reason for its taste and flavour. In those days almost all villages had ‘chinna kanmaai’ and ‘periya kanmaai’. At times when the streams in other villages turn dry the people would come to our place to fetch water and they would come in their bullock-carts.
There would be ‘Maanavaarai Crops’ alone growing in that region. ‘Kambu’ and ‘Cholam’ were our prime food – ‘Kaaramani’, ‘Thattaam payiru’, ‘Ulundu’ would also be grown as suits the need. Cotton and ‘Malli’ were the only commercial crops then. If only there was sufficient rain agriculture would go on.
My father was a peasant. In our home I had an elder brother. I was the second and next to me there were two younger sisters.
For many a year we had suffered without rain. We had some land. During those days the income of a person owning 100 acres of ‘Punsai’ land would be less than what was earned by the city – based government employees. The famine affected our lives too. When there arose scarcity of food-items we had no alternative but to pluck and eat ‘kannaadi kaai’ which would be grown here and there in the trees, knowing fully well that eating them would affect our stomach and digestive system. We used to dig the ground and eat ‘korai kizhangu’ . When there was a terrible famine
‘kanji – thotti’ was opened in our village I too had stood in the row and got a bowl full of that beverage. Along with that they would give ‘paereechampazham’. And, what we were offered was not rice kanji. ‘kambu’ and ragi would be crushed together and form the mixture which would be used as the ingredients of the kanji.
I myself had gone to work in the woods. There would be none to study in the village school! For, all would go to pluck the weeds and receive Kammampul as their wage. Only very rarely, on such special occasions as Deepavali, Pongal etc., we could have cooked rice for meals at home. Only hen we could hope to feast our eyes on such dishes as idli, dosai and the like.
In the village, in one corner of the street a stone grinder (Aatural) would be placed. We have to keep standing and grinding. During those days when we would offer worship to god there would be a huge crowd to use the grinder. During the festival days when ‘dosai’ would be prepared we used to have those dosai inside the pockets of our half – pants and eat it as we wander around. That too, dosai’s prepared with ’karuppatti’ mixed were in great demand and would be much sought after. It was this life - style which emerged from me when I began to write years later.
Where did you study?
Up to V std I studied in my hometown Ramachandapuram itself. After that I went to the School in Chennama Reddy Patti that was on the border area of the district. It was my mother’s hometown And, the incidents happened. Loving that period and the experience acquired therein have all been deeply embedded in my innermost depth. It was only when recollected one could realize them as experiences. And, it is these experiences that urge you to write, forcefully coming into your creations with all their pains and wounds, as raw as they were when you first experienced them.
And I came to Madurai to continue my higher studies in American college. Back at home itself I had cultivated the habit of reading. I had read books like “Ponniyin Selvan’. As my paternal uncle was employed in Madurai my parents came forward to send me to Madurai for higher studies. Joining American college I used to walk almost 5 kilometers everyday to college. While I was studying in PUC and also when studying in Graduate course I used to walk barefooted. Till I finished my Post-Graduation course my family was in very bad financial condition.
At that time people like Kalimuthu, Na.Kamarasan, Meera, Abdul Rehman were all studying in the college. I could read a lot there. I used to take part in literary meetings. After completing my Post-Graduate course I went and joined in Madurai Wakf Board college, as a junior lecturer. It was then that my first ever story was published in Thaamarai. It was given the title ‘Kutram(Crime). Including T.K.C many praised it and congratulated me. After that, when I began to expose the discriminations and injustices that I had suffered in my soil, they came to have the distinct identity of the soil and the ‘sons of the soil’.
At that time were you having the ‘regional’ feeling, that you were writing ‘Karisal Ezhuthu’ ?
Initially I was not conscious of it. I wrote whatever had happened in my life, with a natural flow. It was only later on that I became acquainted with writers like Ki.Rajanarayanan and Poomani. I didn’t set out to write with the specific intention of producing such ‘of the soil’ writings. Literature is not something that documents or reflects the social life of a specific period but it also reflects or tells the story of the writer’s life.
In your short-stories POI MALARUM(Lie would blossom), and ‘ORU JERUSALEM’ (A Jerusalem) you have documented the life of rural children with minute precision and sensitivity. Shall we say that your childhood days are being recreated in your writings?
Ofcourse, it is true. It is my life that is being reflected in my writings. It was just then that the trend of reflecting region-oriented life had come into being. As Poomani has observed, Ki.Rajanarayanan had raised the first plough for such writings. It was Ki.Ra who wrote the foreword for my first collection of stories. In that he had observed thus: “that such a life had befallen him is indeed sad. But, when he documents the same as a literary piece in a poetic manner, we do regret our inability not being able to write so powerfully”. The reason for my poetic experience is that I used to read a lot of poems. That too, poems of other lands, translated literary works I have avidly read. And, the highly literary and poetic sparks in those writings would never fail to capture my heart and deepen my literary taste and sensitivity. These must have impacted my style of writing and effected a change in it.
How did you get into government employment?
In those times even though I was working in a college the payment of salary was not regular. Once I visited Chennai. D.M.K was in power then, under the leadership of Kalignar Karunanidhi. And, in order to get job- opportunities for the students and the leaders who were taking part in anti-Hindi struggle the government had created new vacancies and posts in the Department of Communication and Information and Public Relations. As I too participated in the Anti-Hindi struggle, as I was the Students’ Leader, I got a job there.
When I was a student the feeling of being a Tamilian, a sense of pride for my language and ethnic identity was always there in me quite naturally. At that time all my friends and acquaintances were endowed with the Dravidian spirit and outlook. I learnt Hindi when I was in School and at the time when I completed my school education I had also passed ‘Madhyama’ in Hindi. But, with the upsurge of anti-Hindi sentiment I tore off the certificate right in front of my Hindi teacher. And, it was as an extension of this anti-Hindi fervour and activities that I was arrested and put behind bars in Palayankotai prison. At that time I was in total agreement with all the perspectives and ideologies of the Dravidian Movement. Afterwards when it came to power it underwent a change in its political approach and perspective but my stand remained the same.
When did you begin to be drawn towards Socialist and Communist Movements?
I can’t call it an allegiance towards the Movements. I was drawn towards the ideologies of these Movements. In those days poet Inquilab and myself were having the same feeling. We had even taken part in the May-Day procession held by CITU. After that, I came into direct contact with the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist movement. And, it was at this time that I became acquainted with the Vaanampaadi Movement of Poetry. I wrote several poems in that. They were written in my original name itself.
When did you start writing poetry under the pseudonym ‘Suriyadeepan’?
I chose the pen-name for the magazine called Gorky run by Ilavenil then. At that time I was in Government Service. Then, when I was drawn towards the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Movement, the name stayed on. Particularly, in the 80s and 90s a pseudonym was of great help for a person to be in government service and at the same time pursuing socially conscious literary activities.
Didn’t it,that is, being in Government Service prove a hindrance to your freedom of thought and expression?
Government service has always been a barrier for us in expressing our views and ideas freely. What is worse, we will not be able to show our response in any manner. The way I was writing under the pseudonym being in government service encountered hostility from various quarters, both directly and indirectly. There was an enquiry too. I was not directly questioned. Somehow, the official enquiry was over and the file was closed. Except through Mana Oesai issues I couldn’t express my views and ideas in any other manner. And, at a time when all others were moving over to writing novel the reason for my not being able to do so was this government employment.
Knowing that it was proving a hindrance to your social and literary activities, didn’t you get the urge to come out of it?
Of course. I did. At one stage I even decided to come out of it. And, the reason to curb that urge was my family. That’s why I chose to do all that I could, all the being in the job.
A government employee’s seat is filled with miseries and humiliations. That’s why when I got retired from service I celebrated it with a poem “Today I am born anew”. Not just the government employment but many other jobs too hinder one’s creativity and even make the spring of imagination and social zeal turn dry in one’s heart.
In your work ‘Vaerillaa Uyirgal’( Rootless Lives) you have depicted the gloomy life of those women who earn their daily-bread as record dancers. How?
It was born of an experience that I had when I was young. Such dances would take place in the exhibitions and fares conducted by the Government itself. I have seen many. And, the emptiness that was all pervading in the lives of those women affected me. One of my school-mates was always going behind such a dancer and in the end his education was gone for ever. The pity of it all – the misery of the girls revealing their flesh for at least a square meal a day turned me restive. In the festivals held in the villages I have come across various folk –dance forms. And, I was always more concerned about the living conditions and social status of the life of those folk artists than their art and performance. I have lived with those folk-artists.
In your work called ‘Thekkathi Aathmaakkal’ you express your regret that Kambu and Kezhvaragu(ragi) are no more an integral part of our food. You introduce a retired police-man wearing just ‘kovanam’ and a dhalith musician playing on the drums called Mridhangam. Though a lot of such regrets and misgivings about the villages and the style of living there have bee recorded in this novel of yours, it has also given rise to the question or adverse criticism that whether it was necessary to renew them who are closely entwined with the feudal values of the bygone era, through such literary attempts?
But, there exited several real good values of life in that feudal set-up, are we not to take them into consideration? Are we to just ignore them? That is the question. For instance, affection, kindness, not lying and such other good characteristics existed in those days. We should take into account these good elements of those times and then build a better culture from that. Here, I am not holding aloft the feudal culture and life. You can call it as my sense of regret born of the fact that we are losing even those good values of life existed then.
Even the folklorique forms of art remain and extend as part of the temple-based culture, aren’t they?
Of course, they do. Plays such as Valli Thirumanam, Harischandra and also the folk-forms Villisai, Karagaattam etc., though they are temple-based performance yet they have great scope for expressing innovative and revolutionary idea. For instance, let us take Villisai Kalignar Pichai Kutti living near Kovilpatti in Tamil Nadu. He beautifully brings forth important social viewpoints and reformative ideas . in the same way, there is another folk artist by name Oem Muthumaari who performs Kuravan-Kurathi dance-form. He refers even to the adverse impacts of Globalization in his performances. Further, even in the folk-forms we can bring in innovative themes and contents. There is scope for all that.
The way you depict your experiences in a simple and straight style, not resorting to aesthetics has also invited criticism that your writings lack the literary quality. What do you have to say about such a perspective?
A part of it is true indeed. My initial writings were expressions of the actual life and the actual village. These writings reveal the actual life as it is. And, in my later writings you can come across my political outlook of this life. In Moondraavadhu Mugam , Iravugal Udaiyum and such other works you can come across this political perspective of the existing life and situation. As a result of my acquaintance with several political movements, as a result of their impact on me, naturally there came a change in my social and political outlook. In today’s life a writer cannot be without a social outlook and perspective. How she or he understands it, apprehends it and express it is what is most important. It is this question of how the writer reveals his or her perspectives in an artistic form is of paramount importance. At that time I had a notion or idea of how it should be best expressed. I had a clear political perspective then. It could be that the element of aesthetics were a little lacking in them. And, it is quite possible that this deficiency had been subjected to criticism. But, this kind of criticism would not have been there regarding my initial writings or my present ones.
Is it a must to have some definite ideological stand for literary activities?
For each and every movement of life there is a definite aim and scheme. That alone constitutes our progress; marching ahead. When the human society and civilization proceeds forward how can Literature be without any such definite objective or scheme of things?
Literature speaks the social language of specific periods in time. There can’t be a literary ideology surpassing time. There can only be evolving literary ideology. Literature is confined within the walls and boundaries of Time. A piece of work that depicts and reflects the contemporary world in a faithful, poignant manner comes to stay, beyond time. It proves at once to be the social history of the specific periods of time and also the subsequent periods. At the same time it proves to be a telling reflection of the life of an individual, the writer in this context.
Was there no conscious effort on your part to bring into your writings the much talked-about styles such as magical realism and post-modernism?
There are people who set out to write using these isms consciously. Even those who do not employ these styles as a rule have penned at least one or two pieces using these isms. But, when I write I don’t have any ism in mind. If within my writing any ism can be identified, it might be pointed at and evaluated. Magical Realism is a technique. It is not an ism. When oppression and suppression were at their peak in Latin American countries this form of writing came into being as a mode of expression. They expressed their feelings and resistance against the oppressive regime in a veiled manner with the help of ancient mythological and puranic tradition. It was a form suited to a particular period of time; to a particular period of history. When such an oppressive climate prevails here, that kind of expression would naturally surface. During the time of emergency S.V.Rajadhurai had written such a piece on the line of magical realism which was very relevant to the prevalent climate then. But, I don’t have any such pre plans that my writing should be in a specific style, form etc.
It is a must that a piece of literary work should have a realistic content or theme and written in a way easily comprehensible to the reader. By giving a work in an incomprehensible style and language, in a strange form, what is it they are trying to uphold? What do they want to convey? The poems of feminist poets that have been published recently prove hard to understand even after reading them thrice.
Aesthetics is nothing but telling a thing in an effective, at the same time easily comprehensible manner. It is not at all aesthetics to write even an easily comprehensible thing in too difficult and round-about manner, getting entangled in the web of language.
We speak about several writers being a model and source of inspiration for a budding writer or even a seasoned writer. For instance, the life of writer G.Nagarajan – is it being upheld by some as a model life that had broken the shackles of tradition. Is it correct?
G.Nagarajan was my teacher too. He was one who couldn’t be confined not just within the boundaries of a family but within any kind of social boundaries and confinements. He was always one among the marginalized and he was always away from the usual and the common.
If a writer had undergone such unusual experiences at some period of his or her life they could depict in their writings . It is essential too, to record such ‘out-of-the-way experiences and incidents. But, is it right on the part of a writer to mould his or per own personality consciously , in pursuit of such weird experiences. This is what we should ponder over.
And, it is also incorrect to generalize and define sweepingly that the personality of a neo-writer should have such qualities and characteristics, mannerisms and behaviour. Experiences are exclusive to each individual based on various factors. And, these experiences should come to one, on their own. The writer should not go seeking them.
A writer can also seek new, strange experiences beyond the confines of their life. But, writers like La.Sa.Raa, Mouni and such others didn’t touch experiences away from their reach; from their family life. In them we don’t come across any transformation taking place through the experiences or the experiences passing into the hearts of others and the readers.
Thagazhi’s Semmeen, Thoettiyin Magan etc., have these qualities of being a medium of sharing and communicating and transferring them into others.
The way writers like La.Saa.Raa, Mouni and others cut them off completely from the social life and upheavals around them and functioned in the realm of pure art, is it possible of the writers of today to be totally disconnected from the world around them?
The way things stand today, it is not at all possible. Isn’t it the bare minimum requirement of being a human being to be conscious and reactive about the world around us and the way it functions, to have social care and concern? In today’s world the concept of globalization and the Hindutva outlook keep stamping on all, crushing them.
A socially conscious writer and artist cannot turn the other side and remain passive and unperturbed. He or she has to react to it either through his r her creative activities or through direct social activities. In some manner they should express their standpoint.
Apart from those associated with certain political or social Movements, can you say that your writings have gained due recognition from the general, discerning readers?
Such an overall, resounding recognition I have not earned. And, even that little recognition which came my way with regard to my earlier writings is missing in the case of my recent ones. Only those with left-oriented outlook and affiliation accept and appreciate these writings. The fact that my writings have not been widely read and appreciated reveals the ‘politics of avoidance and abject indifference.