OWhen the now iconic Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s first book came out in 1991, he didn’t sleep for three days before the launch. He was 29 years old. Now, over 300 books later, the day his short story book, translated into English for the very first time, titled stories of the true was released, he casually said, “I’ve been through the age of excitement.”
It is certain that Jeyamohan’s literary life was more “exciting” than he would have liked. From refusing the Padma Shri in 2016 on the grounds that he would call him a “Hindutva sympathizer” to being called out for his “misogynist” criticism of women writers in 2014, the Tamil literary critic and author is making a comeback in the world of short films. stories after the release of her latest Venkadal collection in 2013.
Wearing a dark denim shirt over jeans when ThePrint caught up with him, Jeyamohan, who was in town discussing scripts with Tamil film directors, admitted he had ‘never’ read his own translation work. “I can’t, it’s strange,” he said. “It’s like there’s a color change in the foods you’re used to eating.”
stories of the true is a collection of twelve inspiring and imaginative stories based on the lives of real people. The book was a smash hit in Tamil when it was first published in 2011 as a serial on her website. It includes his famous work “Elephant Doctor”, which sold 2,000 copies when it was released in book form, and his favorite story in the “A Hundred Armchairs” collection. Jeyamohan said it was the “simplest” of all his books.
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Complex mind, simple stories
Jeyamohan is right. His work ranges from essays critiquing the broad contours of the Indian literary landscape to rewriting a serialized version of the Mahabharata on his website. But he maintains that many of his writings are inspired by real events. “If you ask me if it’s an article or a story, it’s somewhere in between,” he said.
In Aram’s foreword, as the Tamil original of Stories of The True was named, he wrote: “The stories in this collection revolve around the central idea of ’aram’, the Tamil equivalent from the Sanskrit word “dharma”. Driven by an emotion in the depths of my being, I wrote these stories in a state of exacerbation that lasted almost forty days.
Jeyamohan started writing the first story of the collection 11 years ago and published it on his website. “The reaction from readers made me realize that everyone shared my mood. Everyone wanted hope. Then the stories just kept coming.
Among his most famous stories is the “Elephant Doctor” inspired by a visit to Topslip in the Western Ghats. There, Jeyamohan stayed in the house once occupied by V. Krishnamurthy, a veterinarian popularly known as the “Elephant Doctor”. The story deals with the physician recommended for a Padma Sri but not conferred. Jeyamohan thought: When a person has been recognized by elephants, does it really matter whether the Indian government recognizes them or not? And that’s how the story took shape.
“You asked me why I don’t find the need to promote myself and have my work translated into English,” he said with a smile. “It’s the same thing: my mission is to promote Tamil literature and philosophy, which gives me satisfaction. And my elephants are my readers.
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“Two Rebirths” by Jeyamohan
Born in Kanyakumari district in 1962, life was anything but sweet for the writer. Jeyamohan lost both parents to suicide in 1984, pushing him further into a period of depression and turmoil. At the time, he was working a temporary job in the service of telephones in Kasargod, Kerala.
“I had two rebirths,” he said. After his parents died, Jeyamohan said he set out to kill himself on a train track. “In the golden light of that morning, I laid my eyes on a worm resting on a leaf, with a body that shone as if made of light – with a soul made of light. Here is a being for which every moment of this life was of the utmost importance,” he wrote in Aram’s preface.
It was his first revival. The second was when he wrote the Aram short story book. “At 50, through this book, it was a second rebirth, since then there has been no turning back.”
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Image in the mind of a translator
Jeyamohan’s success goes beyond the literary sphere. Incidentally, Stories of The True translator Priyamvada Ramkumar is a Chennai-based private equity investor. “It was the love for his stories that made me translate his work,” she said. “When I started I was faithful to the text, then that turned into faithful to the intention.”
After Ramkumar translated the first stories in the collection, she took it to Jeyamohan for his comments. “I came back to him for a lot of cultural references, there are a lot of details in the work that are rooted in the local culture,” she said. “As a translator, you translate different readings of the text. Often what you are translating is the image you have built in your mind of the text.
It’s safe to say that Jeyamohan’s new work has everything to make it a success. Sharing roaring comments on one of his stories called ‘The Meal Tally’ in Stories of The True, he said that soon after the story was published in Tamil, people wrote to him telling him about all the “Kethel Sahibs”—pay-as-you-can restaurants—across Tamil Nadu.
To this day, his inbox is flooded with e-mails whose subject reads: “There is a Kethel Sahib in my town”.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)