This collection of Jeyamohan stories in translation is rooted in real life
Jeyamohan’s stories of the true is a collection of twelve stories, ripped from real life, steeped in disconcerting truths about human behavior, ethics, prejudices and the practice of life. Translated from Tamil by Priyamvada, these are stories about real people, bringing extraordinary meaning to ordinary life.
The “truth” that is explored in these stories is a very different concept from the notion of a predetermined monolithic truth. In the post-truth world we inhabit, there is no value to abstract, notional truth, anyway. Rather, the stories are an exposition of individual journeys that sometimes inspire and sometimes excoriate, but inevitably, like an indispensable salve to cynicism, they leave the reader with a sense of hope, a desire to believe in the possibility of redemption.
In the book’s preface, Jeyamohan writes about how fundamental a sense of history is in literature. His stories reflect the truth of this statement by being rooted in the experiences of the land; class, caste and gender experiences; oppressions and the obstinate will to fight them. The character of the author often appears in stories, acting as observer, interlocutor and chronicler.
The first story, “Aram: The Song of Righteousness,” sets the tone for the collection. With its main events set in the 1950s, in an India that had just settled into independence schemes, the story delves into one man’s crisis of confidence in his art, but also becomes a indictment of the emerging pulp fiction industry and its exploitation of young writers who had no right to their own work. The title is derived from the powerful image of a woman, a wife who could easily be subsumed into the larger narrative of a man’s world, but instead becomes a vengeful goddess simply by insisting that the right thing is done.
In “Nutcase”, Poomedai, a Gandhi freedom fighter and champion of the rights of the oppressed, is repeatedly called a lunatic for his idealism and willingness to throw himself headlong into ideological battles. In “The Meal Tally,” a man resists the inexorable logic of capitalism sweeping the earth, practicing kindness and generosity instead. The scope of these stories spans decades, often linking the past to the present, presenting the reader with unmistakable evidence of the recurrence of historical patterns.
Caste and gender
Caste, India’s impossible to erase marker of identity, runs through these stories, appearing in all its ugly omnipresence. “He Who Will Not Bow”, set in a pre-independence world, tells the story of a boy barely eight years old, subjected to extreme degradation and dehumanization. The child’s livelihood and his life, his whole sense of embodiment and individuality, belong not to him but to his master. Caste politics is closely related to name politics.
“Significant” names are the domain of those with caste privilege. Those who don’t get names that are descriptors, just as names given to animals are often descriptors. Jeyamohan lays bare the anatomy of a world where a “low caste” officer wearing a shirt and sitting in a chair is a threat to those who have been “divinely ordained” to rule his life.
The inevitable internalization of caste prejudice is explored in “A Hundred Armchairs” where the protagonist is a civil servant born into what was considered an untouchable caste and is never allowed to shed the label that his birth gave him. imposed. The story also focuses on an often overlooked aspect of caste oppression – the denial of medical services, highlighting the complicity between the state apparatus and the public conscience. Another lens through which the stories negotiate caste is that of hunger, brought on by extreme poverty, which can only be solved through fairness and kindness.
Like caste, gender, its boundaries and issues, seep into many of Jeyamohan’s stories. “Goddess Penance” begins with a poetic image of a small shrine that has no idol but only “an impression on the rock face, like a footprint. (…) The belief is that this was the impression made by the foot of Goddess Kanyakumari as she stood in penance on one leg, determined to marry Thanumalayan, the deity of Suchindram temple.
The story seems to preoccupy itself with the narrator’s grandfather, a legendary singer, until it reverses the narrative and becomes a story of the erasure, the silencing of the voice of the great man’s wife, forcing her to a lifelong penance, an act of punishment visited upon her for her sex. Comparing the eponymous goddess to Nataraja, the god of the lifted foot, the narrator asks: “If Nataraja puts down his lifted foot, an aeon ends; the universe and all matter, animate and inanimate, will perish – that is the story. What will happen if the goddess puts her foot up? Nothing at all. She’s a mother, isn’t she? Mothers, venerated in theory and ignored in real life, seem to be a constant at the interface between our mythologies and our lived reality.
Story after story, the writer deftly weaves motifs from classic Tamil poetry into contemporary concerns to create what feels like a philosophical study of human nature. In “The Churning Curd,” for example, Kamban’s Ramayana appears as a rich intertext for understanding the relationship between love and grief, intimacy and loss, mediated through empathy.
“Peruvali”, telling the story of Komal Swaminathan, Tamil writer, director and journalist, credited with breathing new life into the Tamil literary scene, explores, with an extremely delicate touch, the meaning of existence through a awareness of pain, working towards the goal of solitude – not an alienating sense of isolation from all else, but a rarefied sense of having achieved equality with all that exists, a moment of perfect realization self.
“Elephant Doctor” is also concerned with pain, making a distinction between the worlds of humans and animals, where animals accept pain as another aspect of life while humans never can. The pursuit of an inaccessible perfection, the writer seems to say, is the human condition, doomed to failure. Jeyamohan’s stories challenge the reader to pause and turn inward, let go of divisive ideas and embrace a space where there are no heroes or villains, “just ordinary people trapped in this thing called life…they get jealous, they get resentful, they go out of their way to usurp what belongs to others.
The interpretation of the Tamil title by the translator Aram, bringing the Sanskrit “dharma” closer to the “true” is an act of resistance to linguistic hegemony. Priyamvada consistently avoids simple substitutions, refusing to lull the non-Tamil reader into easy familiarity and consequent distancing from the cultural spaces to which the stories belong.
The translator takes on the challenge of presenting a complex set of stories to a wider audience and, in doing so, in her own words, “takes the language on a journey through the various changes of pace during these stories, the leaps of ‘imagination. , the immobility of introspection, the vigor of dramatic moments, etc.
stories of the truerightly, also defines the “real” of the politics of translation – a process of bringing a language, its poetics and its dynamism, a few steps closer to an audience that desires understanding, not homogenization.
stories of the true, Jeyamohan, ttranslated from Tamil by Priyamvada Ramkumar, Juggernaut.