Jeyamohan is a noted Tamil and Malayalam writer from Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, best-known for his highly-acclaimed novels and short stories. He has been a prolific contributor to South Indian literature, literary criticism, and to the Tamil intellectual sphere writ large. Since his first short story was published in 1987, he has written over fourteen novels, eleven volumes of short-stories and novellas, 26 books on criticisms, biographies, and numerous other non-fiction – a standing testimony to both the breadth and depth of his writings.
Shaken by inner turmoil and the death of a close friend, he left home at the young age of 17, traveling all over India. These travels and nomadic lifestyle during his formative years haves shaped his subsequent writings. His most acclaimed novel, Vishnupuram (1997), is a meta-fiction and a layered fantasy that spans across 800 years. Set as a journey through various Indian philosophical schools of thought, the novel depicts a fictional city coming to life and becoming the intellectual epicenter of India, going through a series of transformations ranging from Buddhist triumph to Bhakti revival. The novel vividly portrays the decay, deluge, and destruction experienced by the city, and how it blossoms and re-emerges again through the cyclical retelling of a story. In doing this, the novel beautifully illustrates the intricate relationship among history, mythology, and narrative. History gets mythologized, and mythology becomes historicized, all through a finely spun web of narrative. The novel can be read both as a socio-cultural commentary, depicting the glorious highs and lows of the various knowledge traditions of India, as well as an emotional and spiritual journey underwent by many characters spanning multiple generations – each of them traversing through an unique “razor edge” path. It is for these reasons that the veteran writer Asokamitran had called this novel as a singular achievement and the biggest effort in 100 years of Tamil literature.
A central thread that runs throughout most of Jeyamohan’s works is the complex, entangled, relationship between knowledge and ego, and the destructive outcomes that emerge in the process. Pin Thodarum Nizhalin Kural (1999) is a product of this examination. It is an inquiry into the nature and structure of ideological devices in unleashing destruction, and the “systems of justification” that leaders espouse due to their commitment to that ideology. Other well-known novels include Rubber (1990), Kanyakumari (2000), Kaadu (2003), Eazhaam Ulagam (2003), Kotravai (2005), Anul Kaatru (2009), Iravu (2010), Ullogam (2010), and Vellai Yaanai (2013). He was awarded the Akhilan memorial prize (1990) for Rubber, Paavalar Virudhu (2008), and Tamil Literary Garden Fiction award (2009) for his novel Kotravai.
Jeyamohan has authored numerous short stories and novellas. Many of them are set in the rural settings of Nagercoil and Southern Travancore, his native place. He skillfully weaves how the local knowledge traditions confront modernity, and capitalizes on the creative tension that this dialectic creates. Many of these are featured in “Jeyamohan Situkathaigal (2004)” and “Jeyamohan Kuru-novelgal (2004).” His other short story collections include Nizhalveli Kathaigal (2005), Visumbu (2006), and Oomai Chennai (2008). Aram (2011), his most recent collection, is based on real-life personalities, and depicts various dimensions of ethics. Aram resonated with a wide range of audience, and triggered a wave of appreciation across both literary and mainstream press. His short stories have won him the prestigious Katha Samman (1992) and Sanskriti Sammaan (1994) awards.
Jeyamohan’s Ilakkiya Munnodigal Varisai (2003), a collection of seven books on the forerunners of Tamil literature, is an in-depth and incisive analysis about veteran Tamil authors. Other works include.Kannerai Pinthodarthal (2006), an introduction to 22 key (non-Tamil) Indian novels, Naveenathuvathirku Pin Thamizh Kavidhai (1999) and Ullunarvin Thadathil (2004), an analysis of classical and contemporary Tamil poetry. Sanga Chittirangal remains a highly popular introduction to Sangam poetry, and Naveena Thamizhilakkiya Arimugam (1998) is considered to be a concise introduction to modern Tamil literature for young readers. He has emerged as one of the foremost proponents of Gandhian thought and political philosophy. His highly acclaimed Indraya Gandhi (2009) explains how Gandhian principles are applicable today more than ever.
Jeyamohan regularly writes in his website (www.jeyamohan.in) that has more than six thousand entries on a variety of topics. His website serves to productively interact with his readers and also creates a dialogical space for opposing viewpoints. Recently, he has turned into a screenplay writer and has worked on acclaimed National-award winning films such as Naan Kadavul (Tamil,2009) and Ozhimuri (Malayalam, 2012). He was given the Kerala Film Critics Association award for Ozhimuri. Since 1994, Jeyamohan has conducted literary gatherings that have enabled discussions and exchanges of ideas among Tamil and Malayalam writers.
Overall, through his compendium of fiction and non-fiction works and literary activities, Jeyamohan has been a tour de force of Tamil Literature and a central literary figure to emerge from the state over the past two decades, someone who has taken the movement forward by leaps and bounds to the future generations to come.
His latest and most ambitious effort till date is Venmurasu – a literary re-narration of the epic “Mahabharata.” He plans to accomplish this over the next 10 years and through a set of 25-30 novels in the series that could possibly run over 25,000 pages. When this vision is realized, Venmurasu would very well be longest novel series in the history of world literature.
But more than the duration or the number of pages, Venmurasu is singularly distinct in its approach to re-narrating the timeless epic. First, rather than a simple re-telling of Mahabharata for the contemporary audience, the author weaves and encapsulates the entire Indian thought into the novels’ narrative structure. In doing this, the philosophical, cultural, mythological, and geographic landscape of India during the time of Mahabharata gets deeply embedded into the readers’ psyche – all of which contributing to a vivid “re-lived” experience that a classical text would provide. Second, unlike many other contemporary re-narrations of Mahabharata, Venmurasu does not attempt to simply invert, negate, or transgress the original story and the characters. Neither does it try to focus its attention on one particular character at the expense of other characters. Rather, the novel fills the narrative gaps and expands upon the original story through establishing intense dramatic moments and via exploring the inner profile of various characters. For example, the Kuru king Shantanu’s son Vichitravirya – a minor character in the original narrative – is expanded upon in a full-blown manner. Third, although Venmurasu is a re-narration of the age-old epic, it is done so with the sensibilities of a contemporary novelist. The novel would resonate not just with the readers of Odyssey, Iliad, and Kamba Ramayana, or to those who like the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Thomas Mann, but also to those who are fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roberto Bolaño.
(Written by Arvind)