Rishi moolam , consists of two novella from the Jnanpith Award winning Tamil authour D.Jayakanthan. I understand from the prologue and the note from the author that it had created enough stir in the society when it was published in the 1960s. Subjects which were considered taboo and was not discussed in public , the theme associated with 'sexual repression' ( I am not too sure) and Oedipal love might not have been something which is well appreciated. He seems to have won the wrath of the traditionalists , and his erstwhile comrades in Communists for his writing.
Rishimoolam ( the origin of saints - as it can be translated to English) , the first of the stories follows Rajaraman, in his transformation to a saint. His new found exterior is an attempt to escape the torments he carry within him. The room where his parents sleep was always a place of curiosity for the young Rajaraman. Not permitted to enter the place, where his mother spend her entire day and night, with servant moving in and out with eatable, father sneak under the darkness of night made the place to be something special. One occasion, while his mother is in the bath, Rajaraman manages to enter the room, but was trapped before able to get out by the entry by his mother after bath. Hiding under the coat, what he has witnessed was to cause a lasting image in his life. The naked figure of his mother starts haunting him in his sleep since then. This followed him, when he left his home to Chidambaram to pursue his College studies. Now staying with the childless couple, a classmate and close friend of his father, these dreams start reappearing, with his mother being replaced by the new aunt. After his final exam and before his scheduled return to his home, he leave their house absconding forever, in search of peace. Wandering, under the influence of drugs, he was mistaken for a saint by many. He was brought back to the home village, by his sister who spotted him at Calcutta. The return did not help him to get over the guilt, as he leave again, when the aunt come home to pay a visit to him again.
Rocking Chairs, is about a middle class orthodox family of a widowed mother and her 4 grown up children , each of them employed with reputed profession. The actions takes place at the dining room with rocking chairs, each of them occupied with one character. Alankaravalli Ammal, the mother rules the house with iron fist, and controls each movement of her children as we do for the school going children. Janaki, the youngest tries to get out of the shackle, attempting to get married to a photographer classmate, she has support only from the eldest of the sons ( already married , but was back in the nest of his mother, predictable). But the efforts are not good enough to cause a break in the system, to which she eventually succumbs. The rocking chairs, continue to rock.
Jayakanthan is a brilliant writer, and I guess some of the effects would have lost in translation. The conversations between the characters were interesting. There were references of psychological undercurrents and influences of Freud in his works , both in the introduction and in some related studies of his works as we see here.
"..but in stories such as Rishimoolam ( Origin of Saints) and Rocking chairs , Jayakanthan freely and daringly probes sexual repression and incest without the help of Western theoretical apparatus. Of cource, references to Freud is inevitable and enriching , but the stories are not dependent on these references."
Translation , according to me is not helpful for the general English reading enthusiasts. Even the Indian readers from other parts of the country will find this very difficult to comprehend. The use of Tamil phrases and words are abundant. This has been one of the complaints I have about the English Translation of fiction written in Indian languages. They lack the global appeal. Even if one has to recommend these books, to the attention of larger audience, poor translation comes in way as a huge shortcoming.
One need to read these short novels with the social and historical background of the stories and the time. The relevance of these at the time of the publication would have been different from that of now. In that context, this book is not something which has eternal relevance. The quality of fiction and the story by itself is nothing to classify as a tour de force.
Jayakanthan ( Translated from Tamil by K S Subramanian )
Indian Writing Publication