J.J: Some Jottings by Sundara Ramaswamy (ஜே.ஜே: சில குறிப்புகள்- சுந்தர ராமசாமி)
J.J : Some Jottings is a novel written by Sundara Ramaswamy fondly known as Su.Ra. It is a paradigmatic text of modern Indian fiction in many ways. It remains and will remain an unrepeatable masterpiece in Tamil fiction. Even after decades into existence, this novel is often used to represent the best of Tamil writing even today. This is a more an ‘anti-novel’ than a novel, say in the conventional sense. It doesn’t start where it should have started and end where it must have ended. This novel is an unique and successful attempt in the post-modernist Tamil literature. Though this is a novel of ideas engaged with burning questions of existentialism, it also acts as a parody that critiqued the Tamil society, culture and age-old literary traditions in Tamil.
“When the public well is poisoned, people see it clear as daylight. The intestines betrayed the poison. It’s not as easy to identify the mind’s enemies as it is with the body’s. Lying on a coir bed, reading a pulp book in English, Thoma complains about the bedbugs. He is least bothered about the invisible bugs from the book’s pages draining his blood.”
J.J: Some jottings is a novel which explores the writer-reader relationship and the effect of one on the other. This novel is sprinkled with many philosophical questions and theories that will excite the reader in one moment while in the next line or page it’ll refute its own theories with feigned innocence. This is a novel of ideologies! This novel wrestles with the pressing philosophical questions of all times. It provides insight into ideas, institutions, individuals and the souring of idealism. This novel’s eschewed narration, brought in a tone of intense meditation on the quality of human life and the problem of remaining human in life. This is a significant feat in the serious Tamil literature.
“Making decisions without wavering; pursuing them fully, right or wrong, unperturbed by contending propositions; not caring about the outcome, good or bad: these give peace. Peace of mind always winks at lethargy, it seems.”
The first half revolves the author’s admiration of the writer JJ while the second half of the book flows as diary entries of the fabled writer JJ. It is structured as a ‘posthumous fictional biography’ of a Malayalam writer authored by a Tamil writer. I was damned to know in the end that the Malayalam writer, whom the entire book is about, is a fictional character. This element simply made me go speechless. Because the author has provided as much details about the malayalam writer as he can. At first I’m greatly amazed by the humongous level of research he put to write the memoir of his favourite author. But to the contrary I was shocked and delighted as well to know that the writer’s character, dates, places, events and every single thing in this book is the writer’s imagination. The author takes the pain even to give elaborate footnotes of fictitious writers and has three pages of appendices to make this ‘biography-like novel’ seem authentic. Also Su. Ra. mentions Borges, Gorky and Albert Camus to a great extent in many places throughout the book and their influences on the Indian modernist writing .
“The term he employed is ‘Nihilist’. Hereafter, he’ll keep hurling this word. It has nothing to do with Turgenev. Probably picked it up from some Sunday magazine of a news daily. What did it originally mean? In what context, for what purpose, was it coined? He’s not in the least bothered. Haystacks are tipped over needles. And then it becomes the task of a suffering soul to locate the needle.”
Sundara Ramasamy was one of the pioneers and exponents of modernism in Tamil literature. He was the founder of ‘Kalachuvadu’ publications. He began his literary career by translating Thagazhi Sivasankaran Pillai’s ‘Thotiyude Magan’ (Scavenger’s Son) from Malayalam to Tamil. And he wrote poems under the pen name ‘Pasuvayya’. His other novels are ‘Oru Puliyamarathin Kadhai’ (Tale of a Tamarind Tree) and ‘Kulandhaigal, Pengal, Aangal’ (Children, Women, Men). His works are translated into many languages including Hindi, Malayalam, English and even Hebrew. He died on October 5, 2005 at the age of 74. One can arguably say that Su.Ra.’s language usage has set new directions and possibilities in Tamil literature. Reading Su.Ra. is like negotiating with a minefield!
“ Diary entries written by JJ are a topiary of ideas, confessions, confusions and contradictions. JJ lays himself bare, and inside the quarry of his existential vagaries we find a man empowered and emasculated by his own genius to the extent that he comes across as incontrovertibly grounded despite his ability to leap most others. Perhaps, Ramaswamy’s greatest accomplishment in writing a book of this nature is the fact that by the end, JJ becomes more an obsession of the mind, a wishful precedence takes over and you are left holding a void that Ramaswamy has conjured out of sheer imagination, the modernism from all of which is justification enough to read, re-read and read more of this wonderful writer.”
– The First Post.