Wednesday, July 22, 2015

48 hours With Jeyamohan

Rabbi Ben Akiva told his favorite disciple Simeon Ben Yochai "Son, more than the calf wishes to suck does the cow wish to suckle". Those words were written by my father, as a sort of dedication, when he gifted his young boys a book of questions and answers that he had bought in order to wean them away from the smutty Tamil weeklies and puerile Amar Chitra Katha comics. Those words kept flashing in my mind the 2 days that Jeyamohan spent with me in New Jersey. Jeyamohan is often mockingly, and sometimes lovingly too, referred to as ஆசான். He has fully earned that moniker.

A few days before he embarked on his visit to US Jeyamohan (or his webmaster) had re-published his review of T.J.S. George's biography of M.S. Subbulakshmi. When first published it stirred a hornet's nest with the usual wailing questions of "do we need to know her antecedents", "why should a biography wash dirty linen" etc. Of course Jemo had answered all of them with gusto. The re-publication invited a torrent of the same questions from the same usual suspects and Jemo answered them, again, unflaggingly. I told a friend, the man is indefatigable in his quest to educate the Tamil society that is still intellectually feeble.

Despite the fact that I had written so much against Jeyamohan in blogs and Facebook somehow my email id had landed in the list of recipients in an email chain discussing travel arrangements for him. Boston Bala was co-ordinating the North East portion of Jemo's travel. It was decided that Jemo would spend nearly 5 days in New Jersey. A good hearted host agreed to take Jemo and his wife Arunmozhi to New York City for 2 days. Question was what to do for the remaining days? A curious thought struck me. After all I've spent a lot of time reading, discussing, debating and disagreeing with Jeyamohan I felt I owed him something for all the intellectual fodder that he provided. I always love to share my adoration of my adopted motherland and I thought why not take Jemo to Philadelphia, the cradle of America's constitution and to Lancaster, to visit the Amish, a very curious set of people.

Meantime Bala tried to get New Jersey Tamil Sangam (NJTS) organize a meeting. An NJTS functionary, a self declared regular reader and friend of Jeyamohan, was irked that NJTS is being asked to host an event during weekday and that NJTS was not properly looped in on the arrangements. To be fair, he had a point. It was at this juncture I decided to write to Jeyamohan directly offering my hospitality and home. I wrote to him that I'd like to host him and that he'd be treated very honorably, our disagreements notwithstanding. Jemo responded warmly that he holds me in regard and that our disagreements, while they may continue, are not personal in nature and that he'd be happy to stay with me.

One of the pleasant surprises of Jemo's trip to US this year was readers getting to see a doting and romantic man who luxuriates in the love of his adoring wife Arunmozhi. The photos that he published showed an intimate couple having the time of their life. Remo had written that Arunmozhi too loves to visit museums and historic places. I had come to know of a very unique exhibition in NYC organized by author William Dalrymple about Delhi Sultans. I immediately informed Jemo's host and he, with great effort, worked it into their schedule.

Meantime as it always happens with our wonderful Tamil brethren and even more wonderful Tamil Sangams a whole set of shenanigans unfolded. When I saw the happy couple picture of Jemo I so wished that the couple just have a fun time enjoying this country that I love dearly and not get dragged into the usual dog and pony show that usually happens around such visitors. However, I also decided that just because he is staying with me that I should in no way be an obstacle for what he may choose to do or who he wants to meet with. He gets to choose, not me.

Jeyamohan has written incessantly over the decades and especially over the past 5 years he has written copiously on the web about any number of topics. In fact one has to wonder if there is anything he has not written about. I wished we could spend some time in and around Philadelphia soaking in the American experience. Anyway I decided to be a spectator to the unfolding spectacle.

Our wonderful people have no respect for a person's time or privacy. Jeyamohan had announced nearly a month ahead about his travel and now at the very last minute a person hounded, literally hounded me, to get a time slot with him for an interview. This despite the fact the person had read, literally, nothing by Jeyamohan. Though a friend I found the request to be very unseemly. Anyway I just conveyed the request to Jeyamohan who politely turned it down. He was in US to show his wife around. He turned down another request too.

Finding a suitable venue for an evening meeting was a challenge. Pazhani Jothi, another devoted reader, found a venue and booked it with post-haste. Now that somebody else had taken the pains to arrange the venue NJTS happily stepped in to take credit and take over the meeting. தமிழர்கள் அல்லவா.  One of my persistent criticisms of Jeyamohan is that he steps into areas that are not his forte (right now P.A. Krishnan has a thread going on in Facebook about Jemo's remarks on Raja Ravi Verma). A few days before Jemo's NJ arrival I had sparred with two others about Gandhi's place in history. I thought it'd be a good idea to suggest a topic to Jemo that he could do justice to. I suggested, in the email chain, that he speak on Gandhi. Unbeknownst to me now NJTS and some other fringe organizations had taken control of the meeting. By the way I had also suggested that I could introduce both Jemo and the topic thus giving the evening a structure that it then seemed to lack. An NJTS functionary bristled at the suggestion and in an impolitic email he brushed it all aside. I just chuckled and put my faith in Jemo's ability to deliver despite the innate abilities that the Tamil Sangams have to screw up. And, trust me, my faith was prophetic.

"Welcome to the city of Ayn Rand". With those words I welcomed Jemo on a breezy and warm summer evening in NYC. We were near the NYSE building. Thus began a very pleasant 48 hours.

Jeyamohan did share some tit-bits concerning movies that he was working and the movie industry in general over the 2 days. To be fair to him never once did he say, regarding anything, 'this is off the record'. However I'd much rather leave the particulars aside, except where absolutely necessary, because it'd be fodder for gossip and unnecessary controversy.

We hit it off straight away by talking about Gandhi and Nehru. When we visited the 9/11 memorial I told him how the names were arranged in a unique manner, not alphabetically, but clustering names of colleagues and friends who died together that day thus giving a sense of the life the victims lived.

Pazhani had very kindly consented to drive us around for the next two days in his very spacious mini-van. Jemo and I occupied the second row and chatted away to glory thanks to Pazhani.

Jemo narrated how he maintains his self-worth, intellectually and economically, in the movie industry. Details aside, suffice it to say, the man knows his worth and even more important he knows how protect his 'brand value'. I told him that he has an Ayn Rand in him. விதி சமைப்பவரல்லவா. Intellectuals in an attempt to establish their uniqueness often decry and deny those that they resemble most. Incidentally Ayn Rand too enjoyed being in the movie industry.

The discussion turned towards education and how pathetic Indian education is. I then narrated about why the supremacy and uniqueness of American Universities is a much less spoken of dominance compared to the dominance of US in finance and military strength. I was quoting from Jonathan Cole's 'The Great American University' and Fareed Zakaria's recent column on the importance of liberal arts in education. As I was speaking I could see that he started staring out of the window. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he thought I was didactic. I guess it takes one to recognize another. Over the 2 days I figured out one thing he's on this trip entirely to show his wife around. Jeyamohan's curiosity about what he saw was cursory and passing. The stress of writing Venmurasu totally occupied his mind. And then there were the weighing concerns of how the new movie was being received, his deliverable to other directors etc. Don't get me wrong, he was an animated conversationalist most of the time, just not too much in a listening mode.

I think he mentioned something about his visit to Paris and then topics shifted to western art versus Indian conception of art. He quoted extensively from A.K. Ramanujan to establish that Indian art must be appreciated within its own paradigms and not through Western prism. Modern ideas on diversity and political correctness completely resonate with his views that each culture and civilization must be studied on its own plane for appreciation and one cannot be held as superior or inferior to another in comparison. However, I could not help remembering Allan Bloom's book 'Closing of the American mind' wherein Bloom had argued that one should not indiscriminately accept all as equals.

As we neared the Constitution Center in Philadelphia I went into the framing of the constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Ratification, the Federalist Papers, the anti-federalists etc. At the Constitution Center it was a glorious July 2nd and in view of July 4th there was no visitors fee. The whole place swarmed with hundreds of school children who had come to learn how this great nation was formed. I was telling Jeyamohan that this is what we miss in India. Even today there are not many good books written about Indian constitution. We had lunch at Farmicia, off Market Street. Delicious food. Jemo wanted to know if after 250+ years are there any current problems that can be traced to the US constitution and if there is any part of the constitution that is still hotly debated. I readily cited the hot debate that rages over the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms). Then I cited few key Supreme Court decisions starting with Marbury v Madison.  When we later toured the center I pointed out the exhibits that illustrated all that I had just listed. The short presentation on US constitution, from what I inferred from his body language, did not impress him much. He, however, noted how the presentation, made by an African-American, did not flinch in discussing the less than glorious chapters of US history like slavery, Vietnam, segregation etc. Of course I emphasized that school children watch this less than idolatrous version of the country's history.

While we were in Philadelphia an anxious NJTS functionary kept nagging Pazhani about our whereabouts. Apparently he was worried that given how he stymied me from introducing Jemo in the meeting that I might play spoilsport by somehow detaining Jemo on some trumped up excuse from attending the evening meeting. I told Pazhani that such things are beneath me and I'd respect Jemo's independence and his choice of speaking at any venue or meeting anybody. In this context Jemo recounted how his books were once published by a group in New Jersey. The publisher, run like a mom and pop operation, eventually folded and Jemo had to hunt for a publisher. Curiously the NJ based publishers that included an acquaintance of mine were not too happy and sought to influence Jemo's decision including advising him to choose an indie publisher though it may not be financially rewarding. I chuckled and told him that the person who advised him thus was a high priced independent consultant who would not sacrifice a dollar in his rates.

The issue of what Jemo was to speak on came up. The nagging NJTS representative too had been wanting to know the title so he could prepare his remarks. Fair enough, I'd do the same. Jemo said that while I asked him to speak on Gandhi the others wanted him to choose some topic that was literature oriented. I told him it's entirely his liberty to choose and that he can gladly discard my suggestion. Frankly I had no interest simply because there are no topics that I could think of that he had not written about or expounded in detail, including Gandhi. Actually I'd have preferred if we could've spent the evening going around the city of Brotherly Love and soaking in the experience instead of yet another evening of a speech followed by very predictable inane questions. Anyway it was his choice. We headed back to New Jersey with all of us dozing off and Pazhani being Parthasarathy.

Arunmozhi instructed Jemo to freshen up and wear a new shirt for the evening. It is fun to watch them interact. En-route to the venue Jemo recounted the  places Gandhi visited in Tamil Nadu, with dates, and how many of those places, now memorials, are in a dilapidated condition. Jemo was very warmly received by NJTS organizers and the function started without much ado and an excellent rendition of the song of benediction to Tamil by a very fine singer who looked fine too. Her name slips my memory. I heard from another friend that she's quiet the rebel.

Thankfully I did not get to speak at the function else the person who read out an interminably long essay, he thought he was speaking, would've been eclipsed and I hate nothing more than shining by contrast that too compared to one like that. I'd have preferred water boarding. I dozed off until Jeyamohan started speaking. Jeyamohan, as he himself  often says, is no flashy speaker. He lacks a stage presence, does not speak in a commanding tone and his speech itself does not have rhetorical flourishes. Put simply, he is not Jeyakanthan. What he lacks Jeyamohan more than compensates with insights and substance. A listener has to be patient and wait to be subsumed by the torrent of ideas. Speaking on the title இலக்கியத்தின் நாற்றங்கால் Jeyamohan composed his speech like a symphony put together by a composer with the pieces falling in one after another to culminate on a high note. The speech was easily a shining example of everything a fine speech should be. Jeyamohan was in a league of his own and did not merely shine by contrast.

Starting with Begali writer's of note like Bhibuthi Bhushan Bannerjee he went on to Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Marathi listing highly acclaimed authors and select works that are critically acclaimed and have stood the test of time. He relished being the quintessential teacher. ஆசான். Rabboni. He listed India's writers from each state and in my mind I could picture the names as they dotted the Indian peninsula like a garland. And the connecting dot amongst all of them was Gandhi. At this moment of realization he appeared like a master composer who draws in the listener and then reveals in all sublimity the unifying theme of a symphony. When a topic and the speaker do each other proud the finest moment of a wonderfully delivered speech occurs. Jeyamohan artfully and succinctly illustrated how Gandhi and the Gandhian movement inspired a nascent renaissance of Indian literature. What impressed me most in the speech, apart from how he wove the tale, was how he picked out the authors and works and offered very sharp summaries of key works. It is a great loss to Tamil Nadu's academia that people like Jeyamohan, Nanjil Nadan, P.A. Krishnan and Ambai are not engaged to teach literature courses like how American universities used to engage William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. I later told Jemo that speaking on Gandhi brings out the best in him and that's why I had suggested that as topic. I am in no way taking any credit here. Jemo had not explicitly prepared anything and he probably took my suggestion and the desire of NJTS and struck an inspired compromise to deliver what even he himself considered a new outlook on Gandhi. That said I'd not think it was totally extemporaneous. As a one time avid practitioner of the art of extempore I could realize that in an inspirational moment the thoughts fell into a place in Jemo's mind where they were  previously a jumble of facts, often repeated in other contexts and in different articulations.

The Q&A session was predictably drab with very predictable questions that he had answered umpteen times in his blogs. "Why do you write Venmurasu", "why do you answer every reader's email" and few other very forgettable questions. Yesterday in an altercation on Facebook an NJTS functionary in a not too subtle jab at me had listed a few names as avid readers of Jemo (by implication I was not) and one of them asked a question which was nakedly provocative. "நீங்கள் காந்தி இலக்கியவாதிகளுக்கு ஒரு உந்துதலாக இருந்தார் என்று சொன்னதெல்லாம் சரி, அவர் ஏன் கேவலமானவர்களை தன் அரசியல் வாரிசுகளாக உருவாக்கினார்?". இதைக் கேட்டுவிட்டு ஒரு எக்காளமான எகத்தாள சிரிப்பினை சிரித்துவிட்டு (ஒரு ஆபாசமான சிரிப்பென்றே சொல்லலாம்) தன் பக்கத்திலிருந்தவர்களை நோக்கி இன்னும் எகத்தாளமானப் பார்வை ஒன்றை வீசிவிட்டு சந்தோஷமாக அமர்ந்தார் அந்த இந்துத்துவர். Jemo bristled at the implication of particularly Nehru he gave a stinging reply and concluded that such questions reflect a sick mind. I know the questioner by acquaintance and as we chanced to be together I told him "Pardon me but your tone was purely to irritate him and to put it bluntly you meant it in the vein of 'வக்காளி கேட்டேன் பாத்தியா'". he chuckled and persisted with "you know Nehru was a dictator". I replied "sorry I know there is no point in arguing with you so I'll desist".

Dinner was hosted at an NJTS functionary's residence. More q&a. Jemo was given a nice red color upholstered chair and like any Indian get-together the seating was gender segregated with men on one side and women on another side. More predictable questions. The questions from the women's section were embarrassingly pedestrian. I almost winced thinking "well no wonder Jemo thinks there are only 4 or 5 women in all of India to talk intellectually" (I disagree with that but the evening kind of proved him rather sadly). One lady even shocked by congratulating Arunmozhi for looking after the home and nourishing Jeyamohan thus giving Jemo to literature. Another lady wondered if Jemo watched TV with his kids. Luckily no one asked if Jemo knew how to change diapers. But to be fair to the ladies the men folk had their own variety of tiresome questions including some that were answered just a few minutes ago in the meeting. Jemo was patient with all questions and answered even the most trivial with all sincerity.

A brief moment of intellectual discussion was when Jemo spoke about Milan Kundera's 'Unbearable Lightness of Being' and 'பின் தொடரும் நிழலின் குரல்'.  His distrust of intellectual reasoning in his novel led to a discussion on his views on the role of inspiration in creativity. It was the only moment when I openly disagreed with him in the trip. When I decided to host him I decided not to dredge up every topic that I disagreed with him because I invited him only as an avid reader, however much I disagree with him, and to show him a good time in places that I love. I said I disagreed with his blog 'கம்பன் நிகழாத களம்' where he had opined that the poems of Kamban where Kamban's genius falters are those where Kamban, an instrument of an unnamed destiny (I am paraphrasing here), did not occur. I asked him "if a writer is nothing but an instrument of manifest destiny then why should we credit him or her? Sure, a writer reworks material from existing sources or is inspired by some idea but the 'act of creation' is entirely a volitional one and by making it look like it all 'just happened' we actually detract value from the creation". Jemo disagreed saying that he owes a debt to many predecessors for Venmurasu. I still don't buy the explanation but left it with the comment that as a person respecting guru  parampara this was his way of paying his respect to his predecessors.

On our way back Jemo circled to the topic of Nehru as dictator. He said, quoting an RSS member, "after Gandhi's murder there was an overwhelming hatred of RSS. It was the moment in all of RSS history when it was at its weakest. If Nehru had even executed all of RSS public opinion was on his side. RSS pleaded with him to let the law run its course and if proven innocent to be accepted. Nehru, a democrat, conceded and RSS still lives". The two days that he was with me Jemo kept returning to what a great leader Nehru was.

Given Jemo's interest in Gandhian life style I thought he might find it curious to see the Amish life in Lancaster PA. Lancaster is a good 2-3 hours drive from my home. Yet again Pazhani came to the rescue. This time his wife joined us too.

The chronology of discussions is a blurry now after a fortnight. Sometime in one of those long drives Arunmozhi raised the topic of intolerance amongst Tamil Pentecostal Christians and Christians in general. When we met in NYC I had recounted, over dinner, how my dad raised us in a very liberal outlook compared to many other Christian families including relatives. My brother is married to a Hindu in the  Hindu custom. The bride is the daughter of a person well known to Jeyamohan.

I replied to Arunmozhi that yes a culture of intolerance and a sense of siege mentality pervades Tamil Christians. Desirous of severing their Hindu heritage silly practices like frowning upon bindi, reading Mahabharata,even watching a Sivaji Ganesan starring movie about a Mahabharata character (Karnan), stepping foot in a temple etc are all commonly frowned upon by Christians. One of my relatives shocked and violated my sense of decency when she said Christians should no longer donate and support 'Udavum Karangal' Vidyagar, a Christian, because he is very Hindu friendly. Vidyagar provides yeoman service to orphan children and to say a Christian should not donate money is the most un-Christian act. Ever since Modi took up the yoga issue a message that went viral on a whatsapp group of Tamil Christians was about how evil yoga was and how its a pagan religion etc. I was appalled and disagreed with another relative on Facebook about that. My dad used to prescribe pranayama exercise to his patients who had breathing issues. While all that is deplorable one has to also see this intolerance contextually within how minority groups zealously try to protect their identity and even more zealously try to differentiate themselves from the majority. I told her that I equally know Christians who are liberal in outlook and then there are equally bigoted Hindutva proponents. We laughed about a famous group in California that is quite notorious on social media for their rabid Hindutva outlook. I know an Iyengar woman who would not eat at her daughter's home because she married, lo and behold, an Iyer boy. Intolerance is a disease that pervades Indian body politic cutting across religions.

Angered by the comments against yogas by Christians I decided to buy a book that was on my wish list for a while. Princeton University is publishing a series of books called "Lives of great religious books". I had reviewed "The Bhagwad Gita: A biography" by Richard Davis last year. Now I bought David Gordon White's acclaimed "The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A biography". Though I started reading it I felt like I should gift it to Jeyamohan. I asked him if he would be interested in reading it (not wanting to impose it on him and also mindful of the fact that many were gifting him books and he must be running out of space in his luggage). He said 'gladly, please sign and give'.

I almost forgot to mention how Jeyamohan is adept in mimicking accents and narrating hilariously comic incidents (many about the Church and clergy in Kerala) with panache. We had a rip roaring time enjoying those narrations.

We had booked a nice 3 hour Amish tour experience which took us to 3 Amish homes. As an Ayn Rand person the Amish life style and its inconsistencies, I'd even say hypocrisies, are contemptuous to me. What is the use of saying we will not use electricity but then we'll use propane gas to power equipments? The curious aspect of their life style aside it did not impress Jeyamohan either. He summed it up as "they are a religious group adhering  to a set of rules that's all". In Gandhi's negation of technology there's philosophy and a certain ideological edge unlike the Amish whose motivations are driven more by religion.

We went to 'Olive Garden' for dinner. Pazhani ran out and got some fruits for Jeyamohan who eats only fruits for dinner. Pazhani really pulled out all the stops in taking care of Jeyamohan and his wife. I am sure Jemo's stay with Pazhani's family must have been very enjoyable and something to remember. Dinner time chat turned to 'பின் தொடரும் நிழலின் குரல்'. I read that book, Koestler's 'Darkness at noon' (2nd reading) and Kundera's 'Unbearable Lightness of Being' all almost back to back. In addition I read 'Stalin' by Isaac Deutscher and 'The Red Tsar' by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Two days earlier I was telling Jemo how I wrote a blog on the incongruity of Trotsky writing in his diary that killing the Tsar's family was justified unmindful of the fact that at that very moment he was himself fleeing for his life from Stalin. Jemo's novel, which I read later, features the same wonderment about Trotsky.

Writer P.A. Krishnan's fondness for Stalin featured prominently in our discussion. Neither of us had any rational explanation for a very erudite person like P.A.K adoring a monster like Stalin. I cited how Kundera's Tomas writes an article decrying the intellectuals for pulling the wool over people's eyes by concealing the grotesque nature of Communism. Having warmed up to the topic I posed a couple of questions to Jemo on his novel. First, why did he consider that if the Soviet Revolution had been led by women it'd have seen less bloodshed ('புரட்சிப் பெண்களால் நடத்தப் பட்டிருந்தால் இவ்வளவு ரத்த வாடை வீசியிருக்காது').  He demurred that that's only a view point expressed by a character. If I remember correctly Jemo has used that phrase as his own opinion in some blogs of his thats why I posed the question to him. A fiction writer can easily dissociate himself from what a character says in the pretext that it is the character speaking. I shall write a detailed review of the novel as to why I still consider it his own view. Though he veered away from communist circles he still retains a fondness for Marxism which, like P.A.K's love of Stalin, is inexplicable to me. I did tell Jemo that his research on Stalin was spot on and how he was correct about communists actively trying to cover  up Marx's affair with Helen Demuth. Written in pre-wikipedia times that too sitting in India it was difficult to research that topic. One curious thing I observed is that he often cites Malayalam or Tamil translations of many western authors including Deutscher (I think). Probably he feels more comfortable reading them and probably they were more readily available too. I pointed out that his characterization of Bukharin's wife as innocent and naive was not however true in real life. I had always wanted to tell Jeyamohan that he handles portrayal of sex scenes better than Charu Nivedita. தமிழ் எழுத்தாளர்களில் சிறந்த செக்ஸ் எழுத்தாளரென்று ஜெயமோகனை தாராளமாக சொல்லலாம். When I had a private moment with him I did tell him that (had to be safe because a lady I had not seen before was there with us. I am not referring to Arunmozhi). Jemo smiled and said "don't spoil my name".

We briefly discussed his writing of Venmurasu. I am not sure how the topic cropped up. He has answered a hundred times as to 'why' he writes it. I did not want to insult him by asking again "why are you putting so much effort into it? how many are reading?' etc. Earlier while discussing about Derrida he said Nitya used to say "when approaching a writer like Derrida who has written copiously we now have the luxury of just going directly to a summary of his corpus, a 'readers edition', because the sum total of his efforts is to reach that pinnacle. Every book is an incremental effort in that direction". I cited how many multi-volume books have gone out of print. He quickly pointed out that the books I cited are non-fiction and that Venmurasu, a re-creation of an epic that is close to the Indian psyche, will not lose relevance or reader interest. He expressed the hope that many 'reader editions', smaller novellas, would come out of each volume. May his hope be rewarded.

In the course of that discussion Will Durant again came up as a topic. He had once written that Durant was a typical colonial outlook writer who looked down upon Eastern philosophy. I had then written to him that that was not at all true and to the contrary Durant highly respected Eastern philosophy. I quoted Durant himself and then pointed out how he wrote his first volume on "Story of Civilization' dedicated to India and China. Durant had visited India to gather material for that and even met Gandhi. Now Jeyamohan brought it up and said "No, Aravindan I was about to reply you back but I forgot. I collected evidence about a protest letter signed by several Indian authors scolding Durant for his omission of India in the first edition of Story of Civilization". I told him that that simply could not be true and that probably some mistake happened either in the local translations or local editions. Only later I remembered that Durant wrote another book called 'The case for India" arguing for India's independence.

Finally as the evening was drawing to a close I asked him one question that had been nagging me for a long time. How could he, a person who considers Nithya Chaitanya Yathi and Sundara Ramasamy as his mentors, consider Ilayaraja a mentor. I omitted mentioning prostrating at Raja's feet. Jemo did not flinch or demur but he gave a lengthy answer cheerfully. I'll omit the answer here for the same reason that I said I'd rather not divulge any of the cinema related discussions. Suffice it to say it was an interesting and at least a part convincing answer. I left it at that.

So what are my impressions in summary? This was just a friendly hosting for a person with whom I had corresponded and one who I read avidly. I saw a very warm and funny side of Jeyamohan. I hope he has pleasant memories too. Other than that neither expected any revision of opinions of the other. He had charmingly written "I'll be happy to accept your hospitality and you can continue disagreeing with my opinions". I was indeed surprised that he had not read Sinclair Lewis. One thing I've observed about those who write in Tamil is that while they are very well read in the fiction area, especially of the Russian and Latin-American writers, their exposure to American writers beyond Faulkner, Bellow and a few others is not that much. Possibly a paucity of translations could be a reason. Jeyamohan, thanks primarily to his tutelage under Nitya and Su.Ra, has quite a breadth in World history, philosophy, art, sociology and anthropology. However, many of the authors he cites are pretty long gone. Sure, many of the books though dated are still gems but newer scholarship in recent years has added to the knowledge. Also once he arrives at a conclusion based on some author I don't think he relishes revising his opinion. For instance his recent talk on Ravi Varma was based on his readings of A.K. Ramanujan.

Tagore's chief bone of contention with Gandhi was the latter's nationalism. Tagore feared that strident nationalism would breed a certain parochialism. That's why Tagore probably saw a more kindred spirit in the more cosmopolitan Nehru. Jeyamohan loves India and Indian heritage very, very deeply and it completely colors his worldview. Anything Western raises suspicion in his eyes.

Another observation is about his fascination about the movie industry. I do not share his enthusiasm about the movie industry much less the Tamil movie industry. That said I'll gladly concede that it is his personal prerogative how he earns his money. Even if he stops writing literature today he has a body of work that'll speak his name for several decades. I don't expect him to serve Tamil society by writing literature and living in penury. Thats a silly and feudalistic expectation that does not behoove an Ayn Rand reader. But I'll be fair in probably saying that Jeyamohan the Atlas has decided to shrug literature and move on to movie industry. Let me be careful in saying categorically that I'll not characterize that kind of a move as sell out or Faustian bargain. A life can be lived at many levels in many phases. If he chooses to become a movie industry person that should in no way affect how his other works are judged. However, I doubt if another விஷ்ணுபுரம் or பின் தொடரும் நிழலின் குரல் or கொற்றாவை would happen anytime soon. Venmurasu has been a lifelong preparation for him so he could write that along side writing dialogues for Shankar and Kamal Hassan. The intellectual climate that he inhabited while writing those novels is different from what he inhabits today.

I am sure Jeyamohan will continue stir the hornet's nest every now and then. Just a day or two after we parted he re-published his blog "Am I a Hindu". It was a lengthy reply to a reader on what it means to be a Hindu. As usual it contained shockers in it like there being no place for 'doubt' in Christianity and how Buddhism was a very peaceful religion that never conflicted violently with other religions but engaged only in civil and high minded philosophical debate. I need to write a lengthy rebuttal to all that.

The natural question that arises at this point is what do I see in him? Whether I agree or disagree with him I owe him a debt because without those provocative blogs I'd not have gone in search of some answers and gained better wisdom.  While I disagree entirely with his view of the Christianization of South Korea I need to concede that if he had not raised it as an issue I may never have gone in search of details about that and that would've deprived me of a certain knowledge. Oh I almost forgot that he jokingly ribbed me that my blogs rebutting him have become staple diet for those who oppose him tooth and nail. And he also needled me on my blog against Abhilash's uncouth attack on Ambai. I later wrote to him that I don't write blogs instigated by somebody or to appease somebody. My blogs are in English and as such have limited readership. While I am happy to note that I now do have some decent readership I still plough my lonely furrow according to the dictates of my conscience. My choice of topic remains only what interests me that day and if I think I've a valid perspective to add. When a lady at the NJTS dinner asked if I'd write about Jeyamohan's speech that evening, which I told her I had liked, Jemo laughingly added "well, since he named his blog contrarian he tries not to write anything that is not contrarian or is complimentary of anything". Actually no. I've indeed written many that are about what I liked.

When all is said and done here are what I think will be Jeyamohan's contributions to the Tamil society outside of his novels. First, he incessantly and persistently teaches how to be a discerning reader. In a society where establishing standards and measuring against them is almost non-existent he is doing this at great personal cost because he mires himself in endless controversies. Sure other writers before him have done the same but thanks to the internet today Jeyamohan probably reaches more readers than others did before him and thanks to social media every time he kicks up a controversy there is discussion around it. Even if the discussions are mostly lumpen in nature it is still an incremental advance for the society. Second, in a state where political culture had completely decimated any healthy appraisal of India's heritage and its founding fathers Jeyamohan is almost the only sane voice stridently arguing for them. Third, in a feudal society that still asks "do we need to know M.S. Subbulakshmi's antecedents" he has patiently explained, time and again, why we need to tell inconvenient truths. Fourth, and this is most important, even when I disagree and say he is wrong on some issue I owe him the debt for at least having started a discussion.

Jeyamohan and controversies are inseparable. Even him being awarded the Iyal award became fodder for controversy. I had an exchange regarding that on Facebook. I've reproduced the transcript at the end of this blog (pardon the Tamil grammar mistakes).

ஜெயமோகனும் இயல் விருதும்: (இயல்-விருது-விழா-2015/) . அந்தப் பதிவை மறுத்து நான் எழுதியக் குறிப்பு:

ஜெயமோகனை அதிகம் மறுத்து எழுதிய என்னால் சற்றும் ஏற்க முடியாதப் பதிவு இது. தனி மனித காழ்ப்பே இப்பதிவில் தெரிகிறது. இயல் விருது மட்டுமல்ல ஞானபீடத்திற்கு முற்றிலும் தகுதியானவர் ஜெயமோகன் என்றுக் கூறுவேன். அவருடைய சமீபத்திய 'நான் இந்துவா" என்றப் பதிவிற்கு நீண்டதொரு மறுப்பை எழுத உத்தேசித்துள்ளேன். அப்பதிவில் உள்ள என் பார்வையில் தவறான முடிவுகள் மற்றும் கருத்துகளை தக்கத் தரவுகளோடு எழுத உள்ளேன். ஆயினும் அவர் மீது மதிப்புண்டு. தமிழ் இலக்கியம் மற்றும் கருத்தியல் சூழளில் ஜெயமோகனுக்கென்று ஒரு பீடம் இருக்கிறது.

"ஜோர்ஜ்.எல் ஹார்ட்டும், லணமி ஹோம்ஸ்ரோமும் தமிழின் பெரும் பங்களிப்பாளர்களாக எப்படிப் படுகிறார்கள் இவ்விருதுக் குழுவின் கண்களுக்கு?" என்று அவர் கேட்டதில் என்ன தவறு? அப்படி இந்தப் பதிவர் அது தவறானக் கருத்தென்றால் அதைத் தரவுகளோடு மறுத்துவிட்டுப் போகட்டுமே. ஈழத்திலிருந்து காத்திரமான இலக்கியம் வரவில்லை என்று ஜெயமோகன் பதிவிட்டதாக ஞாபகம். நான் படித்த வரையில் வேறெவரும் ஈழ எழுத்தாளர்கள் என்று யாரையும் கொண்டாடிப் பார்த்ததில்லை. அப்படியிருக்க ஜெயமோகன் ஈழ எழுத்தாளரைக் குறிப்பிடவில்லையென்று அவரை மட்டும் குற்றம் சாட்டுவது சரியல்ல. நாஞ்சில் நாடனும், எஸ்.ராவும் இயல் விருதுப் பெற்றப் போது அதைப் பாரட்டி சரியானத் தேர்வு என்று கொண்டாடியதும் ஜெயமோகனே.

உலக இலக்கிய வரலாற்றில் இலக்கியவாதிகள் விருதுகள் பற்றி இகழ்ந்துரைப்பது, விமர்சிப்பது பின் அந்த விருதைப் பெறுவது என்பதெல்லாம் ஒரு விஷயமேயில்லை. சரி அவர் விமர்சனமெல்லாம் தவறு என்றே வைத்துக் கொண்டாலும் அந்த விருதுக்கு அவர் முற்றிலும் தகுதியானவரே என்பதில் யாரும் ஐயம் கொள்ள முடியாது.
ஈழப் போரட்டத்தை எதிர்த்தற்காக ஜெயகாந்தனின் ஞானபீடத்தைப் பிடுங்கிக் கொள்வதா அழகு? நாஜிக்களுக்குப் பிரசாரம் செய்தார் என்பதற்காக பி.ஜி.வோடவுஸ் நூல்களைக் குப்பைஎன்றா சொல்ல முடியும்? வாக்னர் யூத வெறுப்பாளன் என்பதற்காக அவன் இசையைப் புறந்தள்ள முடியுமா? மொஸார்த் ஒருப் பொறுக்கி என்பதற்காக அவன் மேதமையை மறூக்க முடியுமா? 

ஜெயகாந்தன் பெண் படைப்பாளிகளையும்,பெண்ணிய வாதத்தையும் தூக்கிப் பிடித்தவர்ல்லர் அதற்காக அவர் எழுதியது குப்பையா? இது என்ன பத்தாம் பசலித்தனம்? நாய்பாலும், பிலிப் ராத்தும் பெண் வெறுப்பாளர்களென்றே அறியப் பட்டவர்கள் அவர்களுக்கு கிடைக்காத பெயரும் புகழுமா?

கவனிக்கவும், நான் ஜெயமோகனை மறுத்து அந்தப் பெண் எழுத்தாளர்கள் விவகாரத்தில் மிகவும் காட்டமான பதிவுகளை எழுதியுள்ளேன். 

இது ஏதோ அவர் மேல் நான் கொண்ட திடீர் அன்போ, மதிப்போ அல்ல. அவரை, முன்பேக் கூறியதுப் போல் நான் இன்றும் விமர்சிப்பவனே, ஆனால் அவரின் மதிப்பை சாரமில்லாமல் காழ்ப்புணர்ச்சியோடு வசைப் பாடுவது ஏற்க முடியாதது மட்டுமல்ல அதை மறுப்பதும் ஒரு அறமே.

என்னைப் பலர் “அவரிடம் ரசிக்கவோ சிலாகிக்கவோ உணக்கு எதுவுமில்லையா” எனக் கேட்டிருக்கிறார்கள். “நான் ரசிக்கும் ஜெயமோகன்” என்றுக் கூட எழுத நினைத்தக் கட்டங்களுண்டு. அவர் நியூ ஜெர்சியில் ஆற்றிய உரையைப் போல் வேறு யார் பேசியிருக்க முடியும் என்று எனக்குத் தெரியவில்லை.

நான் அவரை ஆசான் என்று குறிப்பிட்டது இணைய வழமையைப் பின் பற்றி தான். I'd much rather use the English phrase 'public intellectual'. என்னுடைய வழக்கம் அவர் பெயரைக் குறிப்பிடுவதுதான். ஆசான் என்று நான் குறிப்பிடுவது பெரும்பாலும் ஒரு kidding (நக்கல் என்றோ கிண்டல் என்றோ அர்த்தம் கொள்ள வேண்டாம்) அவ்வளவே. எழுத்தாளர் மீது யார் வேண்டுமானாலும் காட்டம் கொள்ளலாம். அவர் மீது மிகக் காட்டமாக எழுதியவன் என்ற முறையில் அந்த சுதந்திரத்தை நான் எப்படி மற்றவருக்கு மறுக்க முடியும். ஆனால் காட்டமாக எழுதப் பட்டது என்பதை சுட்டிக் காட்டுவதையும் யாரும் செய்யலாம். பொது வாழ்க்கையில் இருக்கும் யாரும் ஒழுக்க சீலர்களாக இருக்க வேண்டும் என்று நான் எதிர்ப்பார்ப்பதில்லை. அவர்களின் தனி வாழ்க்கை மற்றும் முரன்களை மூடி மறைப்பதை நான் விரும்பாத போதிலும் அதைக் கொண்டே அவர்களை எடைப் போடுவதும் எனக்கு ஒப்புமையில்லை. Unless the personal failing has a direct correlation with what they do or affects the public I've no issues. Radhakrishnan and Tolstoy were womanizers. You probably know more examples. I was only disagreeing with the article in as much as it seemed to imply Jemo was undeserving of the prize due to extraneous factors. If the article had established that his literature was no good and THEREFORE he was ineligible for a literary prize then I'd agree with the premise.

Since the topic of how to judge artists and writers is an interesting one I shall add a few remarks here. I don't mean to flog the topic however. 

ஜெயமோகன் யூத படுகொலைகள் வரலாற்றுப் பூர்வமாக ஆராயப்படவில்லையென்று அதிர்ச்சித் தந்தவர் தான். 2009-இல் அமெர
ிக்கா வந்துவிட்டு அப்படி எழுதினார். வேதனையான வேடிக்கையென்னவெனில் அவருடைய 'பின் தொடரும் நிழலின் குரல்' நாவலில் யூதப் படுகொலைகளை வரலாற்றில் நிகழ்ந்துவிட்டத் துயர் மிகுந்த சம்பவம் என்று எழுதியிருப்பார். 2009-இல் நான் அவருக்கு யூதக் கொலைகள் ஒன்றும் செவி வழி செய்தி அல்ல மாறாக மிகக் கறாரான வரலாற்றாய்வுகளுக்குட்படுத்தப் பட்டதெனெ எழுதினேன். அவர் அதை ஏற்கவில்லை. 2012-இல் அந்தக் கொலைக் களன்களுக்கு நான் நேரில் சென்று வந்தப் பிறகு மிக விரிவான மறுப்புரையை எழுதினேன். அவர் ஏற்பார் என்ற நம்பிக்கையில் எழுதவில்லை. வாசகர்களுக்கு வரலாறு தெரிய வேண்டுமென்று எழுதினேன். வரலாற்றில் ஆழ்ந்து ஆய்வு செய்யப்பட்ட ஒரு துயரத்தையே மறுத்த அவர் அதிகம் ஆவணப்படுத்தப்படாத IPKF வண் புணர்வுகளை மறுத்தது ஆச்சர்யமல்ல. அது சரியுமல்ல. ஜெயமோகன் எனும் எழுத்தாளரைப் பற்றிக் குறிப்பெழுதினால் இந்தக் குற்றச்சாட்டுகள் கட்டாயம் இடம் பெற வேண்டும். அவருடைய 'அறம்' கதைகளைப் பற்றிய மதிப்பீட்டில் கூட 'அறம் எழுதியவரின் தனி மனித அறம் வழுவியது' என்ற அளவில் தான் எழுதலாம். ஆனால் அறம் கதைகளின் இலக்கிய மதிப்பீட்டில் அதற்கு இடமில்லை. 'அண்ண கரணினா'வை டால்ஸ்டாயின் தனி மனித வாழ்க்கையைக் கொண்டு மதிப்பிடக் கூடாது. 

யூத வரலாறும், யூதப் படு கொலைப் பற்றிய வரலாறும் எனக்கு ஆருயிரானவை. ஜெயமோகன் அப்படி எழுதியது என் ரத்தத்தைக் கொதிப்படைய வைத்தது என்றால் மிகையில்லை. நிற்க. இங்கே வேறொரு ஒப்புமையும் தேவை. 

பி.ஏ.கிருஷ்ணன் ஸ்டாலினின் படுகொலைகளை மறுக்க மாட்டார் ஆனால் அவை ஏகாத
ிபத்திய சக்திகளால் அத்தீதமாக பூதாகரமாக்கப் பட்டன என்றும் புகாரின் போன்றோரின் கொலைகள் அக்காலத்திய நியமங்கள் படி அப்படி ஒன்றும் அநியாயமானவையல்ல என வாதிடுவார். பெர்னார்ட் ஷா கூட ஸ்டாலினை ஆதரித்துள்ளார் ஆனால் அவர் காலக் கட்டத்தில் ஸ்டாலினின் கொடுங்கோல் ஆட்சிப் பற்றி அவ்வளவாக வெளியேத் தெரியவில்லை. இன்றோ ஆதாரங்கள் கொட்டிக் கிடக்கின்றன. அவ்வளவு ஏன் உங்கள் தந்தைக் கூட சமூகத்தை மாற்றி அமைக்க தனக்கு ஸ்டாலின் போல் அதிகாரம் கிடைத்தால் நன்று என்றுக் கூறியதாக ஜெயமோகன் எழுதியிருப்பார் (அது உண்மையா என எனக்குத் தெரியாது). மேற்கத்திய இலக்கியவாதிகள் பலரும் ஸ்டாலினை விதந்தோதி அவர் நிகழ்த்திய ரத்த வெறியாட்டத்தை நியாயப் படுத்தியோ மறுத்தோ எழுதியிருக்கின்றனர். 

ஜெயகாந்தனும், குஷ்வந்த் சிங்கும் இந்திராவின் அவசர நிலைப் பிரகடனத்தை ஆதரித்தனர். 

IPKF-இன் வண்புனர்வுகளுக்கு வானளாவ குதிப்பவர்கள் விடுதலைப் புலிகளின் மனித உரிமை மீறல்கள் பற்றிப் பேசத் தயாரா (உங்களைச் சொல்லவில்லை அந்தப் பதிவர் போன்றவர்களைக் கேட்கின்றேன்). பதின்ம வயது பெண்கள் மற்றும் பெண் குழந்தைகளை அமைதிப் படை சோதிக்கத் தயங்கும் என்றறிந்து அப்பெண்களை போராளிகளாகவும் ஆயுதம் கடத்துபவர்களாகவும் பயன்படுத்தியதை மறுக்க முடியுமா?

ஜெயகாந்தன் ஸமஸ்கிருதத்தை ஆதரித்து சொன்னக் கருத்துக்காக ஒரு சாரார் காறி உமிழ்ந்தது நாமறிந்ததே. அவரும் புலிகளின் பிரிவினைவாதத்தை நிராகரித்து அவர்களை பாஸிஸ்டுகள் என்று சாடியதற்காக எவ்வளவு நிந்தனை செய்யப்பட்டார் சமீபத்தில். ஆனால் அவைகளைக் கொண்டா நாம் அவர் இலக்கியப் பங்களிப்பினை அளப்பது?

தனி மனித சுதந்திரம் பற்றி மாய்ந்து மாய்ந்து எழுதிய ஜெயகாந்தன் அவசர நிலைப் பிரகடனத்தை ஆதரித்தது ஒரு சறுக்கலே. அதைக் கட்டாயம் நாம் பதிவு செய்ய வேண்டும். ஜெயகாந்தன் எனும் இலக்கியவாதிக்கு தான் ஞானபீடம் ஜெயகாந்தன் எனும் அரசியல் விமர்சகருக்கோ தனி மனிதனுக்கோ அல்ல. ஜெயமோகனுக்கோ ஜெயகாந்தனுக்கோ ஏதேனும் 'அமைதி விரும்பி' பரிசளித்தால் இந்த் முகாந்திரங்கள் கொண்டு அவர்கள் அப்பரிசுக்குத் தகுதியானவர்களில்லை எனக் கூறலாம். 

எந்த மானுட அழிவையும், அமைதிப் படைக் கொலைகளோ, புலிகளின் மீறல்களோ, ஸ்டாலினின் வெறியாட்டங்களோ, யூதப் படுகொலைகளோ எதுவாயினும் சித்தாந்தத்தின் பெயரிலோ வேறெதுப் பெயரிலோ அவற்றை மறுப்பதோ, குறைத்துப் பேசுவதோ அறமல்ல. இது அமெரிக்காவிற்கும், இஸ்ரேலுக்கும் கூடப் பொருந்தும். 

I'd heartily recommend Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals" to know how Marx, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Russell, Shelley, Rousseau were all practically scumbags. smile emoticon


Prabhu said...

Awesome. This article made my day :)

Anonymous said...

A good summary. No one could have written it so interestingly. Glad to learn about lot of fine things about JeMo that we can't figure out from his writings.

//An NJTS functionary bristled at the suggestion and in an impolitic email he brushed it all aside.//

//While we were in Philadelphia an anxious NJTS functionary kept nagging Pazhani about our whereabouts. Apparently he was worried that given how he stymied me from introducing Jemo in the meeting that I might play spoilsport by somehow detaining Jemo on some trumped up excuse from attending the evening meeting.//

//The nagging NJTS representative too had been wanting to know the title so he could prepare his remarks.//

//Thankfully I did not get to speak at the function else the person who read out an interminably long essay, he thought he was speaking, would've been eclipsed and I hate nothing more than shining by contrast that too compared to one like that. I'd have preferred water boarding. I dozed off until Jeyamohan started speaking.//

Just curious to know this person ... is this that AnyIndian Publisher Sivakumar? If so, you better know about him more from his friends :-) You are lucky if you did not go too close to him :-)

sathish said...

>>> Another lady wondered if Jemo watched TV with his kids

Whats wrong with this question? .

I think its a fair inquisitive question, wanting to know how he spares time to his family space. intelleigence not necessarily be proven by intellectual question.simple questions can bring big answers.May be you expected a complex algorithm question.

VarahaMihira Gopu said...

I think a chapter in Kevin Kelly's book "What Technology wants" gives a more nuanced and deeper understanding of the Amish than your essay or Jeyamohans comments exhibit. The Amish have several groups, with varying standards and far better philosophy of technology's impact on society than Gandhi's simplistic rejection.