(Image Credit: Kalachuvadu Publications)
First published in 1970, Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal (“Certain Human Beings in Certain Times), not only won Jayakanthan a Sahitya Academy Award, but also ensured that his name endures in perpetuity in the pantheons of Tamil Literature. A blisteringly unsparing exposition of human character, Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal is a peek into consciousness and a search for conscience. Taking a scathing dig at received wisdom that ringfences the concepts of chastity, modesty and fidelity, Jayakanthan demonstrates in a novel way, the myopic manner in which an unforgiving world views a woman who is the unfortunate victim of circumstances beyond her control.
On an evening lashed by a torrential downpour, 17-year-old Ganga’s life is turned upside down. While waiting at a bus stop for the conveyance that will ferry her home, an egregious youth driving an expansive car lures Ganga into accepting a ride. A ‘ride’ that ensures that nothing ever remains the same. A defiled, demoralized and desolate Ganga arrives home only to be remorselessly thrown out of the house by a raging mad bull of a brother, Ganesan. Unable to bear the humiliation and shame brought onto the household by an ‘immoral’ sibling, Ganesan kicks Ganga out. Accompanying the girl is her widowed mother Kanakam, who also shares the brunt of Ganga’s fate when she attempts to put up a feeble defense.
Ganga is able to secure a roof over her head and a continuing education, courtesy her 70-year-old Uncle, and a renowned criminal lawyer, Venkatarama Iyer. However, Mr. Iyer does not just contend to carve out a niche with his vehement world play in Court. He also turns out to be an inveterate pervert prone to debauchery. Never missing an opportunity to stay close to his niece, Iyer takes immense pleasure and making Ganga uncomfortable with his unabashed advances and unashamed shenanigans.
A snide remark by Iyer combined with the appearance of a short story in a magazine that uncannily resembles her own fate spurs Ganga to embark on an adventure whose avowed objective lies in tracking down the man who divested her of her modesty. What follows is an absolute masterpiece in the dissection of human relations. Remonstrations, reconciliations, regrets and reformations collide, coalesce and collude as one lady is buffeted by gale forces that have the potential to either render her vulnerable or invest her with a murderous degree of viciousness.
Ganga both attracts and repels. While she reads Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, she herself is a mirror image of each of the brothers at different points in time – Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal! What a variegated portrayal of a single character! What a powerful enunciation of a confused soul grappling with unseen and untold emotions! Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal is also a dazzling exercise in word play. Ganga uses mind blowing analogies employing a smattering of English as she faces life’s curveballs that grants her acceptance while simultaneously making her feel rejected. Even when bereft of friends and besieged by foes, Ganga manages to hold her own in a formidably dignified manner. However, her greatest adversary is an organ weighing all of 250 – 300 grams and never in a state of rest. Its continuous throbbing and pulsing are Ganga’s flickering joys, flaming aspirations and floundering hopes.
Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal is both therapeutic and terrifying. More than anything else it is a courageous foray into the depths of human emotion. A courageous journey into unpredictable terrains. On second thoughts, not insurmountable after all by an explorer who is a veritable master of his profession.
Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal – a writer way ahead of his time!
PS: For the incorrigible movie buff, the silver screen adaptation of the book starring Lakshmi and Srikanth in the lead roles and directed by A. Bhimsingh released in 1977 and was an instant success. Lakshmi, as Ganga, won the 24th National Film Award for Best Actress.