ஒளிப்படங்களுக்கு: ஆல்பெனியில் எழுத்தாளர் ஜெயமோகன்
I have known from personal encounters that it is a strange experience to meet a man of letters who has lived in one’s world of ideas alone. For, an image of the writer is unconsciously built in one’s mind as one reads more and more of his writings. I remember Sri Aurobindo’s remarks on D.H.Lawrence :
‘Anyhow it seems to me Lawrence must have been a difficult man to live with, even for him it must have been difficult to live with himself.’
Such impressions that the reader forms in his mind makes the writer, I believe, a curious object of observation when he is met in person. One at least unconsciously wants to see if the writer fits in the mould that one has already cast the image of the writer!
I have known the Tamil writer Jeyamohan only a year or so. I must have heard his name before but the name had not registered in my mind since I hadn’t read any of his works. Even now, I haven’t read any of his novels but the few articles that I read in the last one year from his website gave me the impression that here was a writer to whom writing was a commitment in life. A sense of such commitment isn’t some choice one makes as one chooses a profession or even a social service, but something that arises out of an inward response to human life. And such a response is invariably informed not only by a mastery of the writings of many great writers but also through conscious and unconscious observations of life in all its complexities. One not only learns from such writers but also enriches one’s life reading them.
When I knew that a good friend of mine was arranging a trip in US for Jeyamohan and that he would be spending a few weeks in the East Coast, I thought it would be a great occasion for me to spend a few days with a good writer by offering to take him around a few places. We meet people all the time and each encounter makes impressions some of which fade and some of which make a permanent remark. I was very curious to know if a writer (as him) would be a different person from most of the people I have liked to observe.
The first impression that I had of him as he stepped out of the greyhound bus from Boston brought a smile to me, since he didn’t have a mustache and the pictures that I had seen of him had it! He had arrived Albany with the distinction of traveling in a greyhound bus within five days of landing in the US (I have friends in the US who have never boarded a greyhound bus though they have been living here for fifteen years!).
As if it were not enough the bus he had originally booked got overbooked as well and he had to board in a later bus to Albany from Boston (which must be one of the rare events in the history of Greyhound bus service in the US, which gets hardly filled). He was shorter than me and a little older.
In the first few minutes itself, I remember I asked him if he spoke Malayalam at home, since his Tamil sounded strange to me (I found out later that I was not familiar with that accent that is common in Kanyakumari district). He was a little tired and sounded taciturn. I remembered Vairamuthu and I was wondering if he too would talk only a little, though he didn’t look stiff as Vairamuthu. That was only till we reached home.
It was already late in the night when I brought him home. From that moment, except for a short time when he was with his laptop, it was him talking, talking all the time till he dropped out of my car and boarded in another that took him to Milford, CT, along with another set of friends.
One cannot judge a person by his capacity to mingle with people (most great writers are very reserved in their nature; Wordsworth and Lawrence, despite their passion for human relationship and their acute sense of togetherness, were loners in their lives), but one observes an admirable openness towards life in the kind of unreserved nature that Jeyamohan had. He became talkative the moment he settled in our couch.
There was no sense of uneasiness of meeting someone and his family for the first time in life. And when he started talking about the Sourashtrians in Tamilnadu, of whom he knew a lot of information, and his acquaintance with M.V.Venkatram, a Sourashtrian-born Tamil writer, there was no more ice to be broken since he had touched the things that wear dear to my family as Sourashtrians — he was no more a stranger for us from then. The man who had been bits and bytes of written text for me began to materialize himself in flesh and blood as Captain Kirk and his Star Trek Crew would materialize from thin air! And as I found out in the next two days with him, he was not just a store house of information (which he possessed in an amazing quantity), but someone to whom such information was not a matter of some kind of intellectual curiosity, but something that gave a direction in his life.
We went to a few picturesque places around. While those places held their regular charm for me, I was more interested in listening to him. I wasn’t in the least disappointed that he didn’t have anything to say about D.H.Lawrence other than the fact that though he had read ‘Sons and Lovers’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lovers’, he had only found Lawrence to be ‘dated’, for which I would have loved to enter into a heated argument with someone else.
Nor was I perturbed when he said Sri Aurobindo’s exposition of the Gita sounded to him as written for Westerners’ understanding. For, I found that an argument about them would lead nowhere since he had the same interests, the interest in Life as related to the Mind and Civilization both had — only that his interests were given shape from another perspective. And there was no need for me to make a point as well, since I was in the presence of someone who had read far greater than me and hence had a lot to hear from.
On a lonely hiking trail along Lake George, one of the most picturesque lakes in North America, after taking a ride in the ferry which was sparsely filled because of intermittent rains that only added more charm to the lake with one half of it reflecting the somber light and the other half reflecting the lush green of the mountains around, he spoke on the relevance of philosophical thinking and the difference between the Eastern and Western modes of philosophical thought.
He elaborated on the snake-rope analogy of the Upanishads and related it to the two modes of perception and also took it to another level as expounded by his spiritual master, Nithya Chaitanya. Since it seemed to be a subject he loved to speak he was animated but pretty dispassionate in what he spoke. He didn’t seem to lose his mental poise at all when making his point.
Through his explanation I could see that he was reiterating a string of thought that he had in his mind for a long time but which needed constant articulation to strengthen itself into a meaningful argument : the very mode of philosophical thinking (which most readers find often repetitive).
Interestingly he had explained to me earlier how Philosophy relates to learning and life. I had earlier been struck by his simplified remarks on Wittgenstein from one of his essays and hence brought in this subject.
What was the purpose of writing thousands and thousands of pages if one could simplify a philosopher as that? That it gave one a sense of the process of thought (as he explained) was evident in the way he expounded his thoughts on its relevance. One may not need to read someone as Wittgenstein in depth to make a remark as he did in his essay on him, but without informed by the achievement of a voluminous philosopher as Wittgenstein, which can come only by reading him seriously, one could not speak the way he could on such subjects.
After a long talk that lasted till we came to the end of the trial, his eyes suddenly caught an animal that peeped out of its hole from the root of a tree and he was immediately fascinated by it. The lake was looking stunning as well and we switched over to talking something else.
A few friends at Albany wanted to meet him. He for sure seemed to be popular, at least through the quarrels in the battlegrounds of bloggers, if not through his novels. A few friends came to meet him at the Niagara Falls from Toronto .
As always, Niagara falls was crowded. I have never been attracted by this water falls except in unusual occasions as winter when the water freezes, but I was glad that Jeyamohan met some of his good friends from Toronto there and had a nice chat with them, which I too enjoyed listening to. The long drive to and fro Niagara Falls was memorable as well, since he continuously kept talking.
The third day after he came to Albany I dropped him off on the way to Connecticut , where he got picked up by his other friends. His unceasing voice, I kept hearing all through my drive back home.