The dawn of the 20th century saw popular magazines like Manikodi, Ananda Vikatan, Kalki, Kalaimagal and Kumudam introduce an unending stream of new writers. While Kalki and Devan dominated the field encouraged by media Moghul S S Vasan, Kumudam under S A P Annamalai helped find new rich talent like Ra Ki Rangarajan.
The spread of political consciousness also spawned fiery orators and writers including C N Annadurai and M Karunanidhi. A rapidly expanding film industry worked in tandem with emerging political classes to throw up more talent of poets and other litterateurs. The original themes that focused on mythology and brahminical life gradually diversified.
K Jayakanthan was self-made. He delved deep into literature and with the forceful pen created lasting masterpieces. He ran away from home and had his early stint with the communist movement. A great admirer of the renowned communist leader P Jeevanandam who was also a litterateur of merit, KJ was deeply impressed by communism. Many of his early writings marked a shift from the then existing focus on the middle class (Brahmin) life and issues to subjects dealing with people in lower rung of society like rickshaw-pullers, prostitutes and rag-pickers.
Reflecting his views on the morals, ethics and societal norms as a whole, KJs writings were portrayals of human life and relationships.
KJ won acclaim for wielding his pen against social injustices and economic inequality. The graphic description of the issues in lucid language marked a watershed in Tamil prose. Ananda Vikatan editor Manian spotted and admired the talent of KJ. Thus flowed a series of KJ’s novels. Agni Pravesam, Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal, Oru Nadigai Naadagam Paarkiral, Gangai Enge Pogiraal I remember thousands of
readers anxiously awaiting the next issue of Vikatan to continue reading KJ’s serials. KJ’s style of writing set the standard for several young writers to follow. For several years KJ held the stage as a writer of outstanding calibre.
KJ was honoured with the Jnanpeeth and Sahitya Academy awards and was also decorated with a Padma Bhushan. His Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal made as a film also won a national film award. In 2011, the Russian government felicitated him with the Order of Friendship award.
From communism to democratic socialism…
KJ’s political leanings changed from communism to the democratic socialism of Congress. In 1967 the Dravidian parties wrested power from Congress. In the 1970s the DMK earned a notoriety for corruption. KJ became its harshest critic. I remember his fiery speeches taking on the DMK in harshest terms. DMK stalwarts EVK Sampath, Kannadasan, along with KJ, mounted scathing attacks on the Dravidian party.
In later years KJ turned a recluse, shut himself out from political and social activities. Sadly, he stopped writing. His vast number of fans missed his lucid, fiery style of Tamil prose.
The KJ saga marked an important watershed in the evolution of Tamil literature. In his demise the Tamil literary world has lost one of its brightest stars.