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Writing for a cause

Print edition : Aug 24, 2007 T+T-

ONE of Jeevanandhams most significant contributions relates to his evolving a literary policy for the Communist movement in Tamil Nadu. A voracious reader, Jeevanandham evolved into a prolific writer as well. His writings encompassed a wide range of subjects from politics to art and literature, reflecting his humanist and rationalist ideology, liberated mind, spirit of fearless fighting and political vision.

Jeevanandham was not only a creative writer but also a critic with a high sense of balance and responsibility. Besides, he was a powerful essayist and committed journalist. Like his political life, his literary contribution was also multidimensional social justice with particular reference to Dalits, the quest for freedom from colonial rule, justice for women and liberation of the toiling masses according to the principles of Marxism.

As a boy, Jeevanandham had a passion for poetry; maybe because of its emotional appeal to people. He wrote a lot of poems in which he attacked the stratified social order that facilitated the oppression of a section of society as untouchable, and made out a strong case for ensuring a fair deal to it. The poems, written in a simple and traditional style, challenged the very base of this social stratification, Varnasrama Dharma, the Hindu religious code that sanctions this birth-bas ed discrimination. Many of his poems condemn the oppression of Dalits and question the system under which caste Hindus deny the low-born access to community roads and public places like temples, where even dogs and cats move about freely. As a rationalist who supported social reformer Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, Jeevanandham, in his poems, assailed superstition and questioned belief in god. He played a big role in popularising poets Subramania Bharati and Bharatidasan.

Later, when the Communist Party gave him the task of organising industrial workers and agricultural labourers, he found poems useful. Some of his best poems, which inspired working people to organise themselves and fight for their rights and which, of course, had a propagandist tone, were in fact written when he was leading strikes in the mills of Madurai and Coimbatore. He used his poems to rouse the working class and take the message of Marxism to broad sections of society. A great admirer of Subramania Bharati, Jeevanandham modelled some of his poems on the national bards. His poetry inspired youth to join the Communist movement. Kodikkal bhoothamada thozhilali kobathin roopamada (Worker is a monster with millions of legs the embodiment of anger) His Kaalukku cheruppumillai effectively portrayed the poverty of working people. Puthu ulaga kanavu speaks of the i deal world he dreams of for the poor and the oppressed and Paattali thozha instils confidence in workers that this ideal can still be achieved.

The literary policy he evolved for the party expected writers to represent the voice of the times in their works. He clearly advised them to neither dismiss ancient and medieval literature nor accept uncritically everything that came as new in the form of modern literature. He was convinced that many of literary works, from the Sangam Age to the contemporary period, could be categorised as secular. He re-read from a Marxist perspective many literary works of the past. This gave him new insights into the old literature. He introduced Marxism to Tamils through great literary works such as Thirukkural, Kamba Ramayanam and Cilappathikaram. Though a non-believer, he had a great regard for Kamban& #8217;s Ramayana, which he read from a Marxist angle. He saw progressive elements even in the works of Tamil savants such as Appar and later in those of Ramalinga Adigal of Vadalur, who preached inter-religious amity. His literary lec tures, especially on Kamban and Bharati, were very popular. He gave a new interpretation to the phrase socialist realism, which was promoted by literary critics in the Soviet Union. He asked the writers of the Communist movement in Tamil Nadu to capture the field of art and literature to help people win back their lost world. This has been the guiding spirit of the writers inspired by Marxist ideals in Tamil Nadu, said noted writer Ponneelan, one of Jeevanandhams biographers and president, Tamil Nadu Kalai Ilakkia Perumandram, founded by Jeevanandham about 50 years ago.

Ponneelan said that at a time when a section of mainstream writers indulged in abstract writing and spread reactionary ideas among people and when a section of popular magazines were publishing obscene stories, pictures and illustrations in the 1950s, Jeeva ran a campaign through his essays and speeches to educate the people on good literature and decadent literature. He wanted them to learn the art of sifting the good from the bad.

When the Tamil Nadu unit of the Communist Party of India launched its own literary monthly, Thaamarai, in the 1950s, Jeevanandham was the natural choice to be its editor. He was already editing the partys official daily, Janasakthi. His founding of Kalai Ilakkia Perumandram, of which he was the first president, and the guidance he gave writers are acclaimed as two of his major contributions to the movement. Jayakanthan, Sundara Ramasami, Chinnappa Bharati, Thi. Ka. Sivasankaran, D. Selvaraj, Prapanchan and Ponneelam were some of the eminent writers inspired by Jeevanandham.

S. Viswanathan
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