“Parisukku Po” was initially serialised in Ananda Vikatan during the year 1965. This could well be the reason the story meanders in many directions. The narrative gains some purpose in the manner of a romance after about halfway through, but it is difficult to consider this work as an accomplished novel.
Now, what would be the necessity for us to go back to read this work after more than fifty years? Do we value this novel for its intelligent narrative style? Or, is it that the unique vision of Jeyakanthan was revolutionary for its time? “Parisukku Po” belongs to a period that was desperate to break the mould of tradition and meet the demands of a new, modern world, and it does address its contemporary urge.
A society that had held dear its native values in the struggle for independence was caught at an indecisive moment after having won its freedom. Subsequent to Nehru’s death in 1964, it felt the pull of history from various directions, and ideologically, did not know which way to turn. We can categorise that period as the beginning of modernity, since aesthetically, it was a time when a real break with tradition did occur (In a moving tribute to Nehru, Rajaji said, “The old guardroom is completely empty now”). Public intellectuals with an independent streak seem to have become a rare breed, and many chose the easier path of adopting the western civilisation as a modern, progressive, ideal society. Science, Entrepreneurial industry, Agriculture, Arts and Culture- the whole spectrum of human endeavour, seems to have fallen in line with the West. We seem to have lacked the vision to cherish the roots of an intelligence that had flowered into a rich culture spanning hundreds of years, and in its place, we made an unquestioning choice to adopt an utilitarian way of thought that had come into being only a century or two before. Even in our religious texts, the utility of a chant or prayer, finds mention only in a few verses, but our modern intellectual endeavour became entirely utilitarian.
Comparative choices abound in a society aware of intellectual inquiries being conducted elsewhere in the world. Whether one should continue with the traditional farming methods or adopt chemicals, whether an egalitarian society is possible with tight controls on industry, or cooperative movements provide a better alternative, whether western music or Indian classical music is aesthetically pleasing- these choices are endless. Decisions and outcomes are not the subject of this review, but what we need to understand is that a treasure-house of global intellectual findings was open before us, and many of us had direct access to it. Jeyakanthan’s story picks up a thread of debate that involves choices which could not be avoided because of the demands of the new intellectual environment. A new generation that thirsts after new values is in conflict with the older one which seeks to conserve traditional values. At the heart of this debate is the structure of family, which embodies traditional mores.
Even though the story, “Oru Veedu Oru Manithan Oru Ulagam” is similar to this, “Parisukku Po” is narrated from the point of view of an individual who questions his previous generations and their social values. Henry of “Oru Veedu Oru Manithan Oru Ulagam“, is Indian by birth, but the upbringing provided by his father makes him a stranger to the Tamil community and its ignominious customs. On his first visit to Tamil Nadu, he looks at its invidious practices with a fresh, interested eye. He accepts these people, who belong to the world of his father, as his own. Sarangan of “Parisuku Po” returns to India after a long exile, but he knows Indian values and their dark recesses very well through his regular correspondence with his father.
There is nothing new about discarding the old and adapting to the new. This has always been the process of change, but whenever traditional cultures encounter novel ones, their reactions have been similar in that they express no such historic memory. As with a physical illness, there is initially a shock, and then disbelief, followed by acceptance. Cultures progress through these evolutionary stages in adopting a new cultural value. There are some individuals with an experimental spirit, who could jump these stages and take to the new society with ease. There are also some persons like Henry, who choose to accept the prevalent zeitgeist in order to mitigate their own unique set of social and survival pressures.
Sarangan is an outsider to Indian society from the very first pages of ‘Parisukku Po‘. Sarangan, who returns to India as a Western musician, finds nothing particularly attractive in his homeland. He is passionate in his desire to create new dimensions to Indian music by incorporating unique aspects of Western music into it. But he has no tangible plans to make it possible. I feel that he has not tried to familiarise himself with Indian Culture that would make it feasible to embark on such a project with a clear ground map. He does gain the friendship of the Secretary of the Ladies’ Club and Lalitha, the writer, but they are not authentic individuals, and his knowledge of even these two is superficial at best. He gives an interview to an Indian newspaper where he talks about his ambitions for a successful career in Indian music, and expresses his awareness at the distance he needs to travel before it could become a possibility. And when he compares the two systems of music, he terms Indian music as merely devotional, and invites the wrath of his father. Sarangan is not willing to engage in a direct discussion with his father who is an well versed in Carnatic Music. Such a confrontation would have provided him with a praxis. His father sees him as a failed musician. Of course, he has played his music at Paris, London and elsewhere, but he has not plumbed any spiritual depth, and has returned to India without gaining any education which could help him earn an independent living. Sarangan is a figure of failure in his father’s eyes.
His father, Vaidhyanathan had sent his young son to London with the family of his friend. Sarangan had studied at London, and then moved to Paris, where he becomes a musician. In between these two events, there had been a marriage and a divorce. He had kept in touch with Vaidhyanathan through letters, and this prevents him from becoming totally alienated from his father. Though he has some contact with a part of Indian culture, he is at heart, a European. He comes to India to heal the pain of a bitter broken marriage, and meets Lalitha. They develop a friendship.
Laltiha is a writer. She is in a dependent relationship with an old man, in whose love she feels totally secure. Her friendship with Sarangan turns romantic. Her dilemma now is to avoid hurting her patron who has provided her with security. How could she make a befitting return of true love? The rest of the story involves this dilemma. These chapters of the story are well written. But the parts where Jeyakanthan narrates the conflict between Sarangan and his father, and Sarangan’s attempts to modernise Indian music seem to be without direction. The love between Lalitha and Sarangan seems to have more substance. In fact, the manner in which Jeyakanthan walks us through the various dimensions of their love sustains our interest in this story till its end. Finally, Sarangan decides to give up Paris and go instead to Calcutta, where his friend Sundaram is working as a teacher of music at Tagore’s Shanthi Niketan. This is a hasty end to a potentially good story. Jeyakanthan himself remarks upon the compulsions that made him bring the story to a quick end.
‘Parisukku Po‘ is a disappointing read. The earlier parts of the novel, which speak about the identity crisis of a stranger who is welcome to all, and who in being accepted by all, is alienated through the subsequent loss of identity suffer from a lack of unitary vision. Since it had been serialised in a popular magazine, the demands of the serial form have not provided Jeyakanthan with the potentially expansive vistas that are the prerequisite of the novel. Henry of ‘Oru Manithan Oru Veedu Oru Ulagam‘, who is easily accepted into a new culture, is a glorious character. All the nobility and debasements that had accrued to Henry through his father attain an equal height. This makes it possible for Henry to ease into a new society without any feeling of strangeness or exclusion. He finds new relationships, the house of his father is returned to him, his enemies become his friends. But the character of Sarangan is not merely negative, it is without a vision.