‘Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal’ is a Tamil ‘Sahitya Akademi’ award-winning novel, writen by Jeyakanthan in 1970. The title of the book literally translates to ‘Some people at some times’. ‘Of Men and Moments’ is an English translation of this book by K.S Subramanian.
To start with, the novel is not any extraordinary story. It captures the chequered life of Ganga, the protagonist. Stumbling into sex with a millionaire playboy as an innocent teenager, she is disowned by her family. A benevolent maternal uncle shelters and educates her in a different city. He’s erudite but lecherous. She becomes a higher official in a respectable job when the man of her life (Prabhu) re-enters, now with added dignity.
Can you even imagine a relationship between a victim and her rapist? That’s what is portrayed in the novel, and the beauty of it is, you won’t be able to complain. This story very well portrays that it’s hard to unhate someone but it’s possible to some extent when one understands their innate qualities. Just imagine the chaos that would have been created back in 1970s, when the book was released.
When such open-ended ideas remain behind closed doors even in the present times, the author has expressed his thoughts boldly in his unique style, of how a single woman is treated by her surroundings just as a piece of flesh, right from a stranger in public transport and the people in her office, to her own uncle and family. The author reverently shows a lot of characters around Ganga in a gray-scale.
He draws an analogy between Ganga and the divine river. People revere it and use all its resources without the guilt of polluting it. This is a book mainly on women empowerment, while it also hints about the harassment faced by women which go unnoticed.
Ganga didn’t get along with Prabhu, neither did she choose someone to move on with her life. But, the aftermath left me stunning. Never did I imagine such a disturbing epilogue even when nearing the final pages.
It’s a book that exposes the exceptional literary stance of the author who peels the layers of exploitative social norms, revealing a deep and nuanced understanding of our society. In short, he indirectly points that it’s very important to come out of prejudices.
For me, it’s not a book about rights and wrongs, but a book with intricate complexities that certainly changes the perspective of a reader towards reading.
We aren’t the same person at different times of our own lives. We don’t live as we were in our teens now. We also won’t be this person we’re now, in the coming years. Perceptions change, however, certain things remain constant.
There’s a prequel to this novel. It is ‘Agni Pravesam’, a short story. With the same characters and events, Jeyankanthan set out a climax in which Ganga’s mother does something bold and unexpected. She comforts her daughter Ganga who discusses the incident, and hides it from the society. She asks Ganga to take a shower, and convinces her that she’d be pure after that.
When this ending brought in debates, the author penned up the novel ‘Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal’ as a slapping response, with an alternate climax of what would have happened if Ganga’s mother had reacted aggressively.
There’s also a Tamil movie (black and white) with the same name, that received national award, with a different climax though.