T Janakiraman is passionate about the Cauvery river passing by Kumbakonam. He is also passionate about creating characters in his books who challenge the norms laid down by society. He passionately creates women who are bold, perhaps too bold for their times. Thus, some characters in his stories remain with you forever, whether you identify with them or you are torn by your anxiety to see them in a different light.
In the highly acclaimed romance between Babu and Yamuna, in his immortal book “Mohamul”, you will encounter two characters who are enmeshed in a “romance, with a difference.
Yamuna, many years older than the protagonist Babu, is much beyond her marital years. She has known Babu from his childhood days. The book is set at a time when Babu is a grown up man and has come to Kumbakonam to study, where Yamuna too lives with her mother. Proposals coming her way have all failed because she is the child of the second wife of a wealthy landlord in Tanjavur. Yamuna’s mother, who is of Maharashtrian origin, is anxious to see her daughter married. But alas! No willing suitors for Ms Yamuna.
In the meantime, Babu, the central character in the book finds himself infatuated with Yamuna and although, he is much younger than her, wishes to marry her. Yamuna at this point, neither loves Babu erotically or romantically. She refuses his proposal, until she meets him in Chennai, many years later, where she has come to stay having had differences with her mother. Knowing that Babu too lives in Chennai, after three months of struggle there, she goes to meet him at his office. Babu finds her a hostel to live in and helps her sustain herself in Chennai. On weekends, Yamuna begins to visit him at his house. Here, she gives in to Babu’s erotic advances, although she denies that she has any such feelings for him. In fact, she is indebted to him and feels she must fulfill his desires, even though, she herself in her words feels no such erotic love towards him.
This, indeed is the peculiar double standard, which makes me rebellious. How can such women exist? My anger surges towards Babu as well, who has let go of an opportunity. While he was still in Kumbakonam, the woman next door, who was married to an old man, became hungry for Babu. In the dead of night, she made a bold entry into his room and press her body against his. Burning with erotic excitement she pleaded for his amorous attention. Babu failed to rise to the occasion causing her to commit suicide the very next day. Was he not a fool to refuse such erotic advances, with the promise of long nights of sexual dance, for a reluctant Yamuna, who neither gave him the romantic response, nor the juices of a wild erotic exchange of sexual bondage?
Is this not what psychologists have been saying all along? You will always desire what you cannot get. The mind thrives more in absence, than in presence, because it is given to its own devices. And the whole analysis of the book rests on this one truth, proven again and again, in life and in books - as long as the object of desire is not our own, we will continue to chase it. The day it is ours, the process of weaning begins. And one day, it is all over! We climb the ladder of fulfillment, as we struggle against the battle of unfulfilled aspirations within us. We must; We will! Let us see how.
As the story goes, Babu, who has come to Kumbakonam to study, finds himself in Yamuna’s house where she stays with her mother. The next day a man, twice a widower, a Postmaster by profession, is to come to visit Yamuna for marriage. Babu picks him up from the station. It seems that the engagement is on, but Babu spoils it by telling the would-be groom that Yamuna is the child of the second wife of the wealthy landlord in Tanjavur. The marriage is off! Even a twice married man will not wed the daughter of the second wife. Was it not Babu’s responsibility not to tell the truth and spoil the alliance? But he had to! For, he had already created the moha, the illusion for her. He knew subconsciously that she was going to be the mul, the thorn which will push him further and further in his quest for his first love, music. How else do we explain that even on the night before the groom had come, Babu lay on a hot and restless bed, his mind full of Yamuna, so much so that as soon as day break came, he rushed to Cauvery River to drench himself in her waters, in order to cool his body and his mind. Then, he went to the temple and there instead of seeing the Goddess, he saw Yamuna as the Goddess, continuously? He had fallen in love. Or rather, shall we say, he had psyched himself to fall in love with Yamuna. She did not even know of his feelings. Nor, did she have any such feelings for him. It was all his illusion, self created and therefore, called Moha .
Why did, Babu create this for himself? Was it because he was overcome by sorrow for the girl, well past her marriageable age, yet unable to find a match? Or was it because, he was away from home and his mother and needed a mother-figure in his life? Or was it the author, Thi Jaa’s exercise to show the reader that love, is only an illusion? lf created and fueled by the self alone. It is in fact, an activity, arising in ones own mind and may be reciprocated. But if it is not, then, the one who has created the illusion is damned forever! They will never go beyond that love, although, this love has nothing to give in return.
But tarry! The subconscious is not a fool. It is pitched to achieve something much greater. And that can only happen from unrequited love.
Again and again, the book reminds us of the great psychology of unmet aspirations and desires. It is what takes us up the ladder to Higher Ends.
The deepest need we have as human beings is to fulfill ourselves. The angst for self- actualization is deepened by failures to meet our desired goals. Therefore, dear reader, we must guard ourselves from unfulfilled desires. Unless of course, we wish them to become the fuel for our self actualization, whether as poet or musician, or whatever we see ourselves as? Hence, in the same light, will not Babu’s self created illusion of love for Yamuna, which is constantly met with rejection, not make him seek respite in his first passion, his music? Will not his failed love, drive him to find his mate in music? Then, why pretend? After all, Babu’s love is not to have Yamuna; it thrives on her rejection of him, as a lover or a husband. In fact, if it found acceptance, he would perhaps reject it himself. He needs fuel for his real love – music. Yamuna is his muse. In his subconscious, even before he is given to his moha for her, he already knows she is going to reject him. In fact that is what he wants. And that is what he gets!
What a master strategist our subconscious is! What games it plays! Not even the player knows what is going on behind his mind.
To my understanding, T Janakiraman, is one of the finest writers because he has such a deep understanding of the human mind. He is also a writer who brings out very bold women in his writings, women, who are outrageously open about breaking societal norms. Sometimes they stand out in the open and break the rules and sometimes they do so behind the purdah. But they do it. His women are bold, demanding and daring.
Yet, Yamuna falls dreadfully short of any of the above. She is that normal girl, who is sweet and kind and follows the norms laid out by society. She of course cannot marry a man younger than her by many years. Yet, when she is alone with him in Chennai, she gives in to his erotic desires! Does she really do this because she feels indebted to Babu for being of help to her always or does she do it, in order to explore regions within herself, in a safe, foreign place, like Chennai. It is not after all, Kumbakonam or Tanjavur. Although she professes to give in to his desire as a pay off for his help, I believe that Thi Jaa has another message of the mind to deliver here - In the safety of non-identity, it is possible to explore any hidden side of ourselves, those, terrible hounds which eat at our souls but we are unable to release them, because we are tied by societal norms and chains. But, given a place where we cannot be recognized, we may and will in fact, let lose the wild passions, without a care. Only of course, we must keep the façade on. We cannot admit, we wanted it that way, can we?
Therefore, again my angst to see a forthright woman makes me rebellious. How can such women exist? With double standards? But alas, they do exist and indeed, they are real and you can see them around the corner everyday. In fact, here is a little more disappointment for all of us – In the last chapter, Yamuna finally tells Babu, she is ready to marry him as well! But not until, he is leaving Chennai for Pune to follow his passion, music. She of course will not go with him. In fact now, the tables have changed – In Kumbakonam, when she refused marriage to Babu, he promised to wait for her; now it seems that although Babu will be gone for many years to pursue his passion, music, she is willing to wait for him! What a complex bag of emotions to handle, indeed.
However, we can’t wait. Let us bid good bye to the two protagonists and repeat for them –
“Whatever sins you have committed elsewhere, gets purified if you go to Banaras…..”.
On second thought, let us not be judgmental so soon. After all, it was only human. Babu’s need to meet self actualization through music, and for Yamuna to give in to her desires, if not publicly, then in the safe enclosures of her mind, in the safety of another geographical territory not her hometown. And also to keep the façade or make belief on, that she is doing it to satisfy his desire.
The genius of Thi Jaa only shines through as you come to the end of the book. You have laid the book down but find the characters do not leave your mind. They hound you like they were your own ghosts. For indeed they are! And there are no prizes for guessing who these two main characters are.
Through the pen of a master Psychologist at work, we discover, both Babu and Yamuna are our own realities. As humans we must realize our highest potential, be it music, dance or poetry, and to do that many times we take recourse in turning the possible into an impossible in order that we may achieve our dream, the impossible dream. And as humans we do have our desires, even if we must expose them only in hiding, only privately to our own selves, even veil them with detachment. The Babu and the Yamuna are both our realities which Thi Jaa has so beautifully brought out in his book Mohamul. The complex mind of human desires. The eternal dance of the opposites. Such a fine text, with a rainbow of emotions, it has to be Tamil Literature’s most valuable writing on Psychology of the human mind.
Mohamul is a veritable classic. Don’t turn your face away from yourself.
T. Janakiraman (1921-1982) one of the most popular Tamil writers of the 20th century was born in the village of Devangudi in Thanjavur district. Thi Jaa, as he was fondly known, was a leading light of the "Manikodi" school of writers in Tamil, the author of acclaimed novels such as Mohamul, Chembaruthi, Uyirthen, and Marappasu, short stories, travelogues and plays. His lyrical prose, arresting characters and unusual themes enthralled his audience. His writings portrayed the intricacies of the workings of the human mind. The smell of the soil, the taste of its food, the music of the dialect and its peculiar cultural elitism – all are attractively displayed in his writings. His published works include eight novels, two novelettes, six collections of short stories, three full-length plays and three travelogues.
Author’s Note: I wish to thank our sister, Mrs Saroja Bhanushekar for translating the text, Mohamul to me in its true Tamil flavour adding her wonderful soft and fluffy idlis as a side dish.
Publisher: Kuzha Kathiresam
Ainthinai Pathippagam, 279, Pycrofts Road
Triplicane, Chennai – 600 005
Name of the book: Mohamul
Author: T Janakiraman
Size of the book: Demy 1/8