Playwright par excellence, literary critic, artist, activist, and teacher, CJ Thomas’s work is credited with breaking traditional thought patterns and exposing society’s hypocrisy and superficiality. He is considered to have ushered in modern Malayalam theatre. Revolutionary film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan said of CJ, ‘He excelled in his field of screenplay writing…’ Mr. Gopalakrishnan believed that CJ has been an inspiration for many.
Several books and articles have been written to fete CJ and his path-breaking work. But He, My Beloved CJ (Ivan, Ente Priya CJ in Malayalam), is a memoir written by a wife for her much-loved partner, showing the world CJ’s other side—the husband, the father, and most of all, the beloved. With deft strokes, she brings to life for us readers, the character of this extraordinary and talented man. She presents him without any bias, giving expression to all facets of his being. His strengths as well as his foibles, his generosity of spirit and his critical nature, his sensitive outlook and his idiosyncrasies, she presents it all.
The CJ of Rosy’s life has two distinct sides. To the world, he comes across as an anti-establishment rebel who can never tolerate injustice or deviation from principles; as someone who will not hesitate to throw away a job or good prospects for the sake of his values. He has no patience with people who are pretentious and superficial. As reflected in his plays, he seeks to fight social evils too. He does not care for money and requires very little himself, giving most of it away. CJ’s talent allows him to find jobs easily but just when his wife is relieved that they will finally settle down, he decides to throw it all away and move to another job, in another city. This causes constant changes in residence, and a constant struggle for funds, a fact which Rosy rues as she battles to cope with expenses for running the household and raising their children.
A once active member of the Communist Party, CJ rebels against it when he thinks it is no longer functioning in keeping with its vision. When his wife asks him what will happen if his current party becomes equally corrupt or inefficient, he responds that he will then pull that down too! His life is about staying on the straight and narrow path, helping anyone who seems vulnerable to him, and ensuring everyone around him does the same.
On the home front though, CJ is a tender-hearted family man who dearly loves his wife and cannot bear to see her step out to work. Every time he leaves home he asks her what she needs and no matter how busy he is, lists it down and ensures that he manages to procure all of it before he returns home. He adores his children and has written a book for his eldest son, Ivan, Ente Priya Putran (He, My Beloved Son), from where Rosy has adapted the title for this book. He is childlike in his excitement and his fondness for his family, including his father, mother and sister, comes through clearly.
Although CJ is not a typical romantic, yet in the early days of courtship, he lets her know—through remarks like ‘Wear that green sari today,’ or by calling her his ‘grasshopper’—how crazy he is about her. Without going through the motions of what the world expects from lovers, without the commonly expressed words of love and sentiment, both of them are able to experience the deep intensity of their feelings for each other.
The memory of their days of courtship, followed by the nine years of their marriage is all that Rosy is left with when he dies at the very young age of 42. Yet she experiences a contentment, which lasts her life. As she says in the last line of the book, ‘All I have to say about my husband CJ, is just this, “He is my beloved CJ and I have been blessed in him.” ’
Through the book, we get a good look at Rosy Thomas herself—the young girl who is bold and outspoken and mercilessly teases her friend before she realizes she is in love with him; the stubborn young girl who refuses to consider marrying anyone else, despite the agony it causes her father whom she adores. The persistent young girl, who ignores all the taunts, rumours and stories spread by people against the marriage. And the rumours were many—that CJ had tuberculosis, that he had already fathered more than one child, that he was to become a priest but left priesthood. The last of this was true, but it did not make her think any less of him. The confidence she reposed in a person she could not have known very well was high.
Rosy comes through as a strong person, who must have been the anchor in the relationship. Although she does not mention it, we can see that she was a constant support to him at work as well, providing a sounding board, and often playing devil’s advocate to his arguments. She is a strong-willed person who does not hesitate to speak her mind to anyone on anything. She holds her opinions back only when she knows it will make CJ very unhappy to listen to some home truths.
Rosy comes through as a homemaker and life partner par excellence too. While she makes light of the many travails of a marriage with CJ, it could not have been easy. As she comments more than once—he could live without money, without food as well. All he needed were his cigarettes and continuous cups of strong over brewed tea! She does not hesitate to write about his failings and naiveté, about her irritation with certain things he did or said. Unlike a typical romantic novel, this is a very matter-of-fact look at their life—warts and all.
The book is written in a colloquial style, as if in conversation with a friend. The story jumps from one stage in their life to another and back again. It is sometimes a little difficult to keep up with the flow of events and movements from one city to another, back to the city and back again.
The translation by G Arunima has followed the Malayalam text, true to the casual style. Sometimes the idioms and turns of phrase read a little strange, perhaps because the Malayalam has been translated exactly without an actual conversion to the English idioms and phraseology. Unfortunately, this does not always make for great reading. Informal phrases and sentences which may sound great in the original Malayalam sound clunky, when left as they have been in the English translation. (e.g. p. 93: ‘As we know, someone has to do all the acrobatics to run a tutorial college.’) Editorial intervention could have helped.
But despite all of this, He, My Beloved CJ is a romance that cries out to be heard. A story of two people desperately in love, who battle all the troubles against their courtship, against their marriage, and live a happy life in complete support of one another. Of two people who allow us to believe in that fairy tale ending—‘And they lived happily ever after!’
Malati Mukherjee is a writer and translator who lives in the Nilgiris of South India.
Book News Book News
Samboli Beware by Lakshman, translated from Kannada by Susheela Puneetha means echcharike in Kannada ‘Be careful!’ Manu, the ancient lawgiver, decreed that people belonging to any of the untouchable castes of this country had to hold a pole with jingling bells tied to one end and pound it on the ground at every step and call out, ‘Samboli! Samboli!’ This is the Samboli pole warning others of their presence. Samboli, by extension, could imply ‘Beware!’ in the present context of Dalit uprisings. It could also be a clarion call for Dalits to fight for their humanity.
Thornbird,Niyogi Books, 2018, pp. 197,