National Reading Movement

J. M. Sali: Singapore’s Tamil Literature Gem

With a SEA Write Award, Cultural Medallion, several literary awards, 57 books, over 400 short stories and 80 plays to his name, J. M. Sali is a well-known writer in the Tamil literary scene.

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Born in Madras, India in 1939 to a betel leaf seller and his housewife, Sali was invited to Singapore when he was only 25 to be an assistant editor at the Tamil Murasu newspaper. He has been writing for over 50 years, and is a strong supporter of encouraging Singaporeans to master their mother tongue.

“In Singapore we are proud to have four official languages, so master your mother tongue. Read and learn what pioneers before you have achieved and practisce practise [sic] your writing.”

We’re definitely inspired! Today, we’re going to give you an introduction to some of his captivating short stories that shed light on Tamil culture and the human psyche.  


The Shock Treatment

Sekhar is a student of medicine and has a promising future. Naturally, his mother Rajam is proud of him.

So she does what many mothers would do—she sets out to find a wife for her son. However, she is dissatisfied with most of the women she meets, until she meets Malarkodi. Pretty and modest, she is everything Rajam wishes for in a daughter-in-law.

Clinging onto her traditions, Rajam demands a hefty dowry from Malarkodi’s family. On top of silverware and gold jewellry, Malarkodi’s family also has to finance Sekhar’s future clinic, despite not being well off.

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This appalls Sekhar, who brings up his mother’s poverty-stricken past. But will that be enough to change her ways?  

The Judgement

60-year-old retiree Mahalingam is lonely. To keep the loneliness at bay, he soon strikes up a relationship with his young maid, Sarasa, who is often moody and quiet.

Mahalingam takes it upon himself to get her to smile, and his efforts include writing her romantic letters. He realises that the more he attempts to get her to smile, the more he grows obsessed with her, and soon, he proposes to the young woman.

Despite their age difference, Sarasa agrees to marry him as he promises to take care of her parents. But the weight of their unconventional relationship soon takes its toll, causing Mahalingam to call off the marriage.

Then the news of a young woman plunging to her death from a building reaches Mahalingam, and her love letters are soon discovered…

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The Beast

We all know jealousy is a green-eyed monster, but how petty and disturbing can someone’s jealousy get? Read on to find out…

Vidya has regularly been meeting Mohan at the library for the past six months. After much persuasion from Mohan, she agrees to meet him at his place for a date,  where she notices his neighbour’s beautiful garden.

Vidya can’t contain her excitement as she mentions the garden to Mohan, who weirdly, tries to discourage her enthusiasm by claiming that the garden belongs to a mad professor.

Unperturbed, Vidya goes back to visit Mohan with an underlying intention to visit the garden again, only to find out that all the flowers are gone, with the professor hinting that Mohan is the beastly culprit.

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Disturbing! 😱


Interested? Read these short stories and more in J. M. Sali’s collection, That Day and Other Stories, found in our reference library.