Tamil writer wins literary prize

With a Cultural Medallion, several literary awards, 57 books, more than 400 short stories and 80 plays to his name, Tamil writer Jamaludeen Mohamed Sali now has another accolade: the S.E.A. Write Award for Singapore.

The award is presented annually to honour literary excellence in the ASEAN region, with prizes given out to writers from different countries. Previous Singapore recipients include Cultural Medallion recipient and playwright Haresh Sharma, who got it last year, and Chinese author Yeng Pway Ngon, who received it in 2013.

Better known as J.M. Sali, the writer will receive his award at a ceremony in Bangkok next Monday, said the National Book Development Council of Singapore.

Sali, 76, has been writing for more than 50 years.

He was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2008 for his work Aayul Thandanai, and has garnered a slew of literary awards both here and in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

"I do not consider the award as recognition for me, but for Singapore. I hope we can continue to give awards to literary talents and writers here, to encourage them to write in their mother tongue," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

Born in Madras, India, in 1939, the son of a betel leaf seller and housewife, he was invited to Singapore at the age of 25 to be an assistant editor at the Tamil Murasu newspaper by its founder, the late G. Sarangapani.

He later wrote for magazines and joined the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation as a broadcast journalist. He also produced books on famous people such as martial arts icon Bruce Lee and boxer Muhammad Ali.

In 2000, he retired from journalism to do full-time writing and translation work. His short stories and novels - such as Vellai Kodugal (White Lines) and Alaigal Pesuginrana (The Sound Of The Waves) - are now studied by Tamil literature students in Singapore and Indian universities.

He and his homemaker wife, 62, have a 28-year-old son who works in a bank. He still writes short stories and contributes articles to publications in India.

He said: "I still get asked by the magazines there to write articles, so I will keep writing as long as they ask."

This article was first published on December 12, 2015.
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