M. Balakrishnan

Singapore Infopedia


M. Balakrishnan (b. 18 September 1938, Singapore–), or Mayandiambalam Balakrishnan, is a prominent author popularly known by his pen name – Ma Ilangkannan.1 He was the first Tamil writer to receive the South East Asian Writers Award in 1982, and was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2005.2

Early life and career
Balakrishnan was born in Singapore and moved with his family to Tamil Nadu, India when he was two years old. In India, he learned to read and write Tamil from his grandmother and a teacher, Arumuga Velar.3

After World War II, Balakrishnan returned to Singapore and continued his studies at Kalaimagal Tamil School. His family’s frequent moves from one rental accommodation to another disrupted his schooling. Balakrishnan studied up to the eighth standard in school. From a young age, he was an avid reader of magazines such as Kalki, Ananta Vikatan and Tenral, and the Tamil Murasu newspaper. Although he was unable to further his education, Balakrishnan continued to acquire knowledge and hone his literary skills.4

From 1957 to 1967, Balakrishnan worked as a storeman with the British military forces stationed in Singapore. He then went on to become a typist in the translation department of the Ministry of Culture, where he worked until 1997.5

Literary career
Balakrishnan became editor of Thondan, a literary magazine in 1964, and his first short story “Thi Vali” (Pain of Fire) was published in 1966.6 His stories also appeared in Tamil Murasu, Tamil MalarAnanda Vikatan (a weekly magazine from India), Malaysia’s Tamil Nesan and literary journals such as SINGA.7

A prolific writer, Balakrishnan has published more than 60 short stories, five collections of short stories, three novels and three novellas. His short stories have been broadcast over the radio, included in a number of anthologies, and translated into English and Malay.8

In 1971, Balakrishnan won a short story competition organised by Indian magazine Ananta Vikatan for “Vazhi Piranthathu”.9 In 1977, his “Ennangal Nilaiyaanavai Alla” was selected as the Best Short Story in Singapore and Malaysia by the Singapore Ilakkiya Kalam (Literary Critics' Circle). He received the South East Asian Writers Award in 1982, and won short story competitions organised by the Ministry of Culture in 1983 and 1984, the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1988 and the Ministry of Community Development in 1989.10

For his extensive body of literary work, the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers presented Balakrishnan with the Tamizhavel Award in 1999.11 He won the Singapore Literature Prize in the Tamil category in 2004 for his novel Thoondil Meen (Hooked Fish),12 and received the Cultural Medallion the following year.13

Literary style and themes
Balakrishnan’s works explore the daily life, pain, pleasures, conflicts and tension experienced by Singapore Tamils in a multiethnic, multicultural and socio-political context. Exploring a range of social topics, his writings often employ metaphor and imagery as literary tools in a quest for truth and humanity in a materialistic world.14

Balakrishnan has examined the evolution of the Tamil cultural identity after contact with Malay and Chinese cultures in cosmopolitan Singapore. He also writes on experiences of an impoverished underdog in Singaporean society, interracial relationships, the effects of the Japanese Occupation, the Indian National Army, and historical and vanishing aspects of Singaporean life such as the cattlemen and cowherds of Bukit Timah and opium addicts.15

Notably, Balakrishnan is one of the few Tamil writers in Singapore who have explored the existential toils and displacement of the disenfranchised community with empathy. Beyond describing the experiences of characters such as that of an Indian contract worker forced by circumstances to find work in Singapore (in Paathai Maaria Payanam (Misdirected Journey), he has sought to articulate the aspirations, emotions and mental states of migrant workers. His narratives give voice to these otherwise unheard groups and have been described as a conduit for the emancipation of these groups.16

1982: South East Asian Writers Award (Singapore Book Council)
1999: Tamizhavel Award[Association of Singapore Tamil Writers)
2004: Singapore Literature Prize (National Book Development Council of Singapore with the support of the National Arts Council and The National Library Board)
2005: Cultural Medallion (National Arts Council)
2013: Karikalan Award (given by Mustafa Trust)18

Selected works19
1975: à®µà®´à®¿ பிறந்தது [The Solution]
1976: à®…லைகள் [Waves]
1977: à®•à¯à®™à¯à®•à¯à®®à®•à¯à®•à®©à¯à®©à®¤à¯à®¤à®¿à®²à¯ [On the Rosy Cheeks]
1977: à®šà®¿à®™à¯à®•à®ªà¯à®ªà¯‚ர் இலக்கியக்களம் சிறுகதைகள் [Singapore Literary Short Stories]
1977: à®…லைகள் (சுருக்கம்) [Waves (Summary)]
1978: à®•à¯‹à®Ÿà¯à®•à®³à¯ ஓவியங்கள் ஆகின்றன. [The Portraits]
1983: à®‰à®±à®µà¯à®•à®³à¯ ஊஞ்சல் ஆடுகின்றன [Unsteady Relationships]
1986: à®†à®©à®¨à¯à®¤à®•à¯ கண்ணீர் [Tears of Joy]
1989: à®Žà®£à¯à®£à®™à¯à®•à®³à¯ நிலையானவை அல்ல [Thoughts Are Never Stable]
1990: à®µà¯ˆà®•à®±à¯ˆà®ªà¯ பூக்கள் [Morning Flowers]
1993: à®‰à®£à®°à¯à®µà®¿à®©à¯ முடிச்சுகள் [The Entangled Feelings]
1999: à®¨à®¿à®©à¯ˆà®µà¯à®•à®³à®¿à®©à¯ கோலங்கள் [Meandering Thoughts]
2001: à®¤à¯‚ண்டில் மீன் [Hooking a Fish]
2001: à®‡à®²à®Ÿà¯à®šà®¿à®¯à®™à¯à®•à®³à®¿à®©à¯ ஊனங்கள் (in People on the Bridge: An Anthology of ASEAN Short Stories; translated into Malay as Harapan Sapuna)20
2006: à®šà®¿à®™à¯à®•à¯ˆ மா. இளங்கண்ணனின் சிறுகதைகள் [Cinkai Ma Ilangkannan’s Short Stories]
2006: à®ªà¯Šà®°à¯à®¤à¯à®¤à®®à¯, கன்னிகாதானம், எங்கே போய்விடும் காலம்? [Match, Giving the bride away, Where Has Time Gone?]
2011: à®•à¯à®°à¯à®µà®¿à®•à¯ கோட்டம் [Bird Sanctum]

M. S. Shri Lakshmi

1. “Hard Habit to Break,” Straits Times, 22 October 2005, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

2. Muriel I Speeden, “Winner in His Own Write,” Straits Times, 20 October 1982, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Cultural Medallion,” National Arts Council, 2015.
(From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
3. M. Balakrishnan, interview by Shri Lakshmi, National Library Board Singapore, 3 December 2009, 19:14.

4. M. Balakrishnan, interview by Shri Lakshmi.
5. Speeden, “Winner in His Own Write.” 
6. Speeden, “Winner in His Own Write”; Cinkai Ma Ilangkannan  à®šà®¿à®™à¯à®•à¯ˆ மா இளங்கண்ணன், “TÄ« vali” à®¤à¯€ வலி [Pain of fire], தமிழ் à®®à¯à®°à®šà¯ Tamil Murasu, 10 December 1967, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
7. சிங்கை மா இளங்கண்ணன் Ciṅkai Mā Iḷaṅkaṇṇan̲, Mūṉṟu nāvalkaḷ: poruttam, kaṉṉikātāṉam, eṅgē pōyviṭum kālam? மூன்று நாவல்கள்: பொருத்தம், கன்னிகாதானம், எங்கே போய்விடும் காலம்? [Three novels: Match, Giving the bride away, Where did time go? (Singapore Ciṅkai Mā Iḷaṅkaṇṇan̲ and National Arts Council, 2006), 3. (From National Library Online)
8.Iḷaṅkaṇṇan̲, மூன்று நாவல்கள்: பொருத்தம், கன்னிகாதானம், எங்கே போய்விடும் காலம்?, 3.
9. “About Cultural Medallion: 2005,” National Arts Council, last updated 13 April 2023. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
10. “M. Balakrishnan (Ma Ilangkannan),” The Esplanade, published 23 November 2021, https://www.esplanade.com/offstage/arts/m-balakrishnan-ma-ilangkannan.
11. “Namatu eḻuttāḷarkaḷ” நமது எழுத்தாளர்கள் [Our writers], Association of Singapore Tamil Writers, accessed 9 May 2024, https://singaporetamilwriters.com/6/.
12. “Singapore Literature Prize: 2004 Winners & Shortlists, Tamil category,” Singapore Book Council, accessed 3 May 2024, https://www.bookcouncil.sg/slp-2022/slp-previous-editions.
13. The Esplanade, “M. Balakrishnan (Ma Ilangkannan).”
14. National Arts Council, “About Cultural Medallion: 2005.”
15. A. R. Anjappan அஞ்சப்பன் ஏ. ஆர்,“ CiṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiya varalāṟṟil peyar patitta mukkiya aindu ilakkiyavātikaḷ” சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாற்றில் பெயர் பதித்த முக்கிய ஐந்து இலக்கியவாதிகள் [The 5 prominent personalities of Singapore Tamil literature], in Malēciya ciṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiyam (2005) mānāṭṭuk kaá¹­á¹­uraikaḷ மலேசிய சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கியம் (2005) à®®à®¾à®¨à®¾à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®•à¯ கட்டுரைகள் [Malaysia Singapore Tamil literature (2005) conference papers] (Kuala Lumpur: மலேசிய எழுத்தாளர் சங்கம், 2005), 225–44. (Call no. Tamil RSEA 894.81109 MAL)
16. M. Balakrishnan, “M. Balakrishnan, Cultural Medallion Recipient, 2005, Literature,” National Library Board Singapore in collaboration with National Arts Council, 2009.
17. IlÌ£aṅkanÌ£nÌ£an̲, மூன்று நாவல்கள்: பொருத்தம், கன்னிகாதானம், எங்கே போய்விடும் காலம்?, 3.  
18. வல்லமை [Vallamai], “ciṅgappÅ«r eḻuttāḷarkaḷ iruvarukku ‘karikālaṉ virutu’” சிங்கப்பூர் à®Žà®´à¯à®¤à¯à®¤à®¾à®³à®°à¯à®•à®³à¯ à®‡à®°à¯à®µà®°à¯à®•à¯à®•à¯à®•à®°à®¿à®•à®¾à®²à®©à¯ à®µà®¿à®°à¯à®¤à¯ [Two Singaporean writers receive the Karikalan award], Vallamai Media Services, 4 February 2013, http://www.vallamai.com/?p=31655.
19. Speeden, “Winner in His Own Write.”
20. M. Balakrishnan, “Shattered Hopes,” In People on the Bridge: An Anthology of ASEAN Short Stories (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2001), 532–38 (Call no. RSING 823.01 PEO); M Balakrishnan, “Shattered Hopes,” in The Fiction of Singapore, ed. Edwin Thumboo, et al. (Singapore: Unipress, 1993), 180–86. (Call no. RSING 823.008 ILA)

Further resources
K. Ilangovan க. இளங்கோவன், “CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻp paá¹­aippukaḷiṉ (1965–1981) pōkku” சிங்கப்பூரில் தமிழ்ப் படைப்புகளின் (1965–1981) போக்கு, in CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻum tamiḻilakkiyamum: āyvaraṅg mānāṭṭuk kaá¹­á¹­uraikaḷ  à®šà®¿à®™à¯à®•à®ªà¯à®ªà¯‚ரில் à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯à®®à¯ à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à®¿à®²à®•à¯à®•à®¿à®¯à®®à¯à®®à¯à®†à®¯à¯à®µà®°à®™à¯à®• à®®à®¾à®¨à®¾à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®•à¯ à®•à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®°à¯ˆà®•à®³à¯ [Tamil language and literature in Singapore: Seminar conference proceedings] (Singapore: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தேசியப் பல்கலைக் கழகத் தமிழ்ப் பேரவை, 1981). (Call no. Tamil RSING 494.811095957 SIN)

N. Kadikasalam ந. கடிகாசலம் and S. Sivasamy ச. சிவகாமி eds., “Ayalakat tamiḻkkalai, ilakkiyam: camakālac celneṟikaḷ” அயலகத் தமிழ்க்கலை, இலக்கியம்: சமகாலச் செல்நெறிகள் [Contemporary Tamil literature] (Chennai: உலகத் தமிழ் ஆராய்ச்சி நிறுவனம், 2001). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.81109 AYA)

I. Kannabiran, “CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻc ciṟukatai,” இ. கண்ணபிரான் சிங்கப்பூரில் தமிழ்ச் சிறுகதை [I. Kannabiran’s short stories Singapore], in “CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻum tamiḻilakkiyamum: āyvaraṅg mānāṭṭuk kaá¹­á¹­uraikaḷ” சிங்கப்பூரில் தமிழும் தமிழிலக்கியமும்: ஆய்வரங்க மாநாட்டுக் கட்டுரைகள் [Tamil language and literature in Singapore: Seminar conference proceedings] (Singapore: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தேசியப் பல்கலைக்கழகத் தமிழ்ப் பேரவை: 1978). (Call no. Tamil RSING 494.811095957 TAM)

Na. Govindasamy, “Introduction to Singapore Tamil short story,” in The Fiction of Singapore, ed. Edwin Thumboo et al. (Singapore: Unipress, 1990), 616–37. (Call no. RSING 823.008 FIC)

Na. Govindasamy நா, “CiṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiya vaḷarcci: camÅ«kaviyaṟ kaṇṇōṭṭam” கோவிந்தசாமி, சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கிய வளர்ச்சி: சமூகவியற் கண்ணோட்டம் [Tamil literature growth in Singapore: Sociological perspective], in ciṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻum tamiḻilakkiyamum: āyvaraṅg mānāṭṭuk kaá¹­á¹­uraikaḷ சிங்கப்பூரில் à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯à®®à¯ à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à®¿à®²à®•à¯à®•à®¿à®¯à®®à¯à®®à¯à®†à®¯à¯à®µà®°à®™à¯à®• à®®à®¾à®¨à®¾à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®•à¯ à®•à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®°à¯ˆà®•à®³à¯  [Tamil language and literature in Singapore: seminar conference proceedings] (Singapore: தேசியப் பல்கலைக்கழகத் தமிழ்ப் பேரவை, 1978). (Call no. Tamil RSING 494.811095957 SIN)

Na. Govindasamy நா, “CiṅgappÅ«ril ciṟukatai vaḷarcci,” கோவிந்தசாமி, சிங்கப்பூரில் சிறுகதை வளர்ச்சி [Growth of Singapore short stories], in “CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻmoḻi tamiḻ ilakkiya vaḷarcci” சிங்கப்பூரில் à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯à®®à¯Šà®´à®¿ à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯ à®‡à®²à®•à¯à®•à®¿à®¯ à®µà®³à®°à¯à®šà¯à®šà®¿: 1965–1990 [Tamil language and literature in Singapore: 1965–1990] (Singapore: The Journal, 1994), 129–48. (Call no. Tamil RSING 494.811 SIN)

Na. Govindasamy நா. கோவிந்தசாமி and Ilangovan இளங்கோவன், “CiṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻc ciṟukataikaḷ: ōr aṟimukam” சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ்ச் சிறுகதைகள்: ஓர் அறிமுகம் [An introduction to Singapore short stories] (Chennai: தமிழ்ப்புத்தகாலயம், 1992). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.811371 SIN)

J. M. Sali ஜே. எம். சாலி, “CiṅgappÅ«r tamiḻ nāval vaḷarcci” சிங்கப்பூர் தமிழ் நாவல் வளர்ச்சி [The growth of Tamil novels in Singapore], in à®†à®¯à¯à®µà®°à®™à¯à®•à®®à¯: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கியம் ஒரு நூற்றாண்டு [100 years of Singapore Tamil literature] (Singapore: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் எழுத்தாளர் கழகம், 1997). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.81171 SIN)

A. R. A. Sivakumaran ஏ. ஆர். ஏ. சிவகுமாரன், “CiṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻp paá¹­aippukaḷil camÅ«kam” சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ்ப் படைப்புகளில் சமூகம் [The community of Singapore Tamil publications], in CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻum tamiḻilakkiyamum: āyvaraṅg mānāṭṭuk kaá¹­á¹­uraikaḷ à®šà®¿à®™à¯à®•à®ªà¯à®ªà¯‚ரில் à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯à®®à¯ à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à®¿à®²à®•à¯à®•à®¿à®¯à®®à¯à®®à¯: à®†à®¯à¯à®µà®°à®™à¯à®• à®®à®¾à®¨à®¾à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®•à¯ à®•à®Ÿà¯à®Ÿà¯à®°à¯ˆà®•à®³à¯  [Tamil language and literature in Singapore: seminar conference proceedings] (Singapore: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தேசியப் பல்கலைக் கழகத் தமிழ்ப் பேரவை, 1982). (Call no. Tamil RSING 494.811095957 SIN)

Pon. Sundararasu பொன். சுந்தரராசு, “CiṅgappÅ«ril nāvalkaḷ vaḷarcci,” சிங்கப்பூரில் நாவல்கள் வளர்ச்சி [The growth of novel genre in Singapore], in CiṅgappÅ«ril tamiḻmoḻi tamiḻ ilakkiya vaḷarcci: 1965–1990 சிங்கப்பூரில் à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯à®®à¯Šà®´à®¿ à®¤à®®à®¿à®´à¯ à®‡à®²à®•à¯à®•à®¿à®¯ à®µà®³à®°à¯à®šà¯à®šà®¿: 1965–1990 [Tamil language and literature in Singapore: 1965–1990] (Singapore: The Journal, 1990). (Call no. Tamil RSING 494.811 SIN)

Suba. Thinnappan சுப. திண்ணப்பன், Ciṅgappūrt tamiḻ ilakkiya varalāṟu: oru kaṇṇōṭṭam சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கிய வரலாறு: ஒரு கண்ணோட்டம் [Singapore Tamil literature: A Perspective] (Singapore: சிங்கப்பூர் கலைமகள் மன்றம், 2002). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.8113 THI)

N. Baskaran ந. பாஸ்கரன், “ciṅgappÅ«riṉ ēḻu tamiḻc ciṟukatai eḻuttāḷarkaḷ,” சிங்கப்பூரின் ஏழு தமிழ்ச் சிறுகதை எழுத்தாளர்கள் [Singapore’s seven Tamil short story writers], in Āyvaraṅgam: ciṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiyam: oru nūṟṟāṇḍu à®†à®¯à¯à®µà®°à®™à¯à®•à®®à¯: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கியம்: ஒரு நூற்றாண்டு [100 years of Singapore Tamil literature]. Singapore: சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் எழுத்தாளர் கழகம், 1997).
(Call no. Tamil RSING 894.81171 SIN)

S. Mathivanan செ. மதிவாணன், “CiṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiyam: kaá¹­and 20 āṇḍukaḷum māṟṟaṅgaḷum,” சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கியம்: கடந்த 20 ஆண்டுகளும் மாற்றங்களும் [Singapore Tamil literature: Past 20 years and the progression], in Malēciya ciṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiyam (2005) mānāṭṭuk kaá¹­á¹­uraikaḷ à®®à®²à¯‡à®šà®¿à®¯ சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கியம் (2005) மாநாட்டுக் கட்டுரைகள் [Malaysia Singapore Tamil literature (2005) conference papers] (Chennai: மித்ர ஆர்ட்ஸ் & கிரியேஷன்ஸ், 2007). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.81109 MAL)

Venkat Swaminathan வெங்கட் சுவாமிநாதன், Kaá¹­al kaá¹­andum கடல் கடந்தும் [Diasporas] (Chennai: விருட்சம், 2006). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.8114 VEN)

M.S. Srilakshmi எம். எஸ். ஸ்ரீலக்ஷ்மி, CiṅgappÅ«rt tamiḻ ilakkiyam : āḻamum akalamum சிங்கப்பூர்த் தமிழ் இலக்கியம்: ஆழமும் அகலமும் [Singapore literature in depth] (Chennai: மருதா, 2005). (Call no. Tamil RSING 894.811109 SRI)

The information in this article is valid as of December 2023 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



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