Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Literary Arts

J.M. Sali

A prolific novelist and writer


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

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 practice your writing.

J. M. Sali was born in India in 1939 and came to Singapore in 1964 to join Tamil Murasu as an assistant editor. A prolific novelist, short-story writer, children’s literature writer, poet, dramaturge and translator, he helped to put Singapore on the international Tamil language literary map. Sali has created a body of work that extends to over 55 books that constitutes a major contribution to Tamil literature. His works have garnered multiple literary awards and some are now prescribed as standard textbooks in colleges and universities.

J. M. Sali was born in 1939 and came to Singapore in 1964. Parallel to his writing, which started when he was still a teenager, he has also enjoyed a career as a prominent literary editor and journalist.

For over 20 years he edited various Tamil language publications, including Singapore’s Tamil Murasu, and Chennai’s Ananda Vikatan Weekly and Mayan Youth Magazine. In 1983 he joined the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation as a broadcast journalist and news editor and continued this work for over three decades. In addition, Sali was an advisor to the Tamil section of the literary journal, Singa, from 1987 to 1990. He has also served since 2004 on the editoral committee of Nadi, the Tamil language publication of the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS).

Sali’s numerous literary awards include: Kannan Magazine (Tamil Nadu) Children’s Novel Prize (1959), Chennai Children’s Writers Association’s Award (1962), Best Tamil Novel Award from the Tamil Nadu Government (1978), Best Children’s Book Prize (1995), and the National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award for Tamil Fiction (1996) for Fasting, a collection of 22 short stories.

More recently he was received the Thamizhavel Award (2001) from the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers, the Kavimalai Award (2005) from the Kavimalai Poets Association (Singapore), and the Seera Award (2008) from the Chennai Kamban Kazhagam. In 2008 he was shortlisted for the Singapore Literary Award for his work Aayul Thandanai. In 2012, he received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature. In 2015, he received the SEA Write Award.

Among his recent republished work are: Alaigal Pesugindrana (The Sound of the Waves [1975, 3rd ed. 2006]) in which Sali explores the themes of love, respect, guilt and sacrifice through a main character caught between lives split between Singapore and his native home in India; and Birds of a Feather (2009), which is a collection of 21 short stories written between 1955 and 1961 centring on characters from school settings. In addition to English translations, some of his short stories have also been translated into Hindi, Urdu and Sinhalese.

Today, in addition to writing, Sali does Tamil language translation for the National Archives and the National Heritage Board.


10 Apr 1939

Born in India.


Started writing.


Received Best Children’s Novel award by Kannan Magazine, Tamil Nadu, India for Iru Kankal (Two Eyes).


Published Iru Kankal.


Graduated with Masters of Arts from Madras University, India.
Received Best Children’s Novel award by Chennai Children’s Writers Association, India, for Thanka Kiligal.


Moved to Singapore.

1964 to 1971

Assistant Editor, Tamil Murasu.


Income Configurations


Translated One Year of Independence, published by the Ministry of Culture.

1971 to 1981

Assistant Editor, Ananda Vikatan Weekly, Madras, India.


Published three biographies of Muhammad Ali.


Published Alaikal Pesukinrana.
Published five biographies of Bruce Lee.


Published biography of Idi Ameen.


Published Vilanku.
Published biography of Pele Kalpanthu Mannan Pele (Soccer King Pele).


Published Kanakanden Thozhi.
Published Solli Therivathillai.
Published biography of Yasser Arafat.


Received Best Tamil Novel Award by the Tamil Nadu Government for Kanakanden Thozhi.


Translated Once Upon A Time – Buddha History for New Delhi’s National Book Trust.
Published Puratchi Thalaivarin Ponmozhigal.

1981 to 1982

Executive Editor, Mayan Youth Magazine, Madras, India.


Published Siruvar Sirukahaikal.


Assistant Editor, Tamil Murasu.


Published Sayal.

1983 to 2000

Broadcast Journalist, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
News Editor, Television Corporation of Singapore.

1987 to 1990

Editorial Advisor and Contributing Editor, Singa.


Published Nonbu.
Published VellaiKodugal.


Received Best Children’s Book award by the Tamil Nadu Government for Ariviyal Munnodigal (SciencePioneers).


Received Book Award by the National Book Development Council of Singapore for Nonbu (Fasting) a collection of short stories.


Published Antha Naal.

2000 to 2012

Part-time Translation Tutor, Civil Service College, Singapore.
Part-time Interpreter, Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.


Received TamilaVel Virudhu Award by the Singapore Tamil Writers Association.

2004 to 2012

Member, NADI Editorial Committee, Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).


Received Kavimalai Award by Kavimalai Poets Association.


Published Aayul Thandanai.


Published J. M. Sali Sirukatahikal.


Shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize for Aayul Thandanai (Life Imprisonment).
Received Seera Award by the Chennai Kamban Kazhagam.


Published Ilakia Ithazial Munnodical (Tamil Muslim Pioneers of Modern Literature and Journalism Part 1).
Published Thamizhakathu Durghakkal (Durghas of Tamil Nadu – History of Saints).
Published Annadurai’s Speech Collection in Meelad Festivals.
Published Oru Kilai Paravaikal (Birds of the Same Feather).


Published Ponmalar.
Published Siruvar Kathaikal.
Published Muthirai Ninaivukal.


Received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature.


Received the SEA Write Award.


TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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