The Last Word

Crossword aficionados remember a favourite setter

01 June 2014
PC Jayaraman, also known as Sankalak, with his wife Vimala.
courtesy Jayashankar Jayaraman
PC Jayaraman, also known as Sankalak, with his wife Vimala.
courtesy Jayashankar Jayaraman

ON 15 FEBRUARY, The Hindu Crossword Corner, a blog focused on The Hindu’s daily crossword, announced that the veteran setter Sankalak (“Compiler” in Sanskrit) had passed away the day before, aged eighty-two. Tributes poured in, filled with shock and sadness, from many who considered Sankalak their favourite setter. One admirer called him “a nonpareil setter with superb, smooth style”; another remembered that “his clues were probing but gentle, and gave you a fair chance.”

Sankalak was the pen name of PC Jayaraman, a retired career diplomat who worked with the commerce ministry back when it was still called the ministry of foreign trade. He had a knack for creating cryptic crosswords, games of vocabulary and logic between the setter and the solver in which the clues are puzzles in themselves, with solutions hidden in them—as anagrams, for instance. Jayaraman’s crosswords have been appearing in The Hindu for twenty-two years.

Many remember Jayaraman especially fondly for his clever yet simple clues. Shuchismita Upadhyay, author of the blog Crossword Unclued, said, “The Hindu crossword is considered to be quite difficult and there is a learning curve. Sankalak’s crosswords are usually easier and encouraging for beginners. At the same time they are elegant.” Kishore Rao, who has been setting cryptic crosswords for The Hindu for more than two years, agreed. “A setter is not out to challenge his solver by saying ‘I am cleverer than you,’” he said. Instead, a setter’s job is to say, “I want to tease you a little but let you win at the end.” Jayaraman, he said “was really good at that.”

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    Nayantara Narayanan is the Public Health Editorial Fellow with The Caravan

    Keywords: The Hindu Chennai obituary newspaper