Tamil writer, who played an unwelcome biographer to Jayalalithaa in the book ‘Amma’, recounts her literary journey
The year was 1984 and I recall a comely journalist visiting my house in the city because she was meeting different people as she wanted to write a novel. The subject was Punjab peril and the genesis of ethnic violence because she was an eye-witness to the violence against the Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
She is Vaasanthi, the celebrated Tamil novelist as well a commentator in English, who shared her literary journey with scholars, writers and bookworms in a face-to-face organised by the Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi on Saturday.
Looking back, this writer of many seasons and awards, said the novel on Punjab ‘The Silent Storm’ (Mounappuyal in Tamil) took seed during the brutal killings of the Sikhs. “I was assigned to do a cover story for a Tamil magazine and somehow I reached downtown from my home and on the rooftop of the Hindustan Times along with other journalists I saw the city as just columns of smoke.”
“It was so inhuman and I was also touched by the story of a young boy called Jaswinder, a classmate of my son. Both boys were SFI activists and after the four unhappy days of the ill-fated November, Jaswinder came visiting and I could not recognise him because he had short hair and was clean shaven. Not just that, fear was writ large on his face,” Vaasanthi recounted. She added that what touched her the most was when Jaswinder said that he felt an ‘outsider’ who could be killed any time.
The novel, ‘The Silent Storm’, touched the hearts but somehow escaped being translated into Punjabi, a task that still needs to be taken up.
Social injustice and politics have been themes close to Vaasanthi’s heart and her non-fiction book ‘Cut-outs, caste and cine stars’, scanning the Dravadian politics in English’, was well-received and this led to her being commissioned an unauthorised biography of Jayalalithaa by the same leading publisher. However, two weeks before the release ‘Amma’ filed a defamation case on the publishers, who after fighting it for a year backed out. Vaasanthi says, “While the book was critical of cut-out myths and rampant corruption yet it also tried to understand the humiliation of a woman in patriarchal politics and her courage in joining them if you can’t beat them.”
More recently but within the lifetime of Jayalalitha, an abridged version of the biography ‘AMMA’ was published by another publisher of books in English. It sold some phenomenal 50,000 and continues to sell still. “I will now be publishing the original book which is some 300 pages,” says Vaasanthi.
When asked which are her major concerns as a writer, she says, “Human rights violations, gender issues, communal harmony and compassion.” This sums up the role of a writer, any writer for there can be no literature sans compassion.