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Beyond black and white

DEEPA GANESH

Vijayamma, among the early woman journalists in Kannada, lived her life with a rare courage. A writer with many books to her credit, Vijayamma has worked in several, diverse fields

Photo: Bhagya Prakash K. and courtesy family album

No stereotypes for herVijayamma has made a difference to several people in her life. Seen with Kuvempu, actress Jayamala and Masti Venkatesh Iyengar; she edited Sankula, a journal for the arts

Life takes the most unexpected turns. For writer-journalist Vijaya, who is known as Vijayamma by one and all, the world outside her home was completely unknown. Coming from an orthodox Telugu brahmin family, and married at 16, Vijayamma remained a devoted housewife, pious and dutiful, constantly tending to a large family of in-laws and many others. “By 20, both my kids were born. I was a fulltime housewife, hidden from the world. So much so that I did not even know Kannada newspapers existed,” recalls Vijayamma, who went on to be one of the earliest women journalists in Kannada. “Perhaps my father-in-law did read newspapers, but it was kept away from the women of the house.”

That circumstances that led her to pursue a career was most unanticipated. Her marriage began to pose problems and to keep her dignity in place, it was imperative for her to walk out. “I still cannot figure out what gave me that energy, but I stepped out. The first thing I did was to go in search of my inner calling; I started learning music from Indira, who was the wife of the renowned theatre person A.S. Murthy. I spent long hours after my class, reading books that were there. I had a fascination for writing as well. Recognising this, Murthy used to push me to make welcome speeches, give a vote of thanks...,” Vijayamma laughs recalling her unbelievably flowery speeches of those early days, and how there was a climate to appreciate it.

It was around this time: the Karnataka Lekhakiyara Sangha had organised a novel writing workshop in which Vijayamma participated. The Managing Director of a popular Kannada magazine Prajamata, Siddaramaiah, was very impressed by the way Vijayamma presented her writing, and invited her to write a column for the magazine. “It was like a boon from the high heavens. The money was very important to me, it was a small sum but it helped to keep my hearth burning,” she remembers. In the years that she wrote for Prajamata, Vijayamma established several contacts, and earned a good reputation. Soon she got an invitation from the magazine Mallige. “They made me in-charge of the magazine, it was hard to believe!” The magazine, which had done extremely well under the editorship of writer Nadiger Krishnarayaru had dipped in circulation, in the years after him. But Vijayamma, through her hard work and a definite vision for the magazine, brought the magazine back to centre-stage, the circulation went up to an unprecedented 75,000.

Life was not easy – managing a home and raising two kids was no joke. “The kind of moral support that writers like Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Gokak and others gave me is responsible for what I am today. They stood by me in adverse times, and filled me with enormous energy to take the right step without compromising on my dignity. ‘Take this, first go pay school fees for the kids,' Masti would turn up unfailingly. The world called these writers traditional and conservative, but I have not seen their liberal spirit even in modern writers,” says Vijayamma emphatically.


With an amazing self-assurance Vijayamma furthered her studies. She did her Masters in Kannada and even went on to do her P.HD. “I probably would not have earned my doctorate but for the insistence of Ha. Ma. Nayak who pushed me to do it. He left Bangalore to become the vice-chancellor of Gulbarga University but he made sure that he kept in touch regularly and gave me all the timely advises.”

Looking back at her life and the years of struggle, there are several people to whom Vijayamma feels indebted. She recalls the commitment of Kannada scholar and critic Prof. H.S. Raghavendra Rao who stood firmly with her and looked into every word of her thesis on the playwright Sriranga; he shaped her arguments and guided her thoughts.

Her interests were several, and hence her life was multi-part: home, theatre, puppetry, writing, and activism. After a while at the magazine Tushara, she was absorbed into the Kannada daily Udayavani. “They started their film magazine Roopatara, and I started covering films as well. My writing was very bold, I have hurt many people with what I have said, but it never had a tint of personal animosity. I spoke the truth as it is,” says Vijayamma, who is highly revered in the film circles even today. Her strong personality, her ability to expose things as they were, won her great respect, and soon she had stars coming to her for help and counselling – men and women. “The women would tell me everything, but not even once in my career have I bared them. I have had professional quarrels with them, but I guarded their personal secrets with my life.” As she began to see through the many layers of oppression and discrimination women in the industry went through, Vijayamma slowly moved towards activism, which had its roots during the Emergency days. Even today, women who have a role to play in the feminist movement recall the support Vijayamma gave them with gratitude. “Nothing has changed with my age. Women still come to me, and I do whatever I can. It's a cruel world, and human meanness is unfathomable.”

After Vijayamma quit Udayavani, she started her own printing press, Ila Printers in 1976. “I came into very close contact with writers, and this even helped me home my skills. I started an unusual magazine called Sankula for the arts, which ran for five years,” explains Vijayamma who is the author of several books on theatre, cinema and literature.

Vijayamma, with an unrelenting persistence, worked towards shaping herself. But for women who make choices that are out of the box, nothing comes easy — success and failure. “I owe much to my children. They were never divided emotionally. It's because of them that my burdens were lighter,” says Vijayamma, recalling an incident when there was an effort to patch up. “My sons said that my husband could come back if he wished to, but let him be sure that amma is always going to be the master of the house.”


Vijayamma is the next in our series on women who have walked unbeaten paths.

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