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WOMAN OF THE WEEK

There's truth in her fiction

Writer Sivasankari's appeal lies in her identifiable content and natural prose



SIVASANKARI "I care therefore I share"

A young blogger wrote: "Have any of you read Sivasankari's `Paalangal'? Recently, I came across a copy of the novel and couldn't put it down. I was reading it for the fourth time."

An old-timer stated: "I read her stories when they appeared in Ananda Vikatan and Kalki. Her racy monthly novellas told gripping stories." A movie buff mailed: "Her 47 Natkal, Nandu and Kutty made great movies." After a book collection was brought out to mark her 60th birthday, a friend said, "I read all the 60 stories at one go on a train journey. Couldn't believe they were all written by the same person!"

The writer

Her switch over from classical dancer to creative writer might have been a "meaningful accident", but Sivasankari has a permanent place in Tamil readers' psyche. For 14 years, she has not written even a short story, but her readership continues to swell.

The JNU added "Paalangal" to its library as "an authentic document of Brahmin tradition." A chapter of the book has been recorded in her voice for the Archives of U.S. Library of Congress. The Singapore Library has her "47 Days" in its collection.

As a 25 year-old, she dashed off a story as inspired protest ("I read the acceptance card 500 times!") and found an outlet for her thoughts. Her first award came early in her career. In the 1970s and 1980s, she wove narratives around drug addiction, problems of the elderly in shrinking families and artificial insemination, a theme that shocked many at that time.

Her novellas touched on love and loss, friendship between sexes. The accuracy of facts in the underlying exposés rattled a generation's conscience. When Thyagu, the alcoholic's troubles unfolded, an angry MD wrote, "For 15 years, I stashed the bottles in the cistern. You told my wife about it. You do not understand my pain." She went hungrily for subjects that she could shape into readable tales.

Her appeal is in the readability, identifiable content and natural, everyday prose. There is no judging, no sermons or no self-indulgent descriptions. It is, "Hey, guys, look what I found while digging. I polished it up for you. You like it? I'm so glad." Like any valuable find, her stories have acquired a mantle of immortality. She believes "Paalangal" among others, "will survive the test of time".

The researcher/anthologist

She fictionalised the cultural clashes between NRI parents and their children growing in an alien culture in "Ini", result of a 20-year study. The TN Federation in the U.S. invited her to address members. "Four hundred copies of the book were grabbed in no time. The book's success gave me the greatest satisfaction."

She's interested in the person more than in the professional achievement, she said. "I asked the President why he chose to be a bachelor, why he wore his hair that way."

She had a long conversation with Mrs. Gandhi before writing "Indiraavin Kathai", travelled with Rajiv Gandhi to write about him. She spoke to alcoholics and psychiatrists, read AA pamphlets and visited a drug den 30 years ago. She is grateful to her "broad-minded family and the editors of magazines" for their support.

She quit storytelling to take up "Knit India Through Literature," a compendium of India's best vernacular writing.

The person

She is in close touch with her inner self, she said. She doesn't expect to change the world and she rejects the feminist label. "I am a writer and incidentally a woman. I wrote on women's issues because they affected me. The minute the writer is in conflict with the humanist in me, I'll put the pen down."

She validates her works (150 short stories, 30 novels, 14 travelogues, two biographies and essays), her TV talk shows, public speeches, activities of her forum AGNI and the weddings she organises for poor couples with the elemental "I care therefore I share" philosophy. But that's only half the truth. The other half is this: Sivasankari is a heady combination of high IQ, active curiosity, courage to initiate action and the tenacity to follow it through. She has done adventure travel — river rafting, deep sea walking and para-sailing. She has played 2-cent video games and is a dog lover. She must now publish the stories of her stories.

Will she write fiction again? "May be... if my readers want it."

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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