I am first a human being, and this controls the writer in me. -
Sivasankari is a popular Tamil writer and activist. She is exceptionally sensitive to issues that confront contemporary society and has carved a niche for herself in the Tamil literary world over the last four decades. Her works include more than 36 novels, 48 short novels, 150 short stories, 15 travelogues, 7 collections of articles, one talking book, 4 volumes of literary research book, 2 volumes of anthologies, and biographies of Smt. Indira Gandhi and Sri. G.D. Naidu.
Her stories and articles have been published in prominent Tamil periodicals and many have been translated into English and other Indian languages. Her novels on Drug Abuse, Alcoholism and Old Age Problem, written after many years of research and authentic spadework, have won a lot of acclaim.
She is the first writer to have narrated her story through video and audiotapes. Her project ‘Knit India through literature’ aimed at substantiating the idea of unity in diversity through literature. This project attracted national attention and was acknowledged by SahityaAkademi as a ‘bench mark’.
She is a recipient of numerous awards such as Kasturi Srinivasan Award, Raja Sir AnnamalaiChettiyar Award, BharatiyaBhashaParishad Award and Tamil Annai Award. The Library of Congress has seventy-two titles of her works.
Sivasankaritells Marie Banu what triggered her to write on social problems.
While most of the writers author fiction, what triggered you to write on social problems?
I am first a human being, and this controls the writer in me. Being human, each one of us is indebted to the society.
I believe that one need not be from the government or a non-governmental organisation to engage in social work. A person in your family may not be a drug addict, but this issue affects you in some way or the other. If your friend’s son is a drug addict or your next door neighbour is an alcoholic—you cannot be keeping quiet or gossiping about it. You need to do something from your individual level.
It was therefore very natural for me to think and write about social problems, human relations, and inter-personal relationships.
Your novels have brought into limelight issues like drug abuse; alcoholism; and old age. How did you feel when you learnt that your writing has made an impact on people’s lives?
Definitely, the awareness on this issue has tremendously spread and engulfed. Not everybody knows everything at the first instance. We all learn, and once we learn we internalize and practise it.
I myself did not know that alcoholism was a disease. Alcoholism is a problem in almost every alternate household, and people thought that it had something to do with willpower or religious beliefs. But, alcoholism is like diabetes which requires treatment. When this awareness set into me, it was a revelation. I wanted to pass it on and share it with my readers.
At which age did you start writing and what was your first article on?
I was 25 when I penned my first story ‘avargalpesattum’. It was about a childless woman.
It is customary to do the Kaappu function on the 7th or 9th day after a child is born. On this occasion, certain communities (not sure if this is still practised) ask a childless woman to bathe and dress a grinding stone imagining it to be her child.
When I went through this incident, it hurt me very much. I believed that it emotionally affected the woman even more, and the insensitive attitude angered me. The older generation did have a reason for doing this, but I felt it was barbaric and demeaning.
Other than novels, you have also been writing travelogues. Which of the places did you cherish most?
Every country has something very peculiar and very typical of that country. I don’t think one can compare it with another. Each country has its own beauty, and its pluses and minuses. If you want see only the pluses, it is impossible.
I have done many international travels and I have enjoyed all of my travel – whether it is the Egyptian deserts or Alps in Switzerland or fjords in Norway. I am a person who would go with an open mind and accept whatever I see for its face value. I will never tend to compare it as five fingers are not the same in my own hand.
Reading habit amongst the youngsters today has declined due to electronic media. What are your thoughts on this?
I would say that the reading habits have not declined, but instead changed to a different medium. Previously it was physical books, but now people surf the internet. They may not choose fiction reading, but instead knowledge oriented articles.
Thirty years ago people had only books to read as they had no other diversion. But today, we have the television, cell phone, and internet. People are diverted from one to another and this is the price you have to pay for modernization and development.
A lot of youngsters spend hours on the internet, and of course many who waste their time on facebook and others. Anything used properly is good, but if you are going to indulge in it without any time limit, it is a waste!
What has been your learning while interviewing stalwart writers across India while doing the project — Knit India through literature?
First of all, I have traveled crisscross India. I am sure that I am one among the handful of people who have seen India the way I have seen. I have interacted with almost all the intellectual giants of various languages. Knowing about their perception, ideas on how they have succeeded, their values and their challenges, has been a great experience.
I learn from everything that I experience. Over a period of 16 years, I met about 100 senior writers from different language backgrounds and have had intense discussions and interviews with them. I looked into the region of their state through the eyes of the writer — their people; literature, women; youth; problems, etc. It would be difficult for me explain in a couple of sentences about what I have learnt.