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The Rediff Interview / Sivasankari

'Any seed will be truthful to the soil in which it is planted'

Sivasankari From where do you take your characters? Is it from your surroundings alone?

Yes, of course, from those I meet and see. I don't like to make the identity quite obvious, at the same time I would like them to have shapes so that many people would identify (with the characters). It is a story after all, You have to make them interesting. Giving a message alone is a primary function. The message has to go indirectly, sugar-coated so that it tastes very good.

Do you mean a creative writer has to give a message in each story?

You can call it by different names. Certainly not preaching, certainly not educative but information and message are the same. I give it to you as truthful, authentic information. If you take it as a message, it is because of your need. But I give positive information -- whether it is on drugs, adultery, hormones, alcoholism, or a working women's problems. I do spadework and I reflect as truthfully as possible, making it interesting with some fictional aspect.

You have written so much about drugs. A television serial was made based on your novel. You may have met many youngsters who are drug addicts. From your experience, will you tell us what drives these youngsters to drugs?

The drug history is a fairly new phenomenon, it happened some thirty years ago. In fact, in some areas in Rajasthan, people offer opium like they offer haldi kumkum to guests. Even in America, to my knowledge, drug abuse became a major problem only in the sixties.

Childrens In the sixties and the seventies, India was just a trafficking country. From the golden crescent and the golden triangle which lay on either side of India, opium was brought to India and it was converted into heroin here and later on was sent to the western countries. Then the western states brought in stringent laws to control this smuggling. So, a lot of those drugs began accumulating in India. Naturally the drug traffickers saw big potential here itself.

By the mid-seventies, India became a user's paradise from a trafficking country. India being a poor country, they could not sell heroin for 400 rupees per gram. What they did was, they mixed one portion of heroin with dhatura seed powder, which is highly poisonous, and zinc oxide and marketed it. So the white heroin became brown and came to be known as brown sugar in India. When I was doing my research in the late seventies, it was sold for just forty rupees.

By the early eighties, college students got exposed to it and they got such a kick out of it too! When I came to know from doctors that with just one usage, even by inhaling, people got addicted to it, I thought it was my duty to inform the public about it.

I wrote the story Avan in 1985 with four youngsters from different family backgrounds as heroes. One boy was from a shattered family, another had to shoulder the responsibility of the family as his father was not alive. The third one had everything and the fourth had a normal, healthy, disciplined family. I wanted to tell people that anybody can be a victim to drugs.

I was told by doctors that it was curiosity that drove youngsters to drugs. They also think they get pleasure out of it. Peer pressure also plays a major and dangerous role. These days most of the children come back to an empty home and they feel neglected. Now parents rather sit in front of the television and watch a programme than ask the child about his school day. How many parents have the time for it now? The youngest drug addict I met was an eight year old!

How did society react to your findings, your novel?

I received a lot of brickbats. But I was not bothered. They said I was giving unnecessary information to youngsters about western culture and their habits. They are very wrong. Just because some people are not exposed to such problems, they cannot say that such a problem does not exist at all. It was very saddening to see a drug addict. The rehabilitation success rate is just five per cent.

Do you feel the parents of those youngsters are responsible for driving them to drugs? How can the parents help them recover?

Times have changed. Parents should start treating their children as friends and parents should stop comparing children. The tension and stress that today's child goes through is tremendous. You should not push your dreams into your child's reality. It might have happened some thirty years ago, but society has changed now.

A child should have the confidence to reveal his problems to his parents.

Why do today's parents push their children very hard?

Parents If there are ten seats for a course, there are a thousand people applying for it. So, it has become a world of competition.

You have traveled a lot, you told me, You have written stories about Indians abroad. It is said that Indian elders there try to impose Indian culture on their children, but the youngsters, who are brought up in a different social atmosphere, do not relate to the elders's idea and naturally it leads to clashes. Have you observed anything like that at close quarters?

My last novel was Ini (Hereafter). I went to the US for the first time in 1970. The seed for a novel was sown in me then itself. I watched with interest the Indians who have migrated there in the sixties. Their problems start when their children become teenagers. Many of the parents could not accept dating and things that are part of that culture. I am not talking about the US alone, it is there everywhere.

I wrote a novel based on the theme 25 years later. One thing the elders should remember -- For them their home might be India, for their children home is the country they grew up in. While the parent's roots remain in India, the children have their roots in the country they grew up in. Parents should accept this fact. Any seed will be truthful to the soil in which it is planted. I feel the problem is only for the first generation who have migrated. The second generation becomes natural citizens of the country they are in. This applies to those who have migrated from the villages to towns even in India.

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

The Rediff Interview

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