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The Rediff Interview / Sivasankari

'The message has to be sugar-coated so that it tastes very good'

Sivasankari Sivasankari is one of Tamil Nadu's most popular figures. Her fiction and shows on television, which deal with ordinary people, are a hit. Literary critics are, however, not so enthusiastic about her work. Nevertheless, her novels on alcoholism and drug addiction received national attention when television serials based on them were made in Hindi.

The novelist discussed her concerns in an interview with Shobha Warrier recently. Excerpts from the conversation:

How did your initiation into literature take place?

I never thought I would become a writer. I never thought I could write. Although my mother tongue is Tamil, I was a student of Sanskrit. But I have always been sensitive to what happens around me. As a 25 year old, I happened to witness a ceremony that was customary in our community. I reacted very badly to it because I felt it treated women very badly.

When a child is born in a family, people of our community ask those women who do not have children, to bathe a grinding stone imagining it to be a child. All the women in the household stand around and tell the women to bathe the 'child' properly, otherwise, it will catch a cold.

I thought it was very insensitive of anyone to ask a woman to undergo all that. This bothered me a lot. I didn't know what to do.

How did you react when it actually happened?

Actually, it was me who went through the whole thing. All this happened thirty years ago. One night, I do not know how many days after the incident, around eleven, I took a paper and wrote down whatever that was in my mind. Later on when I read that, I found it to be a short story. That was the most beautiful accident in my life.

Later on in life, did you ever think of adopting a child?

Children When I was young, I did think of adopting a child. The day I told my husband about that, he said, great! And then he made me sit next to him and explained something to me. He said, 'It is human nature to save everything for your child. If you have ten rupees, you tend to save nine rupees for your child.' He said, 'Instead of adopting one child and spending for that child alone, why couldn't we adopt many, many children and give them education?' I wept when he said this to me.

I thought he was taking me to a higher level. The thought that I don't have a child of my own does not bother me any more. When I was young, I used to feel that I was not a full women at all. It's great to love the entire society and embrace the society as your own.

You advise people on many issues. How did you take up this role?

I have been fortunate enough to have somebody telling me about life. Every experience teaches you a lesson, good or bad. It always prepares you to accept life more smoothly. I feel if I care about society, I should disseminate the view as beautifully as possible. That's what I have been doing. Writing for me is another extension of my policy in life which is caring and sharing.

How responsible or committed does has an artist or literary person have to be towards society? Can s/he cut himself/ herself away and concentrate on his/her work alone, saying 'I am responsible only to my conscience'?

An artist or a literary person is not born that way. All are human beings. I think every human being has a commitment to the society in which s/he lives because we take so much from society. Each individual has a commitment, and incidentally that individual becomes a writer or a doctor or a politician or an artist. It makes no difference. But since we are in the mass media, I feel literary people are the torchbearers or opinion-makers because they have followers. Yes, your responsibility is greater if you become a public person as we have a moral obligation towards society.

When did you discover that you have a fan following and that there are people who idolise you?

Those are all your words! In the first year itself, I was very, very surprised when even popular personalities called me to discuss my stories. It's been happening right from the beginning. It is because I have been dealing with their problems. Most of my readers identified with my characters. They felt I was telling them their stories, so they come closer to the writer.

Within a year itself, I could feel I was communicating well with people. When somebody tells me s/he is my fan, I immediately correct them, ''No, you are my reader."

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh


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