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Penning real-life pictures

The name "Anuthama" revives memories in the older generation of stories that revolved round everyday situations and provided insights into the human psyche . A profile of the octogenarian writer.


"DIGNIFIED" WAS how one writer described another writer's works, a woman writer who had made a mark much before he entered the arena. He was referring to Anuthama (real name Rajeshwari) — a writer who carries her eighty years rather lightly and whose intellect is as lively and alert as that of anyone half her age.

The name Anuthama is sure to bring back, at least to the older generation, memories of stories set in common enough situations, with characters thinking and behaving in ways to which the reader could relate. This insight into the workings of the human psyche that seemed to take peeps into the inner recesses of their own hearts was what made her readers feel a kind of kinship with this writer. The relationship that Anuthama has with the characters in her books, too, is equally deep. They become her family and friends.

"Once I have finished a book, there is an emptiness in me; an emptiness that you feel after a family celebration, when family members, having strengthened or forged bonds, go their way, leaving you with only memories," muses Anuthama. Considering that she has 300 short stories and 21 novels to her credit, hers must be a large family indeed! Theirs was an `open house'. People came to visit and shared their troubles with her mother-in-law, a wise counsellor. The course of these people's lives and how they had, or could have, dealt with their life situations became the wellspring of her short stories and novels.

"I stumbled into writing," says Anuthama. A moment alone in a garden when the gentle touch of the breeze, distant strains of music, the colour and fragrance of the flowers combined to inspire in her a sort of thankfulness for Nature's bounty, heightened her senses, and emerged as her first short story "Angayar Kanni". It won a prize in the Kalki Short Story competition of June 1947. Very few of her characters are stereotypes. In one of her earlier novels, "Gowri", she deals with different kinds of marriages — arranged and love marriages; discordant and amicable partnerships; even an unusual marriage of convenience! A woman character proposes marriage to a friend for the sole reason that he would be the ideal partner/ co-worker in her social work activities. That way her family could have no objection to her taking up social service in a far-off place. In another story, "Ore Oru Varthai", she analyses the importance of proper communication — how a word spoken or not spoken at the appropriate moment, how a caring or a hurtful word can change an entire life-pattern.

Talking to Anuthama, who is equally at home in Tamil and English, it is difficult to believe that her education was, in her own words, "a crazy mosaic of knowledge garnered here and there." Whenever he had the time, her father would spout verses from Shakespeare, the Ramayana or the Telugu classics, while her mother would tell her stories in Tamil. She started reading at a very early age. She gratefully remembers the nun at her convent school, who steered her reading towards the classics.

Her constant reading saw to it that she never felt bored at any time. She humorously tells us, "A panchangam, once, entertained me for a couple of hours. There is so much drama even in a Railway time table!" Little did the young book lover think then that a few years down the line she would be authoring books. "I only read and read. I never thought I could or should write," she says. Once she had begun her creative innings, there was no stopping her. Almost all her stories found their way into popular magazines and often won her prizes in fiction writing competitions.

"Gender bias? It has always existed and still exists; even today; women do not have the freedom to make choices or decisions. Perhaps women of the earlier era simply accepted their lot and had fewer expectations from society," avers Anuthama. Even so, a supportive spouse and family do make all the difference to one's emergence as a person in one's own right. Anuthama remembers how her husband edited her earlier stories, initiating and introducing her into the subtleties of the Tamil language.

Anuthama defines good literature as something that has good language and a flowing style, with ideas that leave an imprint on the minds of readers. She says she appreciates subtlety in describing emotion, citing Ku. Pa. Ra. as an example. She admires some of the younger generation of authors who write "with courage."

Not many younger Tamil readers are familiar with Anuthama's writings, so her stories often do not get included in present-day anthologies. Very few Tamil women writers have had the privilege of being included in lists of litterateurs, and it is sad that critics, who are unfamiliar with the works of writers such as Anuthama, compile these lists. A case of the sentence being pronounced without even a trial?

PADMA NARAYANAN
PREMA SEETHARAM

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