I wrote the content in the website myself, though I have not written anything in my Facebook account
“It is one of the few dates I remember – April 2, 1966, when me, my husband and our five-month-old daughter went to Wayanad,” recalls Vatsala. Transport was rare, there was no electricity and they stayed in an accommodation arranged by an acquaintance. Though they intended to stay in the forest for two months, Vatsala says they returned after 17 days. “The landlord told us that once the rain starts in the deep forests, it would be impossible to move out,” she says.
Vatsala returned home only to go back to Wayanad. “I went there and watched the forests in every weather — winter, rain and summer — for three years,” she says, and Nellu was born. “I wanted to write about something not written before and a friend told me about Wayanad and its people. I love being close to nature. It was challenging to be in a strange place. We used to travel across 31 kilometres of protected forests and interact with people.”
Even after Nellu, Wayanad continued to cast its spell on the author. She now has a retreat in Thirunelli to which she disappears often to be in the silent company of words. “The wild stream Kalindi runs in front of my house,” she says. After Nellu, she set her Agneyam and Kooman Kolly too in the forests of Wayanad.
“I was eager to become a writer,” she says. She took up the pen when no other girl she knew had the habit. Apart from Malayalam authors she grew up on Pearl S. Buck and Thomas Hardy. “Initially, I wanted to be a painter. But there was no way of studying it in Kerala, my contemporaries went to Chennai. I wanted to be an architect, but there were no avenues for it. Then I took up writing as I could be completely independent,” says Vatsala. She also worked as a government teacher all her life.
Writing continues to remain an intensely personal act for the author. “I am very secretive about what I write. Even as a child, I would keep it in my custody till I sent it for publication. My mother knew about my writing, but my father came to know about it much later,” she says.
Vatsala says even her husband, a teacher who has been extremely supportive, knows about what she has written only when it appears in print. They are both interested in travelling, and her travels have yielded her characters of different hues. “All my characters are taken from my life, people whom I have met during my travels. When I meet a person with some peculiarity, I keep thinking about these aspects to their personality and my stories are often the answer to my questions,” says Vatsala.
The 72-year-old writer, who along with Kamala Das and Sugathakumari is among the handful of women writers of that generation, also exhibits a keen urge to keep up with the times. She has a website and even a Facebook account. “I wrote the content in the website myself, though I have not written anything in my Facebook account,” she says. As a writer Vatsala doesn't believe in getting nostalgic about what is gone. And in fact she has never been severed from her roots. The ancestral house she grew up in forms the back drop of her home today.
Vatsala's works, especially her novels, traverse a spectrum of concerns, from the uninhibited lives in Wayanad to globalisation and development. She continues to experiment. She wrote her recently published novel Melppalam (The Flyover) first in English and then translated it into Malayalam. “I was staying in the United States with my son when I started writing the novel. When I asked him for papers, he got me a bunch of computer sheets,” she remembers. She decided instead to write on the computer. “The day before I left, my son copied the novel onto a disc and I translated it to Malayalam.”
The writer, who till recently served as the president of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi, is working on her next novel. “It is about a girl working in the US who returns as she is not able to culturally adapt to that country.”