M.S. Amsalakshmi tries to bring about a change in society through her poetry and a helping hand
She may have been a banker all her life, but M.S. Amsalakshmi considers her poetry to be the greatest achievement of her life.
Tall, lithe and eyes sparkling with curiosity – Amsalakshmi is one of the writers to be featured in a text compiled by the Bharathiar University titled Kongu Naadu Kavinzhargal, a book that will include some of the women writers in the Kongu region. Her poems have already appeared in magazines such as Thannambikkai, Ilakiya Thuligal and Nila.
Lives of women
Amsalakshmi confesses that she was rather conservative and narrow-minded when she was younger.
“I remember when I moved with my husband to Bangalore, I wouldn't talk to a man just because he smoked and drank. But that was me then. Over the years I slowly broadened my perspective on life,” she says. And the sight of a baby lying in a gutter in Bangalore jolted Amsalakshmi out of her comfort zone. “I knew there must have been some reason why that mother just abandoned her child so,” she says. It set her thinking and her first poem, a short quatrain published in the Ilakiya Deepam was a plea to account for the lives of women.
As a young girl, Amsalakshmi's life was just restricted to school and home. “I never saw much of the world outside”, says the writer. One day, on a bus ride back home Amsalakshmi learnt that the Corporation kept count of people, both living and dead. It led her to ask questions about the lives of women whom she called the “living dead”
One of Amsalakshmi's treasured belongings is a four-page fan letter that she received from a prisoner in the Central Jail in Chennai.
A teary-eyed Amsalakshmi says she cherishes this letter more than her poems. It is from Rajendran, a Sri Lankan, who was sentenced to four years rigorous imprisonment. He writes how her poetry helped him survive his days in prison. For him, her poetry was hope.
Her collection of poems, Viyarvai Rojakkal (Roses that bloom in sweat) lines the book shelves of all the Government libraries in India.
A little bit of the British Romantic poets runs through her poems.
“I love Keats”, says this Literature Major. With the backdrop of Nature, the deepest of human dilemmas find resonance in her verses. Of her poems, Naan is the closest to her heart.
In it she compares herself to a raajaali (kite) flying high to see and learn different things.
Lighting a flame
Amsalakshmi has often written about social issues. Matthaappu Kanavukal was written following a fire in one of the cracker factories in Sivakasi that killed around 300 children in 1994. The poem narrates the dialogue between a mother and a child. The child asks his mother if he can have crackers for Deepavali. The mother in response narrates the tale of a young boy, Mani who has never been to school as he has to work at the firecracker factory. One day, a man carelessly tosses a lit cigarette causing the factory to burn down and Mani perishes with it. The poet ends the poem saying,
Kaattril kalantha gandhagam thaan
Yen kaadhodu sonnadhae pala kanneer kathai
The poet says the smell that pervaded in the air that day told her of so many more unfortunate tales.
Making a difference
For Amsalakshmi, her stint at the Vedapatti branch of ING Vysya bank was the best seven-and-a half years of her life.
“I used to talk to the women vegetable vendors as I waited for the bus. I realised that none of these women had a penny in savings. They were intimidated by the paperwork involved to open an account,” says Amsalakshmi.
Instead, they borrowed from local financiers who charged them whopping interest. Amsalakshmi convinced the women to come to the bank and she took care of the paperwork for them.
She says, “It is you and I who make up society, and if we will it, we can make a difference.”