Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for "The Thousand Faces of Night", her first novel, Githa Hariharan sees herself as an "engaged citizen", says P. Anima

As a college-goer with literary ambitions, she remembers enthusiastically showing what she thought was fine poetry to the legendary Nissim Ezekiel. The veteran poet apparently told her, "My dear, this is what we called juvenilia."

Decades later it is with fondness that Commonwealth Writers' Prize winner and noted writer Githa Hariharan remembers her beginnings as a writer.

"I often got a yellow postcard from Ezekiel which just said `persist','' Githa told her readers during a "Meet the Author" function organised by Sahitya Akademi and India International Centre in the Capital this past week.

"It is after he saw my later writings that the post cards finally stopped. He thought of some others to send it to,'' she adds, tracing her literary journey and her association with Ezekiel who had by then become a friend.

Interacting with readers is probably as interesting and exciting for the author as it is for book-lovers, says Githa, who has four novels and many short stories to her credit.

"These meetings with the readers and would-be readers are a confirmation that we exist. Otherwise we writers spend so much time in a small space," she says.

Githa, who grew up on tales and myths, finally took up writing as she decided it was time to tell her own fables. Her first novel "The Thousand Faces of Night" won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

"I published the book late for I thought my critical ability was more developed than my writing ability," says the author, who worked in publishing before taking up writing full-time.

"Considering now you start writing at the age of two, publish by four and become a star writer at six, I think I started late," quips Githa.

The creator of "The Ghosts of Vasu Master", "When Dreams Travel" and "In Times of Siege" also talked about the complex identity of a writer in India.

"It is difficult to pigeonhole life in this country," says Githa, highlighting the multiple identities involved -- of the writer, the English writer, the regional writer, the woman writer and even the children's writer.

She recalled how as a child of seven years, moving from one part of Mumbai to another brought about a change in her language, her name and identity.

"I was P.H. Githa in school and was ridiculed and teased saying my father's name was Githa," recalls the writer. "My mother told me, you can be Githa Hariharan and I got my last name," she says.

For Githa the most important aspect of a writer's manifesto would be travelling. "Travelling is all about breaking the walls and learning about others," she elaborates.

Githa, who has also written "The Winning Team" and co-edited "Sorry, Best Friend" for children, says the exercise of writing for children is not significantly different from writing for adults. The key according to her is "the writing has to be childlike and not childish".

Githa is credited with filing the case in the Supreme Court that led to the landmark judgement that gave a woman the right of being the natural guardian of her minor children. But the writer, however, is uncomfortable with her "social activist" identity.

"I don't think of myself as an activist. I would just call myself an engaged citizen. It is all too easy to become a spokesperson for women these days," she adds.

She does not appear too keen to be drawn into the legendary battle of the sexes either. "It is a battle between those who want to look ahead and those who want to look back," she says. "There are men who are feminists and women who are not."

But her passionate views do come out often especially when she talks about youngsters. "The young people today tend to think that a yuppie destination will actually make up for large chunks of life," says Githa. "There is a certain complacency, a dulling of the ability to question. The young tend to think whatever is happening around has nothing to do with them," says the author whose writings have been inextricably linked to the society she lives in and its changes.

The writer who has been living in Delhi for a while yearns for a good library where everyone can go. "We need more and more libraries. Sometimes I just need a space to write and I go to Teen Murti and promise them to write two chapters on the freedom struggle,'' she quips.

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