Interview Authors

Vaidehi: A woman’s world is the biggest Mahabharata

Vaidehi

Vaidehi

Kannada writer, two-time Sahitya Akademi award winner Vaidehi (Vaidehi-her pen name and her original name being Janaki), who heralded a new era of feminist literature in the 70s, opened readers to the innate world of a woman, replete with a strong identity, her little pleasures, insecurities and mischiefs. In times when women weren’t advised to stay at the front-yard of a house if a man was their guest, her stories reflected life from a backyard view, so much that her characters like Akku and Acchamma are household tropes that many women identify with. Unlike her predecessors, she discussed larger issues in a more personalised tone, she gave depth to her woman-characters without alienating the other gender. In Hyderabad to receive the Yuvakalavahini-Gopichand National Literary Award, she finds it gratifying to bag an honour from another state and in the memory of a writer whose stories reflected societal progress.

Talking of her story origins, Vaidehi says, “We were a large family, used to seeing many people come home and narrate many personal experiences. Sub-consciously, I got to mould them together in a literary form like a thread that binds different flowers in a garland.” Having grown up reading M K Indira, Triveni, Anupama Niranjana, K Shivaram Karanth, it was also the grey shades in her characters that lent colour to her storytelling. Being a B.Com graduate, her only window to literature was her father’s huge book collection. However, it was her mother who influenced her literary sensibilities more. “Her Kannada was sharp, so was her tongue, she was a true ‘satyavadi’ and never differentiated blood with right or wrong. She was an observant woman with a great sense of humour, she would have become a better writer than me had she taken up writing.”

She wrote about women because she was surrounded by them in the house. “I never used to speak much in college or talk to men and would return home soon. I know the inner world of women so well, regardless of their social or financial stature. I identify with their traits, it was this treasure that made many of my contemporaries in the 50s and 60s too as writers. I call a woman’s world, the biggest Mahabharatha. Like the epic, the more we dig, the more stories we get,” Vaidehi says.

Vaidehi had briefly given to the popular perception that Mysore Kannada was apt for storytelling over the Kundapura Kannada that her taluk-residents spoke. “It took time for me to realise how beautiful could it be, in fact Karanth had advised me against it. He opined it would reduce my readership, but I felt a few characters would appear unnatural without the accent. It wasn’t to adore a specific style, I even used the other slangs when the characters came from different parts of the State.” She found the usage very intimate, crisp and beautiful, “For instance ‘come, take a shower’ is only ‘ba me’ (where me means ‘bathe’) in Kundapur Kannada, whereas popular usage is ‘snanamadu’”

Krauncha Pakshigalu

Krauncha Pakshigalu

She attributes her preference to the short story format over novels for the lack of time. “If I begin writing a novel, I have to start living with the characters for a long time, I was a mother of two kids, I had a family to manage. I love my family as much as my characters and can’t afford to only be in the creative space for long.” Well aware of how her stories have endorsed a holistic perspective beyond a women’s view over the years, she says her transformation was complete with her short story Krauncha Pakshigalu . “There was a time where I had to open up the guilt of being in a man’s world. Going past several stages in life, I understood the need to give equal importance to all ism-s. I have seen many good women in men and many good men in women too.”

Asprushyaru

Asprushyaru

Vaidehi gets most of her plot ideas as she cooks, sleeps and is at the dining table. It’s the time between 3 and 5 am in the morning that she uses to connect the dots and give her ideas a concrete shape. Poetry is something she doesn’t differentiate from stories, she states it’s the content that decides the form. “If I don’t want to condense something and have something more to say, the stories come to use.” She insists popularity (reader appreciation, awards) doesn’t go to her head, “Even if it does, I owe the credit to the characters, the people who’d helped me write it. Like how we remain unaffected by the praise of our mom and dad, I take it naturally.”

She foresees good times ahead for Kannada literature, Vaidehi feels there’s a good ‘dakshana’ to the language now with a wide range of stories that are contemporary and rooted to reality. “Youngsters read, discuss Kannada literature across Whatsapp, Facebook too - it’s a positive trend.” The writer admits she lived in simpler times while discussing about creative freedom, the worry of hurting sentiments rooted to communities always keeps writers on the edge. “The responsibility is also on the writers to write in a Gandhian language. It’s difficult to attain it, but you tell the truth without hurting anyone. It’s important to choose the right ‘maarga’ to your writing. What you write is important, but how you write it is even more important, we must respect the readers too.”

Having actively written for children and translating a few books into Kannada, her popular story Akku was also adapted into a television serial, while filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli took Gulabi Talkies and branched out her characters in greater detail in a film. Yet, she says, “I don’t want to write films, I write stories that I want to write, if films borrow from it, I’m fine though.” In her mind, she thinks of herself only as a human and not a writer. “I cook, look after my children and I write with equal satisfaction and significance. You may give me different names, like mother, wife and writer, I’m still only one person. My essence of any work is done in similar ‘shraddha’, cooking ‘rasam’ is similar to writing a story, that’s why Vasanth Kannabiran calls me a rasam poet (also in reference to a poem she’d written on the rasas of poetry).”


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2022 2:22:07 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/writer-vaidehi-interview-a-womans-world-is-the-biggest-mahabharata/article19682465.ece