Interview History & Culture

‘No one’s life is full of rose petals’, says writer Sivasankari whose memoir ‘Suryavamsam’ is now available in English

At a time when the Tamil literary space rang with few voices of women, writer Sivasankari made her mark with novels and short stories on subjects that most hesitated to take on, such as alcoholism, homosexuality, adoption and surrogacy. To that repertoire, she has now added her memoir — Suryavamsam . Penned in Tamil, it has been translated into English by journalist Chitradeepa Anantharam.

For long, the writer was urged by her long-time assistant, Lalitha, that she write her biography. Sivasankari hesitated as “It would involve having to tear the masks off several people, hurt several people,” because a biography is in its nature, a brutally honest document.

Lalitha told her then to write her memoirs instead, where she could choose what to recall. In an unforeseen play of events, Lalitha passed away from cancer. For years, they had worked together and so after this, Sivasankari decided to stop writing.

At this point, Meenakshi, the editor of Rani magazine, approached her and offered to type out the chapters. And that is how the memoirs took shape — Sivasankari dictating two chapters at a time and Meenakshi typing them out.

“When I spoke about the passing of my father, of how I had to put my pet dog Shyama to sleep, of how my husband died, I would cry, and watching me, Meenakshi would cry too,” Sivasankari says, recalling the emotionally-charged walk down memory lane.

(Stay up to date on new book releases, reviews, and more with The Hindu On Books newsletter. Subscribe here.)

Of course, all memories were not so punishing: The book engages with her childhood, playful teen years, the blossoming of a tender love, wedding, friendship with famous personalities like late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, and much more in a style that weaves skilfully back and forth in time, spiralling back to fond memories, with the practised ease of a great storyteller.

To a different beat

“I learnt Bharatanatyam from the great guru KJ Sarasa. She would come home and teach my cousin, Shanthasankari, and me for two hours at a stretch, three times a week. My passion was dancing and I never dreamt I would become a writer,” she says. She wanted to become a world-class dancer, but her keen insight took her on a literary treasure hunt. One day in 1968, five years into her marriage, she was very disturbed by an incident; she sat down and started writing about it. It found voice as a short story on being childless — Avargal Pesattum (Let them talk) — which she sent to Kalki magazine, and there had her first acceptance.

“I was welcomed from the very start. No magazine ever rejected what I wrote. This is just a fact, I am not saying it out of pride,” she says in her own measured way, when asked about the challenges in entering the literary world.

The book outlines her path as a writer and her own metamorphosis — a shift in writing from matters centred around the personal to those of general concern.

This document captures 70 years of life in Madras, now Chennai— memories of a city that has transformed many times over the years, its famous people, its ways and means — like an insect trapped in amber.

“No one’s life is full of rose petals,” she says, when asked what she wishes to convey through the memoir. “There are many stones and thorns everywhere. We have to know how to face life and move on. My life has been full of blessings, but there have been many losses too. I could have cried about this, but I did not. When people put down Suryavamsam , I want them to feel more positive, accept life and move on.”

‘Suryavamsam’ , published by Vaanathi Pathippagam, Phone: 044-24342810. Ebook available at

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 27, 2022 8:58:26 pm |