Meet the author: Vaasanthi

The words of this silver age author are golden – eminent writer, editor and author Vaasanthi needs no introduction. Here’s more on this versatile author.

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Vaasanthi is one of Tamil Nadu’s best-known writers. Over a career spanning 40 years, she has been the editor of India Today (Tamil edition) for nearly 10 years – and published 30 novels and six short story collections, four volumes of journalistic articles and four travelogues in Tamil. Her awards include the Uttar Pradesh Sahitya Sansthan award and the Punjab Sahitya Akademi award.

Vaasanthi is 78 now. More recently, she has written a definitive biography on Karunanidhi, published by Juggernauts. Here’s more about this wonderful author.

Writing from an early age…

“I had a flair for writing from a very young age, in primary school in fact. My compositions read like stories and my teacher used to read that out to the entire class,” tells Vaasanthi. “My first short story won an award in a reputed Tamil magazine when I was in college and I was surprised the enthusiasm and encouragement shown by my family and also the letters of appreciation I received. I did not imagine that writing would be my vocation one day since I was a good student and was more interested in academics.”

At Oslo University, Vaasanthi studied Developmental studies and she was moved by the fact that basically human beings were the same in their emotions though they differed culturally, and were from different economic backgrounds. “That was a good exposure to a student community that converged there from all over the world,” she adds.

Challenges as a journalist…

“My toughest period was when I went from Delhi to Chennai to work as Editor of India Today (Tamil) in the early 1990s. I met with hostility on account of my caste and gender , and abuse when articles critical of prominent political parties – the DMK and the AIADMK were published. They abused me in the most shocking words that was a cultural shock to me. The Dravidian world could never for a long time forgive me for being born a Brahmin,” tells Vaasanthi.

Golden period…

“The best period of my writing/ journalistic career was during my ten years at India Today, which were both challenging and rewarding in the long run. Till my posting there, I just had a superficial knowledge of Tamil Nadu politics and the State, though I had been writing in Tamil and had become quite a well known writer among the Tamil reading public. But, I had one advantage – I was a familiar name that enabled me to easily access politicians, artists and common people. I did a number of path breaking stories that made India Today Tamil edition a highly respected weekly. My weekly columns received critical acclaim from readers as well as leaders of political parties. Karunanidhi would never miss my columns. He would call me the very next morning and express his views – complement me if he liked or admonish me if it was critical of him,” she tells.

“The most memorable experience was when I was sent to Colombo to interview Chandrika Kumaratunga when she became President . I proceeded from Colombo to Jaffna that was under the LTTE. No journalist had ventured to go to Jaffna for two years at that time. As a rare gesture the Sri Lankan Army chief of Staff gave me permission to travel ‘ at my own risk.’ It was the most adventurous journalistic assignment I ever had,” she adds.

On novels…

“There are many issues that concern Indian women – the issues are not the same to all because of the different levels of status. But the basic problem gender inequality takes different manifestations. I have written a number of articles on various women’s issues and worked on themes for novels concerning man-woman relationship, sexual incompatibility, women walking out of relationships and so on. I switched over to larger issues – women caught in ethnic strife, communal disturbances and also novels not necessarily women centric. So, the topics for my novels have been varied – women’s issues , political novels on ethnic issues – on the Punjab problem, Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indians in Fiji islands,” tells Vaasanthi.

On Jayalalithaa’s biography…

Her first effort at a biography of actor/politician J Jayalalithaa published in 2016 when the Tamil Nadu elections were going on. On asking about this book, Vaasanthi told, “I had no desire to write about Jayalalithaa , because I had always been very critical of her when I was the editor of India Today (Tamil). I had watched her two regimes very closely and was appalled at her arrogance and autocratic rule. Her biography was an assignment I was given. As I started gathering material and began writing I ended up empathising with the character realizing what a hard life she had led and yet became the most feared, charismatic leader that Indian politics had seen.”

On Karunanidhi’s biography…

More recently, she has written a definitive biography on Karunanidhi. This book is based on extensive research – including Karunanidhi’s own multi-volume memoirs written in Tamil and several interviews with Karunanidhi himself as well as those close to him.

“Karunanidhi was a different character altogether. His rise from a very humble background to emerge as the most charismatic leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is an astonishing story. He was not merely known for his political sagacity , and administrative acumen but he was also multifaceted. He was a journalist , novelist playwright, script writer and a brilliant orator. I had great admiration for him though he was not faultless. He has had very intimate conversations with me when I felt he was indeed a simple and affectionate man , and for that very reason vulnerable,” shares Vaasanthi.

Inspiring authors …

“There are many authors who have been inspiring, beginning with Shakespeare and Kambar. I have marvelled at their brilliance, the choice of words, their wisdom and vision,” she shares.

Writing advice….

“One has to keep working hard like a sculptor who is never satisfied . Nothing comes easily,” she says.

On a concluding note…

“To me freedom of speech is the right of an individual or a community to express their opinion without fear of censorship or retaliation. It is our right guaranteed by the constitution,” concludes Vaasanthi. “I am yet to write my magnum opus. For now I just want to share my thoughts with my readers. I wish to keep writing till my last breath.”

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