KNIT INDIA THROUGH LITERATURE
An illuminatory and exhaustive book to Knit India through our literary heritage
Despite our experiences over the last fifty years, fears of the country breaking up continue to haunt us. Periodically, the National Integration Council, comprising of the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and leading intellectuals of the country, meets in Delhi to take stock of the situation and chalks out programmes to combat forces which threaten our integrity. When the danger is past, people relax and the National Integration Council goes back into deep slumber.
Sivasankari’s venture to knit India through the knowledge of each other’s literary heritage is bound to have a more lasting impact.
Through her compilation, readers will realise how much we share in common with our scriptures, classics of our many languages and, above all, how concerned writers and poets of today are, faced with the problems that beset our country: poverty, ignorance, caste, class and gender discrimination, challenges of modernity, resurgence of religious fundamentalism, bigotry, superstition, intolerance of other people’s beliefs, disrespect for the law, erosion of Gandhian values and proneness to violence.
Sivasankari’s attempt to knit India is based on her conviction that novelists, short story writers and poets can and do change the way of thinking of an entire people. Her efforts, therefore, do not end with the South Indian languages. There are complications of her interviews with writers from the languages of the North, East and West. If the present effort is any indication, the books to come will prove just as illuminating and exhaustive with their in-depth analysis of the subject matter at hand.
Every section of the book is reflective of Sivasankari’s painstaking effort and her deep commitment to the project. As she has said in her preface, It is a tragedy that we Indians are largely unaware of the literary treasures found in the various languages of our country, even as we dwell at length on the merits and demerits of foreing iteratue. Aparrt from introducing readers to the cultures and traditions of their fellow-citizens and promoting a sense of oneness, this effort is bound to go a long way in furthering their knowledge of literature too.
Sivasankari has said in her preface that she would not be so presumptuous as to imagine that nationsal integration can be achieved by her project alone. And yet she should not discount the immense contribution that her ‘Knit India through Literature’ project is certain to make to the cause. Her aspiration certainly deserves to be lauded as the first step she is taking in her effort to cement the unity and integrity of our nation.
The journey is long, but, then, she is a seasoned traveller.
– Khushwant Singh
What the reviews say…
When a respected, well-established novelist decides to put her writing career on hold while she embarks upon an anthology of contemporary literature, it comes as no surprise when the child of her labours is born suffused with auspicious marks. Having read Tamil novelist Sivasankari’s Knit India Through Literature, Vol I, I can vouch for this. Sivasankari has made the transiting from literature to what is essentially a literaray-journalistic venture with great finesse…
It is noteworthy that in Knit India, the writer has eschewed her native Tamil, which is the medium of her novels, in favour of English to create the reach and readabiity demanded by her project…
Knit India ranks not just as a collection of interviews and excerptrs, but as a truly literary work in its own right… It is like a fountain, periodical sips frim which will sustain and enrich the reader’s life and increase his knowledge of his own country and its literature. -K. Hari Warrier, In
Shivasankari has undertaken to share the abundant bounty of the literary tree whose seed she has sown.. What is perhaps most important for the non-specialist reader is how readable and informative the anthology is. On both these counts, Sivasankari’s selection scores. The interviews are refreshing, candid, brief and utterly unpedantic. The stories and poems are, by and large, entertaining and enjoyable.
-Makarand paranjape, in OUTLOOK
Knit India through Literature – The South is an extremely elegant volume, produced in “the best of EastWest traditions”. There is so much to read and contemplate in it.-
Ashokamitran, in THE HINDU
For those who are interested in the recent literary achievements of the South, this is an indispensable book.
-Amal Banerjee, in THE STATESMAN
In the modern Indian society where religions are providing to be fissiparous rather than bonding, literature would be the best bet to create an awareness of the plurality and the diverse perspectives in play. Unification through awareness and understanding is the need of the hour and the author’s project is laudatory.
Sivasankari’s inclusions do not arrive at one definition of the nation which results in chauvinism and marginalisation. It is the conglomerate of several definitions each balancing the other. Hence it is the ideal recipe for an egalitarian order.
– N.U.Abhilash, in THE WEEK
Although at one level the compilation contains stories and poems and writings of select authors, it is not just another anthology. There is an attempt made to get to know the minds of these writers which have a bearing on their writings. The interviews with writers give insights into not only the literary trends of he region concerned but also into their understanding of and approach to complex contemporary issues. Read with their writings, the interviews lend a certain fullness to the understanding of the literature of different regions.
– S. Viswanathan, in FRONTLINE
What the Sahitya Akademi could not do in all these years since its inception, Sivasankari has done in five years, that is, compile the essence of writing south of the Deccan plateau into a capsule.
As Sivasankari had not included any writer with double standards, this proves to be a genuine production… A book forever – well done, Sivasankari.
The interviews are interesting – an informative encyclopaedia altogether… A Herculean task presented precisely by Sivasankari.
This is not a book but a library.
Sivasankari: Psychological surgeon of the South
For sheer fidelity of characterizations, natural flow of sequences, exhibition of real life situations, deep understanding of human (and even animal) psychology, commitment to causes – be it geriatry, mental retardation, juvenile delinquency or alcoholism – it is doubtful if anyone has surpassed Sivasankari in recent times in providing a rich, splendid and at the same time true panorama of South India.
Prof. S.R. Govinda Rajan
(Former Principal of D.G.Vaishnav College, Chennai; and
Former Rotary District Governor).
Suriya Vamsam not only recounts the best memories of her life, but also some of the most personal and difficult
“Every day of my childhood was a blessed one. I remember those days as if it all happened yesterday,” says Sivasankari Chandrasekaran, noted writer and activist. She even remembers her days as a toddler, about two or three years old, when her father used to make her sit on his left lap as he drove his car.
“When I was five, my dad was leaving for his friend’s estate. When he was about to get into his car, he turned towards me and asked, unakku enna venum Jibu? (What do you want, Jibu?)and I replied, appa enakku oru maan kutty venum (Father, I want a deer),” she narrates with nostalgia. “The next morning, I was still sleeping and I could feel someone nibbling the flower strands in my hair, and when I turned around, I saw a little deer, with sparkling eyes, and I named him Mani. My father Suryanarayanan was a chartered accountant, and such was the pampering all his four kids (two sons and two daughters) enjoyed as we grew up in a huge bungalow on Thirumalai Pillai Road, in T Nagar,” she recalls.
Sivasankari’s recently launched two-part memoir, titled Suriya Vamsam [published by Vanathi Pathipagam], is filled with such memories of her childhood, her parents, her career. The latter comprises four decades of literary work, including over 36 novels, 48 short novels, 150 short stories, 15 travelogues, seven collections of articles, one talking book for children, four volumes of literary research books, two volumes of anthologies, and two biographies — of Indira Gandhi and Sri GD Naidu.
“I chose to call it a memoir and not a biography. I preferred to highlight only the positive aspects and experiences of my life and it proved to be a wonderful experience. The process helped me dig out almost 300 years of my family treasures. As a result, long-forgotten incidents also surfaced,” says the 77-year-old author, who eventually gave up writing to take up Knit India Through Literature, a project involving the literature of 18 Indian languages.
Of friends and family
It is the untimely passing away of her long-time companion and personal secretary, Lalitha Venkatesh, in 2018, that urged her to write Suriyav Vamsam. “It was Lalitha’s wish that I write my biography, and this book is my tribute to her. I am also grateful to G Meenakshi, editor of Mangayar Malar, who motivated me and agreed to record as I spoke and keyed it in and edited it. It was with her support that I managed to complete the project in just one and a half years,” says the writer.
She was recuperating from two episodes of health setbacks in a year, and this book was written during her period of convalescence.
The anecdotes, narrated vividly by Sivasankari, provide a glimpse of life in Chennai city, the customs, rituals and culture seven decades ago, and also how society has changed over a period of time. The writer also traverses the high points of her married life, her career (she worked as a relationship manager in CitiBank before she took up writing full-time), her life-changing experiences and valuable lessons she learned along the way. For instance, Sivasankari’s father organised food supply at the Indian National Congress meeting held in Avadi in 1955. “He donated food packets for the huge gathering, and for this he used a concrete-mixing machine to mix cooked rice and sambar, which was poured on to a huge palm mat. All of the family members used to sit around the mat and pack the food. This is how we learnt philanthropy and charity from a young age,” Sivasankari says.
Sivasankari’s father made sure that his daughters completed their minimum qualification degree, and when they turned 18, he would gift them a learner’s licence to drive the car. “Appa was also in the habit of addressing amma as Madam, in all situations and occasions.”
The writer also tells us how she evolved as a writer and as a human being, due to her exposure to people from all kinds of backgrounds that she came across in her illustrious life. She does not hesitate to talk about instances of child abuse she experienced, even though recounting must have been difficult. The writer had been a little girl back then, and before she could muster the courage to tell her mother about it, the perpetrator had already been sacked from the household, for stealing. The incident, she says, eventually found its way into her short story Rakshasargal five years ago, but the memoir is the first time she is recounting it as a personal experience.
She concludes, however, by saying that living and ageing gracefully, with peace and contentment, is her focus for now.
Suriya Vamsam is available as a set of two volumes, priced at ₹600, at all major bookstores and websites.
By Chitradeepa Anantharam, published in The Hindu on October 28, 2019.