Author and journalist Vaasanthi Sundaram arrived at the UT guest house for an interactive session on Saturday.
Vaasanthi has written several novels and essays in Tamil and English, the most popular ones being Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen and The Silent Storm.
The interview was conducted by another journalist and poet Nirupma Dut, who has written Stories of the Soil, which is a collection of over 40 classic Punjabi short stories.
Recalling their first meeting in 1984, Dutt said: “The times were troubled in Punjab and in that time this lady with long beautiful hair had come to see me. She was researching on her book about the start of ethnic differences between Sikhs and Hindus, which I thought was a very brave attempt by her since no one would’ve come up at that time to do this book.”
Vaasanthi spoke about her initial drift towards asking questions and on how the writer in her was born. “I was born in a conservative Brahmin-Tamil family. We, as children, were not allowed to ask questions. There was an old widow we knew and she always wore a nine yards saree, she wore no jewellery and had shaved off her head. She was the most cheerful person in the house. After some time I got to know, she got widowed as a child. This affected me a lot, I kept questioning what was her fault.”
While she never got answers, she gained a penchant to write. “Even though my grandmother was a conservative, she still had a thinking mind. She used to question Ramayana and talk of politics. My grandfather was an English scholar,” she said.
She then mentioned about her drift towards political writing and how the book on Punjab sprouted as an idea. “I never planned to be a journalist and was always more interested in creative writing – short stories or novels. However, the situation in the country forced me to. I think humanism should be the philosophy behind everything but the condition in India didn’t seem to be like that, this is how I came to be a journalist,” Vaasanthi said.
She worked with the Hindustan Times when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. “I wrote a front page article on the riots and the atmosphere of fear in the country after the assassination. One of my son’s friends at that time was a Sikh guy, whom I treated like my own son. The next time I saw him he had shaved of his beard and removed the turban. He said ‘They view me as an enemy, I don’t feel like an Indian anymore’. This is when I thought I would write a book on the initiation of the ethnic differences between Hindus and Sikhs.”
On her book on Jayalalitha, she said: “When I moved to Chennai as editor of India Today south, I sent Jayalalitha a fax every day for 10 years for an interview but never heard back from her. Then I came to hear about the increasing corruption and the image of goddess that Amma had taken up in Tamil Nadu fascinated me a lot. That is when I decided to write a book on her. When Outlook magazine carried a cover story about my upcoming book on her, she got angry and went to court to get an injunction.”