She has always remained a household name. In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up in Calcutta, the suspense would begin building up by Thursday – the next day would see the latest issues of Tamil magazines hitting the stands in the South Indian dominated Lake Area. If you went late the copies would all be sold and then you would have to wait for someone to lend you theirs – the wait could be interminable and you needed to know what happened in the next instalment of Sivasankari’s novels such as Palangal, Ini, Amma Please Enakkaga, Oru Manithanin Kathai or 47 Naatkal. There would be discussions by letter among relatives, over long-distance phone calls when the connection was made, and in person during holidays. I have even seen aunts weeping over some of her works, such being the impact. There was even a story that did the rounds that following 47 Naatkal, there was a dip in demand for prospective NRI sons in law! If there was someone more mesmeric than Sivasankari the writer, it was Sivasankari the speaker. She always communicated from the heart and gripped audience attention from the word go. And there was a message in each work, as it was in each speech.
Given all of this, when she chose to write the story her life, titled Surya Vamsam, it was just as gripping. Last year, an English translation of the earlier Tamil work was released and I attended the event. It was nice to hear Sivasankari speak, and then pick up a copy of the book, translated from the Tamil original by Chitradeepa Anantharam. The title, for those who have not read the Tamil version may seem intriguing. It is just that her father was Suryanarayanan, who was the founder of the well-known auditing firm Suri & Co. Being descended of him, she chose that title.
The book itself has her story in complete detail – birth into an affluent family of the city, her growing up years in an atmosphere rich in culture, her education, her marriage, her coming to grips with childlessness, her discovery of her writing skills, the losses she suffered including that of her husband at a very early age, her friendships, her experiences of writing, meeting famous personalities and finally, her philosophy of life. You can hear Sivasankari speak through the pages, here you find the writer and the orator coming together in a very harmonious whole.
To readers of Madras Musings, there is a lot about the city that will be of interest to them. The story begins at T. Nagar, goes through Srinagar Colony Saidapet (which Sivasankari’s father developed), famed schools and colleges of the city, moves on to working life at a top-notch bank and then writing for some of the best-known Tamil journals, all published from the city. Several characters of Madras, ranging from M.S. Subbulakshmi and D.K. Pattammal to G.K. Moopanar weave in and out of the book. It is as much a record of the city as it is of a life.
For those interested, Surya Vamsam, Memoirs of Sivasankari can be purchased from Vanathi Pathippakam, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, ph: 24342810, 24310769, e-copies can be had from Amazon and Pustaka.co.in
I picked up the Tamizh Suryavamsham a year or so ago, and it was definitely gripping – up to the point where she begins to talk about her dogs. The section on her canine friends just seems to go on and on interminably that I just lost interest and put it aside. Maybe it’s time for a second dekko…
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