Capturing souls of rural milieu
These are the lovely lines from the English translation Vaidehi’s book of poems, is in a way an ode to the rich “Kundapura Dialect” of Dakshina...
“It happens sometimes.
The sea isn’t the sea
What one assumes to be the shore
is the mere hump of fish- back
You say something
Another meaning unfolds
The banter of words, you know”.
These are the lovely lines from the English translation Vaidehi’s book of poems, is in a way an ode to the rich “Kundapura Dialect” of Dakshina Kannada, her birthplace. “My English is not so great but I hope I can answer your questions to your satisfaction,” she tells me over the phone from Udipi, where she lives, and over a delightful conversation has me enthralled by the sheer beauty of the dialect, which she unfolds through poetic analogy intrinsic to her conversation.
Vaidehi, one of the luminous gems of Kannada literature and recipient of a string of awards including the central Sahitya Akademi award is also a pioneer credited with enriching the Kannada language through the refreshing “Kundapura Dialect”, the soul of her many beautiful works capturing the rural milieu and lives of women within the confines of patriarchy.
Succinct, humorous, laced with sarcasm and open to different interpretations, her native dialect is replete with spoken words that convey dramatic emotions. Like most writers, she didn’t wait to grow up and become a writer she says but grew up writing. Although her first story was written in the widely accepted “Mysore Dialect” she soon realised that the feeling and emotion associated with writing which she calls writing from the “naabhi” (navel) or the realm of experience happened when she used her native dialect, which made a huge impact on readers.
However, she concedes that her language depends on the way her mind forms images and with the geographical location of characters. Her work on Shakuntala, for instance, was written in a poetic language as per the demands and setting of the character.
Growing up in a large household of 10 brothers and two sisters bustling with guests and relatives, Vaidehi observed the ways of the community that lived around her, their joys and sorrows and their reactions to the vicissitudes of life. “A big family means a small world. Just as a drop of sea water reflects the quality of the sea, my family encompassed the world for me,” she says.
The “Chavadi” or the front yard of her home was open to men while the women folk had to enter through the backyard. The unequal status of women revealed through interactions in the backyard of her childhood home became her ‘subjects’ in one prolific work of fiction after another. Her very first story ‘Neereiva Dina’ (women’s day) based on a real life incident, where the president of the women’s union, who was too shy to make a speech on Women’s Day was ridiculed and heckled by the male students became popular introducing her to the world as Vaidehi, which is her nom de plume.
Her maiden name Vasanthi changed to Janaki after her marriage to Srinivasa Murthy, but her pen name became her identity allowing her the freedom to write boldly about several true life experiences. Women whose husbands had deserted them, widows with shaven heads running around for pensions, fallen women and ordinary women, who spent their lives making pickles and papads uncomplainingly despite being subjected to criticism every second of their lives embellished her canvas of work.
Asked if the bias against women exists even now the 72-year-old author is forthright in her views. “It looks as if the door is open but it is firmly closed from the other side. The world today is more unsafe for women than the world of my childhood. Women may have gone into space but their personal space is still limited. We cannot walk alone at night, cannot go by ourselves to the seaside, the hills or just walk up a long road. Are we free or equal?” she counters.
Vaidehi’s ‘Akku’ made into a telefilm and immensely popular is the story of a woman considered “Ara Kirki” (mentally unsound), who sometimes pretends that she doesn’t understand things but is many a time a better judge of society than most people who are supposedly sane. Through a large body of work that included novels, short stories, essays and poetry, this post-modernist author delved into the inner realms of her feminine characters to portray the space between the outer chaos and inner silence touching grey zones with the flourish of an artist. “My characters are in my mind, in my sleep and stay with me.
I live in them and I talk to them. For me, writing is not a separate effort. It is like cooking, talking or any other activity that comes naturally,” says the seasoned author with an enviable award list.
Short stories are her favourite works as they can be completed without losing on family time, unlike a novel that takes months to complete. ‘Gulabi Talkies’ made by Girish Kasaravalli based on her short story won the National Award for the best regional film, while her collection of short stories ‘Krauncha Pakshigalu’ won her the coveted Sahitya Akademi award.
Her writing over the years has evolved from writing about women’s issues to depicting the travails of society as a whole, which she says is due to the “samagradrishti”(all-encompassing vision) that comes with experience. “There is a man in every woman and a woman in every man. Not all men are bad and neither are all women good. We need to have a vision, which is multi-dimensional,” Vaidehi feels.
Influenced by the works of eminent writers Dr Sivarama Karanth, Triveni, MK Indira and Dr Anupama Niranjan, Vaidehi says reading enhances your writing skills. “When I was a child I disliked the works of Sivaram Karnath. As I grew up and re-read his works I discovered what a great writer he was,” she shares.
Although she has not read a great many books, she reads books that she likes at least 10 times to assimilate the essence. “Manahsthithi” (frame of mind) is important both for writing and reading she states. The many awards and accolades that she received including the Gopichand Award only enhance her love for writing, which remains her passion and life’s mission. “Do you ever give up on loving, when you love somebody? Writing is like love. It only grows stronger. One never gives up,” Vaidehi says. Her readers couldn’t agree more.