Friday, 23 January 2009



As she grew up amidst temples, feasts and festivals in the erstwhile South Canara district, Janaki Srinivasa Murthy met almost all the characters we find in the Kannada novella Jatre. “As one is flowing with the natural characters, their innermost truths begin to open up to me because I am also one among them. They are so intertwined that one wonders which is real, the outer appearance or the truth that emerges from it… That is the marvel,” she says referring to one among many of her acclaimed novels.

In an effort to take her works to readers beyond Kannada language, the novella has been translated into English by her daughter Nayana Kashyap and published recently (with the title Temple-fair) in the compilation Five Novellas by Women Writers. “My purpose was not to write about temple fair as such. That would have been a mere report,” Murthy, who writes under the pen name of Vaidehi, says when asked about her choice of the theme. “The experiences I had in such festivals are embedded deep in my consciousness. It is just natural that I get the insights for my writing from such experiences,” she explains.

Vaidehi has been hailed as one of the leading feminist writers in Indian languages. According to her, a woman faces discrimination only for being a woman. She has to miss amusements and lose innocence in her adolescence. “But, she too has emotions that run in her blood. Like men, for women, life is a journey and a fair. I needed to tell all this.” So, using the temple-fair as an allegory, Vaidehi depicts how the roots of the subtleties of a woman’s life, and the forms of humiliation and neglect unfold. “The changes that occur in the fair replicate the changes in the outer world. I found the anecdotes from a temple-fair to be ideal imagery, and symbols of human life,” she adds.

All the characters in the novella are dear to Vaidehi. Still, the “dearest one” is that of Manjatte. She is a widow who spent most of her life in fasting than in eating and in vratas (religious observances). The temple-fair is the only place that can give her access to joy and the outer world. “To us, she is an ocean of affection. Her very personality springs love in us. What else can be equated to the warm love, which is independent of wealth and gifts, that such old women give us in our childhood?”

We ask her opinion about being labelled as a ‘feminist’ writer. Doesn’t it further the gender divide? Vaidehi has no problem with the tag but opposes the ‘gender divide’ argument. That statement is “baseless”, she avers. For her, every ‘feminist writer’ is invariably a ‘humanist writer’. “Aren’t women also human beings? The word ‘feminist’ is coined only for more specification in understanding.”

We delve into the place of literature in today’s overtly materialistic world. “Literature is the most powerful medium of communication and the best intellectual companion,” Vaidehi says. “From centuries, society here has been restructured through the dialogue in literature. Why do The Mahabharata and The Ramayana converse with us, fight with us till date? How do they become sources of inspiration to newer stories?” Writing, she explains is conversing with the ever-present perceiving minds. “It is a dialogue that a writer develops with herself too.”

It takes us to her writing process. “My stories are not usually pre-conceived. Sometimes, however, it is so,” she replies. It is a strain of experience, lying deep in the heart that gradually finds its way out in the form of a story, she explains. “I love the latter process.” So, who comes first --- poet Vaidehi or novelist Vaidehi? They all are equal, it appears from what she says. “Poet plus novelist plus short story writer plus biographer plus children’s playwright plus translator… they all make up Vaidehi.”

Talking about portrayal of women in Kannada literature, Vaidehi mentions Shivaram Karanth, Kuvempu, Masti Venkatsh Ayyangar, U R Ananthamurthy, and P Lankesh. “Their portrayal of women has been applauded by women. Especially Dr Karanth… I think he is not only a man writer but a woman writer too. His depiction of women is that realistic. We are continuing what he did,” Vaidehi affirms.

According to her, translation can attempt to reproduce the original as closely as possible, but can never translate the fragrance of the original. “For instance, this novella of mine has the fragrance of a colloquial Kannada which lends the work a special aura. Along with the verbal meaning, it produces meaning in its very gesture and tone. The eye, the nose, and the mouth all speak to tell a tale in a conversation. It is hardly possible to capture all this in translation,” she says. The magic of the spoken word in one language and the fascination associated with it “cannot be translated” into any other language.

“In this attempt translator Nayana Kashyap has emerged fairly successful.” In this context she says, if the translator has affinity with the work to be translated, it is definitely an added advantage. “But, it is not a necessity per se.”
(The interview was published in Sakaal Times of Pune
on January 25, 2009)