In one of his dispatches from the front lines, in North Africa during WW2, Ernest Hemingway wrote this about Italian soldiers. When these soldiers were slightly injured, they would proclaim loudly, swearing undying loyalty to Il Duce—Mussolini. But when they were mortally wounded and lay dying on the battlefield, they would forget all about Mussolini. Instead, they would invoke their mothers. “Mamma mia,” they said softly, of their fate.
In one of many vivid descriptions in Vaasanthi’s book, Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars—a book about a recent period in Tamil Nadu politics—she describes a parade that honored the chief minister and matinee idol, MG Ramachandran. One float in particular, was pulled by an MGR fan, with ropes attached by hooks to the man’s bare and bleeding back.
But that was an exception, Vaasanthi said. She wrote, and I quote, "But on the whole MGR fans prefer to flatter than to suffer."
Vaasanthi’s prose is replete with such observations.
Vaasanthi found her muse of creative expression principally through the voices of women.
Not all of them are sad tales of woe. One of her subjects is the fascinating actor and badass politician Jayalalithaa, who overcame the worst odds as a woman in the face of extreme and often physical misogyny of TN politics, to become something of the queen of Tamil Nadu, from the very political platform that rejected such notions of hierarchal superiority, leave alone royalty.
Vaasanthi’s prose is the happy result of creative writing meeting disciplined journalism.
She is bilingual in a real sense. Her English language prose by which she has authored several books is as real as her deep literary skills in Tamil. Her translators and journalist friends have told me as much.
In my list, Vaasanthi ranks among the best writers there are. Naturally, I am honored to invite her to The Literary City.
She is a renowned author and journalist who writes in English and Tamil. Over forty years she published thirty novels, six short-story collections and four travelogues. Her books in English include Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars: The World of Tamil Politics, Amma: Jayalalithaa's Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, The Lone Empress: A Portrait of Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi: A Definitive Biography, and Rajinikanth: A Life. Her works in Tamil have been translated into Malayalam, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, English, Norwegian, Czech and Dutch. Awards include Best Short Story Writer, Best Novel award for Ammani, Gyana Bharathi award, the UP Sahitya Sansthan award and the Punjab Sahitya Akademi. She was Editor, India Today (Tamil edition) for nearly ten years in Chennai. Now a freelance writer and journalist, she lives in Delhi.
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WHAT'S THAT WORD?!
Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the origins of the letter P and the word "coterie".
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