Poet A Vennila, a Kalaignar MU Karunanidhi Porkizhi Award recipient, shares her thoughts on receiving the award
Vennila, on her part, never saw awards as a cause for celebration but as a symbol of recognition; of the work and the time that went into it
“For someone who grew up watching and hearing him speak, being drawn to him, this award gave me much happiness. Far more than me, I think this brings more fulfilment to my parents,” shares poet A Vennila, one of the six recipients of the Kalaignar MU Karunanidhi Porkizhi Award recently.
Of kalai and Kalaignar
Vennila, on her part, never saw awards as a cause for celebration but as a symbol of recognition; of the work and the time that went into it. It is the award’s ability to take that work to far more people that she appreciates the most. “Awards take the work to different segments of readers (besides the writer’s usual base). Kalaignar Porkizhi Award will have its own set of people following the effort. This award will get them interested in my work and that of other winners. Likewise, every award takes us to a particular section of readers,” she explains.
While the writer in her rejoices such potential, this award comes with a dose of nostalgia too for the Kalaignar aficionado. “It reminded me of my earliest encounters with Kalaignar. When I was in class 7 or 8, there was a DMK conference in Kanchipuram. There, Kalaignar was in a procession. We had to come in from the next town to watch it. But by the time we arrived, the procession had moved. My father, determined to catch a glimpse of ‘thalaivar’, took us through bylanes and farm fields and had us join the procession somewhere along its path. You know how people do their best to find a place at a saami oorvalam, just to catch a glimpse of the deity? I got to witness the same at the DMK rally, at a time when even the most grassroots party man had such fervour in him. Receiving the award named after him brought back images of him at that rally, greeting people all along the way,” she recounts, adding that it made it all the more personal.
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The literary divide
As much as her work — in the realm of poetry and historical fiction in Tamil — has fetched her awards and accolades, she is not surprised that she and other writers like her still remain out of reach of the mainstream audience. “Ezhuthu eppothume oru kurugiya vattathoda seyalpaadu dhan. We won’t be able to see it celebrated by the general public as much as a movie or its star is. But it has its own place, and this will be the identity of the society for times to come. Yet, the recognition that the word or its creator gets in their lifetime is negligible and this is something to pity,” she points out, giving voice to a grievance that almost every regional writer has. She also theorises that if you were to show the pictures of 10 popular people in the state to a common man and include among it a writer, the common man may recognise the other nine but would struggle to name the writer.
Vennila wonders if we’ve internalised such a juxtaposition in our society. For even at the award event, all the award winners couldn’t find a place next to the chief minister. Had it been a movie or political function, perhaps none of the guests would have been let off the stage, she surmises. Who decides these things? Where in the hierarchy do they place writers? However, this is not to say that there isn’t room for change. In this case, the chief minister himself seems to be leading the way. “Chief minister Stalin has taken to appreciating any recognition given to a writer or their work (be it in person or through a public message). He pays attention to every important literary event, makes sure to offer his note on the books honoured and more. This is something new, even to Tamil Nadu,” she notes.
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To propagate this change among the public, we need to increase readership, she suggests, adding a cautionary note that this cannot be achieved by force or coercion. “We need to increase the conversations around reading, especially in schools and colleges and among everyone associated with it. Not just teachers but everyone in that education value chain must ensure to create the discourse around literature — including history, social politics and more — with the students. It’s only when we start with children can we take it to the next level,” she suggests. It is also important to make contemporary literature available at libraries, in schools, colleges and otherwise, she adds.
Meanwhile, she is busy with her historic-fiction series — set in the backdrop of the construction of the Mullaiperiyar dam — for the magazine Vikatan. A poetry collection centred around the concept of andhi (dusk) is also set to release. “Since Sangam literature times, we’ve only had poetry and fiction that associates andhi with pirivu (loss) and sadness. Here, I’ve written the poems with the idea that andhi is a space for celebration,” she notes. A short story collection will also follow suit. Perhaps, this could be the opportunity for you to start the discourse with the children in your midst.
In the pipeline
She is busy with her historic-fiction series — set in the backdrop of the construction of the Mullaiperiyar dam — for the Vikatan.