Sahitya Akademi award for Tamil writer Ambai

Ambai is the fourth woman writer from Tamil Nadu to get the award.

Tamil feminist writer Ambai, whose writings challenge the stereotyping of women, has won this year’s Sahitya Akademi award. She has been awarded for her short story collection Sivappu Kazhutthudan Oru Patchaiparavai. Ambai is the fourth woman writer from Tamil Nadu to get the award.

Another Tamil writer Mu Murugesh bagged the Bala Sahitya Puraskar for his collection of short stories, ‘Ammavukku Magal Sonna Ulagin Mudhal Kadhai’.

“Though it is a recognition for my writings, I feel embarrassed. I have won the award that eluded writers such as Sundara Ramasamy and Venkat Swaminathan. A lot of friends have played a role in getting me the award,” Ambai, whose original name is C.S. Lakshmi, told The Hindu.

Born in 1944 in Coimbatore, Ambai obtained a post-graduate degree in History from the Madras Christian College and a PhD from the Jawarharlal Nehru University. She lives in Mumbai and writes for newspapers including The Hindu and magazines such as Economic and Political Weekly.

Even though her first short story collection Sirakukal Muriyum was published in 1976 and the eponymous story of the collection was written in 1967, she made her mark as a writer even in her teens. Many of her stories were published in Tamil magazine ‘Ananda Vikatan’ as star stories.

Writer K.N. Senthil said Ambai was one among the many Tamil writers who confined themselves to short stories and never forayed into novels. “Even though she has written articles, short stories are her art form,” he added.

Her other story collections Sirakukal Muriyum, Veetin MoolaiyilOru Samayalarai, Kaatil Oru Maan, Vattrum Eriyin Meenkal, Oru Karuppu Silanthiyudan Or Iravu and Andheri Membalathil Oru Santhippu are published by Kalachuvadu.

“Ambai’s arrival is important in the turf of Tamil fiction and narrative in the last 50 years. Her careful and sober writings gathered pace only in the 2000s. They represented the voice that is denied a space. She brought to the boardroom those who languished behind the screens and doors, in the kitchen. She demolished what men portrayed as the world of women,” said Mr Senthil Kumar, who had written in detail about Ambai’s work.

He pointed out that the short stories ‘Amma Oru Kolai Seithal’ and ‘Sirakukal Muriyum’ continued to retain the aura even 50 years after they were written. Another story is ‘Thanimai Ennum Iruttu’.

“The loneliness the protagonist felt before marriage continues even after the marriage. As her husband fails to understand her aspirations and longings, she creates a world in the imagination,” explained Mr Senthil Kumar about the character.

Ambai, the founder-trustee and director of SPARROW (Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women), asserted that “her characters think not only out-of-the-box but also question the prevailing systems.”

“What is to be a good woman is something defined and pre-planned. Drawing a kolam, cooking and keeping the husband in good humour defines an ideal woman and this is questioned by my characters.”

In an interview to The Hindu, she disagreed with the idea that literature could lead to social change. “Literature can touch upon issues that a particular author feels strongly about. I don’t think it can lead directly to any change. I think writers, like many others, are not creatures who can retain their righteous anger all the time,” she had said.

While receiving the Toronto-based Tamil Literary Garden group’s lifetime achievement award, she said: “Literature’s seminal concern does not lie in its depiction of ‘truth’.” “Rather, its interests lie in the relationship that we have with what we perceive as truth. That the nature of this ‘truth’ is constantly altering in our life is the real truth,” she opined.

Poet Sukirtha Rani said it was Ambai who defined feminism, feminist politics, the concept of language on women’s body for writers like her. “She was able to express her ideas of feminism almost half a century ago when the circumstances were hostile and her ideas are still relevant. I feel as if I have won the award,” said.

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