Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fables for our times

Look up Suniti Namjoshi on the Web and the first thing that strikes you is the label “feminist writer”. She's also a poet, a fabulist, a children's writer but all these seem to be subsumed by her Feminist Fables. And you wonder if she'll be a strident, in-your-face kind of person. But you're greeted by a slight woman with a shock of salt and pepper hair, who speaks thoughtfully with little asides, enjoying her little jokes as much as you do, who pauses to make sure you follow what she's saying… and it's no wonder you don't realise that time's flying. In Chennai recently to launch her third set of the Aditi series for children, Suniti Namjoshi took time to talk about fables and poetry; writing for adults and children, her work in general and her attitude to feminism. Excerpts:

On her different writerly avatars:
I started as a poet but everyone sees me as a fabulist. (Thoughtfully) I think poetry is what I identify most with. But poetry and fables are closely connected; both are concise, abbreviated and dependent on imagery. And both are subversive. Most people see only the subversion of literary stereotypes but there is the subversion of social stereotypes as well. A comment on the position of women in general can also refer to male domination of literary society. The advantage of being a fabulist is that people read different things into my writing.

On her writing: 
My fables don't preach; they question. As do my children's books. Of course, there is a difference between writing for children and for adults. In the latter the satire is harsh, while it's gentler for children.I try to provoke them into thinking. For instance, in Gardy in the City of Lions, I make fun of notions of privilege; while in Siril and The Spaceflower, it's our romantic tradition that's at the receiving end. It's not overt… just a gentle poke. In Monkeyji and the Word Eater, I'm trying to get children to think about words. We limit our thinking by the meaning we give to words. In Feminist Fables, there was the story, Nymph. Thrice she is chased by the god and she says yes. But the meaning is different each time; she is changed into a green laurel. The point is: words can mutate and take on new meanings. It's a simpler equivalent in … Word Eater.

I expect a certain level of understanding and experience from my adult readers. Obviously I can't do that with children but that doesn't mean I can write badly for that. It's a different way of communication, a different technique. (Then she laughs) With my children's books, I feel I've got better with each book. Now I want to rewrite the first Aditi book… not that anyone will notice but just for myself.

Full report here Hindu

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