A creative work should have its own impact on you. If the character feels pain, the reader should feel the pain, said Malarvathi, the first woman writer from Tamil Nadu to bag the Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Puraskar Award for her second novel Thooppukkaari. True to her words, her novel makes the readers feel the pain. “Life isn’t complete without feeling the pain of the others,” she said.
Born and brought up in Kanyakumari, Malarvathi was educated only till Class IX. It was her continuous efforts that got her a degree in Tamil literature through correspondence. Her mother Ronikkam once worked as an ayah in a nearby school.
Watching her mother cleaning the toilets and garbage, Malarvathi came to understand her family’s struggles and went for work in a cashewnut factory.
“All these experiences pushed me to write. In those days, I did not write for the sake of publication. I just wrote for my personal happiness,” she recalled.
Malarvathi, who recently arrived in Chennai to participate in her book review meeting organised by the Tamil Nadu Murpokku Ezhuthaalargal Sangam, told City Express about her novel and literary career.
“I first wrote a short story titled Ennulley… Ennulley and it was published in one of the college magazines. That happiness encouraged me to write a play when I was 13. We would stage plays in our village during festival occasions and mine was staged at one such event,” Malarvathi says with a smile.
Before penning her novels, she had published three essay collections all related to religion. “At first, I focused more on writing essays which are informative to others. But the continuous struggle of toiling masses that I met in my region pushed me to write fiction. I decided to write novels that would have themes surrounded by suppressed castes that were unfamiliar to the readers, she explained. And so came to be her debut novel Kaathirundha Karuppaayee.
Her first novel revolved around the lives of stone quarry workers. Interestingly, the author published the first 1,000 copies of the novel on her own. “I recently recovered the gold I had mortgaged in order to publish those copies,” she said.
Her second award-winning novel Thooppukkaari, published by Anal Veliyeedu is about the lives and struggle of conservancy workers from the Nagercoil and Kanyakumari districts.
The idea for this novel came to Malarvathi from her own life. “My mother worked as a conservancy worker in a nearby school for five years,” she remembered. “I was a little girl then.” The stench from the toilets was hung all over my mother. But because of herhard work, we ate — she said simply.
“Though it is an inspired work, I had an unexpected chance to meet some of the manual scavengers and conservancy workers in our region,” the young writer revealed. Also, she continued, “I planned to write this novel in a regional dialect style, since I am interested to document some of the regional words that are slowly disappearing from our day to day life.”
According to Malarvathi, in her region there is rich-poor discrimination, but no caste or religion violence. So she pointed out, “In our locality, even the higher caste people do the works of manual scavenging, since they are poor.
As she got more laurels for this novel and even earned the title ‘My literary heir’ from noted writer and Sahitya Akademi awardee Ponneelan, Malarvathi is set to work on her third novel. “My next work will also be in the same genre — writing about the margins. To write a novel about the people who are in margins, we need not to be born or work like them. If we feel their pain, that itself is enough to pen,” Malarvathi concluded.