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Date: Thu Jan 18 1996 - 21:02:36 PST
In the light of the recent discussions we had about Sita, State of women, dowry, social reforms and our acharyas, SVTK-roles, etc. I thought I will post this clipping from the January issue of Hinduism Today. Now start the portion from Jan96/ HT Thirumalamba, A Literary Legacy Lives On . This is the story of the extraordinary soul, Thirumalamba, the woman who inspired Dr. Mangala to found Shashwati. Born in 1887 to orthodox Iyengar parents, Thirumalamba lost her mother when she was barely five years old. Her father was a lawyer and wished his daughter to be educated too. But educating girls, though legal, was considered sinful by most people. Ignoring public condemnation, he nevertheless enrolled Thirmalamba in school. Eventually the villagers so harangued him, he removed her from school and married her off at age 10. Four years later, her husband caught the plague, and villagers banished him, fearing they would contract the disease. Alone, untended and sickly, he soon died. The only time Thirumalamba ever saw him was at their wedding. Widowed at age 14, the crushing restrictions of widowhood clutched the little girl. She was forbidden to step beyond the threshold of her house. If she did, she and her father would be ostracized by the community. Crestfallen at her fate, her father resolved to bring at least a little joy back into her life by educating her himself. Every night, by the dim light of an oil lamp, he read her the Ramayana, Mahabharata and other classics. Soon she was reading on her own. Little did he know he was nurturing Karnataka's first and foremost woman writer of the modern period. Arising daily pre-dawn, the young girl took her bath, performed puja, japa, meditation and did Surya namaskar facing the eastern horizon. Afterward, she dove into the enchanting world of words. By age 21, she was writing dramas, novels and traditional wedding songs. She bought a little printing press and set it up inside her house. With the eager help of cousins, she printed cards and labels. She struggled to get someone to publish her writings, but every publisher rejected her. Women cannot be writers, they scoffed! So she started her own publishing house, Sati Hitaishini. Over the years, it published 40 of her books and two magazines, Karnataka Nandini and Sanmargadarshini. In these, she exposed in grim detail the dead-while-living agonies that widows must endure. She argued for saner, kinder attitudes that help rather than punish and imprison widows. She opposed child marriage and railed against the infatuation with English and its Anglicizing undertow. She urged a renaissance of Kannada and other Indian languages. Finally, a little recognition flowed her way and the Madras and Mysore governments honored several of her books with awards. A few were even used as school texts. With her last novel, Manimala, published in 1939, Thirumalamba suddenly faded out of sight. No one knew why until 25 years later. In the 1960s educationist Smt. C.N. Mangala was writing an article about women writers of Karnataka and included a section on Thirumalamba, referring to her in the past tense, i.e., dead. Someone informed Dr. Mangala that the aged writer was alive, living reclusively in Madras. Dr. Mangala rushed to Madras and prostrated before the 80-year-old figure and apologized profusely for the error. "No need to apologize," Thirumalamba said. "What you said was correct--that Thirumalamba does not exist any longer. Today's people don't like what we write. So life for me now is my home, my pujas and my japa." Dr. Mangala told her that her writings were of immeasurable inspiration for others, including herself. "I told her that her works had eternal value" and honored her by putting a shawl over her shoulders, offering a plate of full of fruits--and then by founding Shashwati, an inspirational tribute to an unbreakable literary spirit. (contributed by: Choodie Shivaram is a free-lance journalist and holds a degree in law and English) -Sincerely, K.Sreekrishna (tatachar) PS: I think many Banglorean members may recognize Smt. C.N. Mangala.