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Thirumalamba

Tatachar_at_aol.com
Date: Fri Jan 19 1996 - 21:23:46 PST

Dear Prapatti members,
In the light of some of our recent discussions, I thought the following text
I found in Hinduism Today -January issue to be very interesting. Here it is :

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.

-Sincerely,
K. Sreekrishna (Tatachar)
PS: Many of you may recognize C.N. Mangala.