I wrote Bridges for two important reasons. Long years before I came to be known as a writer, I heard fascinating accounts of their life and times from my elders. Rukmini Paati, who was part of our domestic staff, said, ‘Those days, married couples only got to speak to each other on auspicious or festive days. Yet these rare interactions were enough to cause pregnancies, much as cotton catches fire in the vicinity of a flame. To what lengths the young women went to attempt abortions! Sesame soaked in jaggery was a favoured concoction. Eating camphor stuffed in coconut and left in it for four days led to burnt mouths and insides, even death.’
Peria Athai, my elder aunt said, ‘We boiled castor oil and poured it into pots and arranged them in a row in bamboo racks, and this oil served both as fuel for our lamps and a laxative periodically administered to all the children.’
You had to stay out of sight of one and all during your periods. During those days, we sat in the cowshed and made brooms and mud stoves by hand, patted and dried cowdung into cakes for fuel,’ my mother recalled. Other elders gave graphic accounts of the puberty rites, four-day-long weddings, and the ‘santi muhurtam’ or marriage consummation ceremony of their time.
The lifestyles, practices and rituals of my grandparents and other ancestors of pre-electricity, pre-modern vintage overwhelmed me, amazed me, made me think.
This was the first impetus for the writing of Bridges.
As for the other...
The mellowing of a wilful, temperamental girl into a sober young woman on her coming of age and having to shoulder responsibilities was another fact of life that left me wonderstruck. I found it even more surprising that this once callow young woman whom responsibility made into a wise and effective link between the generations, eventually grew into a complaining old woman, age and debility perhaps robbing her of the wisdom she acquired over the decades. I am sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I speak of the majority.
I do believe that an old woman spends the major part of her last years in looking back and ruminating over her past, just as a young girl dreams of her future for most of her waking hours.
It came as a revelation to me that a woman is moulded at a certain stage of her life to act as the present that links the past and the future, a bridge that spans two shores vastly separated by thought and circumstance.
The birth and death of this process of maturing of the mind that takes place in a woman was my second inspiration for creating Bridges. When the Tamil original, Paalangal was first published in 1983, I dedicated it to all those who helped me build those bridges: Rukmini Paati, Peria Athai, Amma, Yagappanagar Paati, Brinda, Pappamma, Saroja, Kamalam Mami, Swaminatha Mama, Radha, Parimala, Lalita and many other Thathas, Paatis, Mamas and Mamis, whom I did not know before I met them to research for the book. I remember them once again with happiness and gratitude.
I rededicate the book also to Mr Balasubramaniam of Ananda Vikatan who unhesitatingly encouraged me and serialised this unusual tale that was in the nature of a concatenation of events and incidents rather than a typical novel. To him and the three artists he commissioned, Gopulu, Maruti and Jeyaraj, whose period-specific illustrations embellished each generation featured in the novel, my sincere, joyous gratitude.
Sivasankari (born October 14, 1942) is a renowned Tamil writer and activist. She has carved a niche for herself in the Tamil literary world during the last four decades with her works that reflect an awareness on social issues, a special sensitivity to social problems, and a commitment to set people thinking. She has many novels, novellas, short stories, travelogues, articles and biographies to her credit. Her works have been translated into several Indian languages, English, Japanese and Ukrainian. Eight of her novels have been made into films, having directed by renowned directors like K. Balachander, SP Muthuraman and Mahendran. Her novel 'Kutti' on girl child labour, filmed by the director Janaki Viswanathan, won the President's Award. Sivasankari's novels have also been made as teleserials, and have won the national as well as regional 'Best Mega Serial' awards. As a multi-faceted personality, she has won many prestigious awards including Kasturi Srinivasan Award, Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiyar Award, Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Award, 'Woman of the year 1999-2000' by the International Women's Association, and so on. 'Knit India Through Literature' is her mega-project involving intense sourcing, research and translations of literature from 18 Indian languages, with a mission to introduce Indians to other Indians through culture and literature.Rent Now