[A Talk with Ambai] Body in Living Spaces: Reading, Writing and Archiving Women

This talk will be about ways of viewing contemporary Tamil literature, the acts of reading, writing and translation and about the need to archive women's history, women's lives and women's expression. The talk will attempt to cover a wide range of experiences from the personal to the universal.

Dr. C.S. Lakshmi has been an independent researcher in Women's Studies for the last forty years. She has a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and has worked as a Research Officer in Indian Council of Historical Research and has also been a college lecturer in Delhi for two years. She received the Ford Foundation Fellowship to work on a project entitled Illustrated Social History of Women in Tamil Nadu in 1981, and in 1992 she received the Homi Bhabha Fellowship to do a project on women musicians, dancers and painters. This research work has been brought out in two volumes by Kali for Women as Singer and the Song and Mirrors and Gestures.

She writes fiction under the pseudonym Ambai in Tamil and is a well-known writer in Tamil. Her stories have been translated in five volumes entitled A Purple Sea, In a Forest, A Deer, Fish in a Dwindling Lake, A Night with a Black spider and A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge. The second book shared the Hutch-Crossword award for translated fiction in 2007. She received the Pudumaipiththan memorial lifetime achievement for her contribution to literature from the U S Tamil cultural organisation Vilakku in 2005. She was awarded the Lifetime Literary Achievement Award of Tamil Literary Garden, University of Toronto, Canada, for the year 2008. She was awarded the Kalaignyar Mu. Karunanidhi Porkizi award for fiction awarded by the Booksellers and Publishers’ Association of South India in the Chennai book fair, January 2011. The University of Madras awarded her for excellence in literature in the centenary celebrations of the International Women’s Day in March 2011.

Her non-fictional works in English include The Face Behind the Mask: Women in Tamil Literature (Vikas, New Delhi, 1984), An Idiom of Silence: An Oral History And Pictorial Study of Art, Consciousness and Women in a Series entitled Seven Seas and Seven Mountains. First volume: The Singer and the Song published by Kali for women, New Delhi, 2000, Second Volume: Mirrors and Gestures published by Kali for women, New Delhi, 2002, The Unhurried City: Writings on Chennai (Ed) published by Penguin Books, 2004, Walking Erect with An Unfaltering Gaze – Autobiographical book written for the When I Was Young series of National Book Trust, 2013, Black Coffee in a Coconut Shell: Caste As Lived Experience – a collection of essays in Tamil on personal experience of caste edited by Perumal Murugan translated from Tamil published by Sage/Yoda Press, New Delhi, 2018.

She is currently the Director of SPARROW (Sound & Picture Archives for Research on Women). She lives in Mumbai with her filmmaker friend Vishnu Mathur, who also happens to be her husband, in a small third-floor flat with a view of the sea, along with her twenty-three year old foster daughter Khintu Saud and her two brothers Krishna and Sonu who brighten up her life.

Ambai’s select short stories have been translated into Swedish (Flod, Karavan,2008)) and in French by Zulma (De haute lute, 2015)

She regularly translates poems from English and Hindi to Tamil and from Tamil to English. She has translated into English a book of more than thirty personal-experience essays on caste edited by Perumal Murugan in Tamil into English as Black Coffee in a Coconut Shell (Sage/Yoda Press, 2018). A book of poems, Fragrance of Peace by Irom Sharmila, the activist from North East, has been translated into Tamil by her and published by Kalachuvadu in 2012.

Dates: 
Monday, October 7, 2019 - 12:30pm
Foster 103