Woman – Thy Name is Inspiration

10th Mar, 2017

| by Nanditha Vasudev

I would like to dedicate this women’s day to my grandmother (actually my grandfather’s sister) who was the first woman writer of Karnataka – Thirmulamba, an extraordinary soul, who made her mark as an author in a society that considered educating women, a sin.
She was born in 1887 in an orthodox Iyengar family…
She was only five when her mother passed away….
Her father, a lawyer, wanted to educate his daughter despite the public condemnation…
He managed to enroll Thirumalamba in a school. However, he had to remove her soon as it became very difficult to tolerate the criticisms of the villagers. So, Thirumalamba was married when she was ten years old.
Four years later, Thirumalamba’s husband caught the incurable plague. The villagers banished him from the village so that they don’t contract the fatal disease. Within a short time he succumbed to death, sickly and untended.
It was just one time that Thirumalamba had ever seen her husband and that was on the day of her wedding. However, she had to accept her widowhood and follow the crushing restrictions of the society.
She was prohibited from going outside the house.
Thankfully, her father (my great grandfather) decided to educate her, by himself. Every night, before going to bed, he would read to her, the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana and various other classics, by the dim light of an oil lamp. Within no time she had started reading on her own.
By the time Thirumalamba was 21 years old, she was writing traditional wedding songs, novels and dramas. She even bought her own printing press and got it installed at her home. It was soon time to get her writings published; but unfortunately no publisher agreed to publish her work.
A woman could not be a writer….
She had no right to get educated….
They scoffed at her. But she didn’t give up.
She started Sati Hitaishini, her own publishing house. Nothing could stop her then. She published about 40 books along with two magazines called Sanmargadarshini and Karnataka Nandini.
Through her works she exposed the agonies that widows had to endure, in grim detail.
She made efforts to change the attitude of the society towards the widows.
She urged people to be kinder and saner towards widows, rather than imprisoning and punishing them for a sin they had never committed.
She condemned child marriage
She took an objection against the infatuation that the people had developed with English.
She promoted Kannada as a language and encouraged people to embrace the same.
Mysore and Madras governments recognized her works and honored her with a few awards. A few of them even went on to become text books for schools.
The last novel that Thirumalamba wrote was in 1939. It was called Manimala. After that there was no news about the whereabouts of this lady until about 25 years.
It was in 1960 when C.N. Mangala, an educationist, gathered information about Thirumalamba. It was sheer co-incidence.
Her attempt was to write an article about the women writers of Karnataka and she had dedicated a section of it to Thirumalamba. In her article, C.N.Mangala had referred to Thirumalamba in the past tense, assuming that she was dead. It was then that someone informed her that Thirumalamba was very much alive and was living in Madras, reclusively.
Dr.Mangala immediately rushed to Madras, found the 80-year old Thirumalamba and prostrated before her, apologizing profusely for the mistake she had committed.
“There is no need for such apologies,” said Thirumalamba. “What you have written is in a way true. The Thirumalamba of those days does not exist anymore. People are not interesting in my writings anymore. So I have been leading my life, doing my Japa and poojas.”
Dr. Mangala tried to convince by saying that her writings were of eternal value and an inspiration to many. She offered her a plate full of fruits and put a shawl across her shoulders to honor her.
Later Dr.Mangala founded Shashwati museum at N.M.K.R.V college, where she was the principal at that time. This museum displayed 5000 items, including books, arts & crafts and many other things that spoke about the achievements and aspirations of women. A huge section was indeed dedicated to Thirumalamba.
As I take a walk down the memory lane, I remember Dr. C.N.Mangala visiting our house at Kollegal, talking to my family members and collecting all the books that were written by this great soul. Little did I then know about the value of these books and the achievement of my grandmother, whom we fondly called Ammanyakka.
Today, as I write this blog post, I feel very proud that I belong to the family of this unbreakable literary spirit called Thirumalamba.

Nanditha Vasudev

Nanditha Vasudev

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2 years 12 days ago

Wow beautiful writing !!

2 years 12 days ago

Absolutely great tribute Nandita