Teacher, Writer And Cancer Fighter
On May 23, 2010
It’s the International Book Day, and who better to profile than Chandrika B, prolific writer in two languages, Malayalam and English.
Just retired from the All Saints’ College, Trivandrum, she fondly reminisces about her time at the college. “My students are wonderful," she says. Chandrika was diagnosed with nasal cancer in 2002. "I was losing hair, felt tired, and didn't feel like getting out of my house at all. My students used to call me up every day to enquire, and at times I felt they were pestering. However, when I finally let them visit me, I was glad I did. They never noticed the near baldness, nor the darkness of my face, or how frail I'd become. They laughed and spoke and smiled. They discussed their projects. We had a good time. They gave me the courage and the strength to battle my disease," she says.
"It is great to be loved by your students. It is then your life as a teacher is fulfilled," she adds.
Chandrika was the highest scorer in English during her SSLC in her school. Her father, also a writer, had great dreams of a career in medicine for Chandrika. Seeing her excellent performance in English, the then principal of All Saints’ College convinced her to take up 5th group which had English as a subject. "When the Principal was convincing me to take up English, I remember me looking at my dad, and my dad looked at the ceiling instead," she says, smiling.
Her PhD thesis was titled "The Private Garden: The Family in Post-War British Drama" under the guidance of poet and academic Ayyappa Panikkar. "He's the reason for everything I am today," she adds.
From the age of 12, Chandrika began reviewing the vast collections of books in her father's library.
She wrote articles, short-stories , etc., which were published in popular Malayalam magazines such as Mathrubhoomi, Malayala Rajyam, etc. She took the courage to write her mind about various issues and topics which were controversial. "I was a fiercely honest writer," she says. “I was taken to task in many platforms about the topics of my writing. My father, relatives and kith and kin disparaged me. That made me give up publishing my work," she says. Her self-imposed break lasted 18 years.
In the 18th year, DC Books celebrated the 100th anniversary of Malayalam short stories, and put together a book called ‘100 years, 100 stories,’ which did not include Chandrika's stories.
"I was shocked and sad," she says . That staged her comeback. “I changed my pen-name to Chandramathi, and started out again, under a new name and with a new style of writing. I chose 'satire', a sure way to hit below the belt and get away with it,” she says and laughs.
“My first set of short stories was inspired by my hometown Vellayani.” She named it as 'Devi Graman'', and the stories revolve around the village, the lives of the people, their dependence on the 'devi', hints and mists of mythology, etc. The settings of her story had changed from urban settlements to rural. “When I had gone abroad, my readers were more interested in these kinds of books than postmodern books,” she says. Eventually, after she bored herself writing in these genres, she experimented with postmodern writing.
Her book 'Njandukalude Nattil Oru Idavela', mirrored her battle against cancer, her thoughts, experiences through the long and painstaking sessions of chemotherapy and radiation. The doctors, who reviewed it, called it the 'hand-book for cancer'. For this she was awarded the 'Avaneebala Puraskaram' in 2009. She donated the money to a child suffering from cancer at the Regional Cancer Centre.
“Malayalam is the language I use for creative writing. It is the language of my heart. English is the language of my brain and I use it for critical writing,” she says.
Of all her books, her favourite is the 'Reindeer'. In 1998, Chandrika was one of the 10 Indian writers chosen by the Kendra Sahitya Academy to be sent to visit Sweden. Eager to see reindeer, she waited expectantly. Unfortunately she saw not even one. However, for dinner, she was served reindeer meat. Aghast, she didn't touch it. "How can I eat an animal I came all the way to see eagerly," she asks. Inspired by the situation, she published 'Reindeer'.
Chandrika won the Padmarajan Puraskaram in 2008, for her ‘Oru Navavadhuvinte Jeevithathil Graham Greeneinte Prasakthi'.
Virginia Woolf is her favourite English writer, and describes her as a 'very futuristic writer'. Chandrika also looks up to MT Vasudevan Nair, P Padmarajan, Madhavikutti, etc .
However, Kamala Das (Madhavikutti) stands out among her favourites. Her book 'Rajavinde sneham paajanam" in particular is one of her personal favourites.