By Mitali Chakravarty

Jayanthi Shankar

A small, vibrant woman full of energy comes to my mind when I think of Jayanthi Sankar. Born and brought up in India, she has been writing for the past twenty three years. She has been published in several magazines and ezines including the Indian Ruminations, Museindia, The Wagon and InOpinion. Loss and Laws and Horizon Afar are two collections of her Tamil short stories that have been translated into English. ​Her works of short fiction have been included in various anthologies including The Other. She has been invited to participate in the panels of literary festivals such as Singapore Writers Festival, Seemanchal International Literary festival, Asean-India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival.

Jayanthi was effusive and generous with her responses to the questions we put before her.

 

Mitali: Tell us a little about when, why and how you started to write.

Jayanthi: Looking back, I feel it is all like a dream – nothing was planned. It just happened. I was not a serious reader till my mid-twenties. In the1990s, when we migrated to Singapore, what attracted me the most were the libraries with their generous shelves of books – I’d found my world, and undoubtedly, I owe it to the National Library Board that paved the way for me to evolve as a reader and subsequently a writer.

I read passionately for four to five years, only for the joy of it, both in English and Tamil. A natural critic was born in me. I was not even aware of it for long. At one point of time that voice started getting too fuzzy about style and narration of some of the fiction that I often chose randomly and soon I asked myself, ‘Isn’t it always easier said than done?’

That’s how in 1995 I tried to craft a short story in Tamil – ‘Turning point’ – which I never thought would lead me to discover the creative ability in me. A very simple, amateurish narration based on an early morning dream of an incident that I’d had, ended up being published that weekend in the only local Tamil daily and the editor called to appreciate and encourage me to continue.

I recollect now, I had to try a few more stories in the next several months before I could actually believe that I really could pursue writing. I have always loved fiction, both to read and to write. For the next couple of years I experimented aimlessly in both the languages.

Suddenly, one fine day I thought, should I focus in one language first, English or Tamil?

I had known of a few senior writers like Ashokamitran, Indra Parthasarathy who wrote first in English and took up Tamil soon to last longer. But nonetheless, I decided to focus first on Tamil.

The ASEAN Young Writers Award is the region’s literary prize jointly established in Thailand by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Organizing Committee of the S.E.A. Write Award in collaboration with the S.E.A. Write network and the Faculty of Liberal Arts of Mahidol University.

The ASEAN Young Writers Award will be given annually and providing a platform for the creation of a new generation of writers as well as the cultivation of literary networks in the ASEAN region.

According to the award organisers, ‘the new prize is introduced with the objectives to promote a new generation of literary talents, strengthen the region’s cultural ties and instill the love of reading and writing among the young people of Thailand and around the region’.

It also serves as a lasting tribute of the 35th Anniversary Celebration of SEA Write Award and the occasion that Bangkok was designated 13th World Book Capital by the World Book Capital Selection Committee and UNESCO.

The first ASEAN Literary Festival spotlighted several regional issues, in particular the dearth of literary exchange, among countries in Southeast Asia: Publishing Perspectives

Indonesia holds several literature festivals, including the Ubud Litarture Festival on Bali and another in Makassar, amongst others. But earlier this month from, March 21-23, the capital Jakarta played host to the first ASEAN Literary Festival, drawing some 2,000 visitors. With ASEAN economic integration scheduled for 2015 and Indonesia taking the role of Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015, it’s a good time to examine the impact ASEAN will have on literature and culture in the region. One hopes that the organization will be able to facilitate further literary exchange between the member states, something that has been long bemoaned.