The title Surya Vamsam, translating to ‘the family of the sun’, is a tribute to Sivasankari’s father, Suryanarayanan. ‘…overwhelming, exciting, thrilling, hurtful, shameful, moving, shocking and motivating’, and above all, ‘enlightening’ is how Sivasankari describes the many events and incidents in her life, and hopes that reading about them will bring ‘positive energy’ to her readers.
Sivasankari credits two people for her having written this book—Lalitha, her confidant and secretary of nearly 41 years, and Meenakshi, editor of Mangayar Malar. Meenakshi brought practical help, and Lalitha, who tragically passed away of cancer in 2018, the inspiration.
Why memoirs rather than a conventional autobiography? Here is what she has to say:
‘An autobiography must be chronological, something I was uncomfortable with, and I didn’t want to talk ill of anyone. In writing memoirs, I could choose what I wanted to share, although this too is an honest, truthful narration.’
You meet Sivasankari’s family at the very beginning of the book. And with the use of everyday forms of address common to Tamilian homes—Thatha, Patti, Periamma, Periyappa, and insider nicknames like ‘Hello-Appa’—reading this book feels like a lazy afternoon spent curled up on a divan, listening to a family elder, a favourite aunt perhaps, telling tales of her life. Of childhood, of friendships that lasted more than sixty-five years, of weddings, deaths, family bonding and heartbreak, of financial crises when coconut shells were used to store food, of acerbic mothers-in-law who insisted that only one matchstick could be used for an entire day’s cooking…with some utterly charming, quaint turns of phrase, like ‘without winking an eyelid’, or a certain berating that must surely have disappeared from urban schools: ‘Do you eat food or cow dung, you idiots?’
This book evokes an era that might seem a bit like a dim corridor in a museum to today’s Instagrammers but will certainly evoke memories for those still connected to those generations.