Poet, writer and activist Meena kandasamy’s novel gypsy goddess focuses on the harsh poverty of dalit farmhands and the untold misery visited on the bodies of lower caste women. the feisty author is also debuting as an actress in a crowd-funded independent movie
She was once a geek with a crush on Richard Feyman in her younger years but now Meena Kandasamy is nowhere close to becoming a scientist. She describes herself as “just another under-30 something Indian woman”. But there’s far more to her than this modest description. She is this feisty lady who raised her voice about issues that were close to her heart. She is a poet, writer and activist, who is now debuting as an actress with Oraalppokkam.
But before all this Meena was just another Chennai girl, who grew up with the privilege of good education. She recalls, “My father ran away from Tanjore to Madras in 1977 and this city has been his home since then. So the earliest memories that my father would share with me over mealtimes was not a rosy picture but how difficult life was if you were poor and mixed caste.”
Those memories instilled in her an anger that pushed her to take to writing, “Like most women of my age, I will define myself by my anger: at the situation of women in my country and at the oppressive caste system.”
But as a young girl, her thoughts and dreams were very different from this. “When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a scientist and I used to read all kinds of stuff when I was growing up. It was only during the final years of school that I started to read literature.” Though she was inspired by the beauty of literature, what pushed her to wielding the pen was the belief that literature was one of the strongest ways of making a difference in the system.
About her novel Gypsy Goddess she says, “The harsh poverty of Dalit farmhands, the untold misery endured by women of lower caste these were all things I had heard about. I knew that I had to tell this story to make sense of the world around me.”
And even if the story does not move you, she feels “you will enjoy the audacious story-telling, the word-play and the shift of register.” The young author admits to nerves: “You have this scary feeling because your book is out in the world and people can take it home, read it and judge you for what and how you’ve written.”
Speaking about being judged, she says, “I feel that people never really know you. They know your words and they know what you stand for. With that, they construct a character of you based on what they see. In real life, I am absolutely non-confrontational, quite shy, and very indecisive.”
Speaking about her movie Oralpokkam, where she plays the female lead Maya, a strong-willed character, Meena divulges that it was the poetic script that made her take up the project. She says, “The character I am portraying is the kind of woman I want to be in real life. Also, it was a crowd-funded independent movie and I think films like this have to be made. We cannot surrender our arts and creativity to big business and reduce all artistic expression to a formula that the industry demands.”
Meera enjoys travelling and cooking. She lists her other loves: “Taking pictures of my boyfriend or the cat on Instagram and accompanying any girlfriend who wants to go clothes shopping because I think I have an eye for what looks good on whom.”
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