“For Me, Writing Is As Basic As Breathing”: Vijayalakshmi Harish, Author Of The Month, February 2018

Posted: February 26, 2018

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A champion for ‘diverse voices’ and someone who loves writing stories where ‘women win’, Vijayalakshmi Harish can’t envision a Universe where she isn’t writing!

Every month, we recognise 3 among 2500+ contributors, as featured Author of the Month – for their writing that keeps readers engrossed and makes us all think afresh. This month, Vijayalakshmi Harish is one of our 3 featured authors.

An avid reader and a keen observer of society, Vijayalakshmi’s work can be described as inclusive in the utmost sense. From how consent should be introduced in children’s classrooms, to how male abuse victims’ voices are also important to be heard in the #MeToo movement, from violence in psychological thrillers, to the celebration of Galentine’s Day, her articles are all about thinking feminism from all possible perspectives. And that’s not all, her short stories are an equal delight to read as they come with the right amount of literary punch and skillful narrative.

You can view her writing on Women’s Web here.

Authors are often asked this question, but everyone has their own reasons, very personal to them. So, why do you write?

To put it very simply, I write because I don’t see a reason not to.

Partly, I write as I am driven by a love for language and the art of writing. It always amazes me how different combinations of only 26 alphabets (as I prefer reading and writing in English) can create magic. Just the pure joy of creation is addictive.

I started writing at the age of six. From that time, I have always processed my life experiences, both good and bad, through words. For me, writing is as basic as breathing. I cannot envision any version of the universe in which I am not writing.

That said, I hate everything I write. I can only see the shortcomings in my work, and even though I have been told many times that I write well, I am always apprehensive about sharing my work with others. When my Red Riding Hood retelling became a part of Kunti’s Confessions, I dismissed it as a fluke, but when a story of mine became a part of When Women Speak Up as well, a switch flipped to on in my head that maybe my writing isn’t as bad as I think it is. I’ve always felt like a fraud, using the term “writer” to describe myself, but I’ve decided now to really own that identity.

So, I owe a great debt of gratitude to Women’s Web, and I would like to use this opportunity to put that on record.

I have always believed that Women’s Web is an online safe space for a woman with an opinion. Even the disagreements in the comments section here are usually put forth with such polite assertiveness and grace, it’s endearing! However, I have recently become aware of the hate messages received by author Tanvi Sinha for voicing her opinions. I would like to express my empathy and support for her. I know now, that even a platform as wonderful as Women’s Web, is subject to attack from those indulging in vitriolic, misogynistic and hateful speech. However, this in my opinion only reinforces the need for a community like Women’s Web, where women can stand in solidarity with each other.

What do you enjoy reading? Does any of it help your writing?

I am insatiable as a reader. I read anything and everything, but my preference is for fiction, and very specifically for crime and speculative fiction. I like solving puzzles and asking the “what if?” question, and I think that reflects in my writing.

I’ve noticed that when one tries to make a point using facts and figures, more often than not, the person on the other side goes on the defensive. But when you tell them a story, they at least listen, and if you’re fortunate, they even understand the point you’re trying to make.

When it comes to writing on/for/about women, what questions and issues drive you the most?

My instinctive focus is on things that are immediately relevant to my life experiences –gender roles at home and work; sexual harassment; and the representation of women in pop culture—books, music, TV and cinema. I approach these issues from the very limited and inadequate POV of a cisgendered, heterosexual, urban, educated, middle-class woman. I understand that even within this narrow group, there are differences of opinion, not to mention that people of a different sexual orientation, or of a different class, caste or religion, or from smaller cities or villages will have very different experiences and world-views from mine. I do not think I am qualified to tell their stories, because I have not lived their life. I can only write what I know. I am all for helping them tell their stories though, because we need all these diverse voices — #ownvoices!

I am also interested in telling more positive stories about women. We hear enough and more about all the negativity in our lives—and we should, because these issues are important and urgent. However, the women we meet and interact with in real life carry on despite all the problems they face. I want to bring that out in my writing. I want to write stories about women finding happiness and success. I want to write stories where women win, because I don’t think we hear enough of those.

Could you narrate an issue or incident in your life which you think was gender related, and you handled it in a way that has made you proud.

It is not gender related in a direct manner, but it becomes a gender issue because of how women are disproportionately affected by it. I’m talking about the experience of being a “visa wife,” on an H4 visa. I don’t think people realize how much it can strip one of agency and individuality. It’s about more than just not being able to work. When one tries to talk to people about it, one gets very unempathetic responses, such as “but it was your choice, who told you to go there?” and the very infuriating, “but your life is a holiday, enjoy!” I have heard every version of this.

Of course, this is not a universal experience and some women do take to it like a duck to water.

I am not one of those women. For me it was especially frustrating because my parents and I had consciously avoided NRI suitors. Fate had other plans and in the fourth year of my marriage I came to the US on an H4 visa. Within a year, I felt lost. I did not know who I was anymore.

I have had to claw my way through the five stages of grief to find myself again, and I am extremely proud of myself for making it. I can take the positives of the experience and leave the negatives behind, and I have been greatly supported in my journey by my husband, my parents and my close friends.

Name 3 other writers or bloggers on Women’s Web whose writing you enjoy reading.

This one is a toughie because there are just so many writers I admire, and I’m not just being diplomatic when I say that! The names at the top of my mind are Sandhya Renukamba, Kasturi Patra, Pooja Priyamvada, Anupama Dalmia, Vartika Sharma Lekhak, Ell P, Parul Sharma and Noor, though there are many articles I have enjoyed by many authors. There is just a tidal wave of talent here!

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