A Conversation With Author & Publisher Niveditha Louis

Being a writer, Nivedita Louis recognises the struggles of a first-time woman writer and helps many articulate their voice with development, content edits as a publisher.

“I usually write during night”, says author Nivedita Louis during our conversation. Chuckling she continues,” It’s easier then to focus solely on writing.  Nivedita Louis is a writer, with varied interests and one of the founders of Her Stories, a feminist publishing house, based in Chennai.

In a candid conversation she shared her journey from small-town Tamil Nadu to becoming a history buff, an award-winning author and now a publisher.

From working in railways to curating heritage walks

Nivedita was born and raised in a small town in Tamil Nadu. It was for schooling that she first arrived in Chennai. Then known as Madras, she recalls being awed by the city. Her love-story with the city, its people and thus began which continues till date. She credits her perseverance and passion to make a difference to her days as a vocational student among the elite sections of Madras.

“I was happy, I could mingle with likeminded people because there were other vocational batches as well and we were mostly from ordinary backgrounds. And when someone transports you to a place where foreign vacations, English fluency are the norm, it changes and shapes a lot of perspectives. It kind of gives you the drive to succeed, to do more, and make it and this thought made me, I would say.”

Following her schooling her placement for Railways was delayed during which she did many odd jobs from being a dance teacher, to selling sarees.   “I was not someone who could be quiet, and then I got my appointment and joined the Railways, where I worked for seventeen years. And there were varied experiences during my work when I worked at goods shed, booking office and even one-man stations where I will be the only person running the ticket counter and taking care of the station.”

After many years, wanting a change, she quit her work and moved to Chennai from Trichy. This move opened new experiences and interests for her.  “After shifting to Chennai and my children started school, I realised how my entire day was void, till the kids came back in the evening. I was really bored to death, so then I thought why not explore Chennai by myself. I mean I have always had a fascination for the city so I started joining the heritage walks that were organised around the city.”

She adds that while these heritage walks were interesting, she felt their definition of heritage was very limited to specific temples and locations. This prompted her to curate information so as to make an inclusive heritage walk, with educational institutions, hospitals that made a difference, mosques, churches, working class histories, celebrating the diverse make-up of the city.  Her first walk was along Greenways Road, in Chennai which was very popular. This encouraged her to plan heritage walks (and sometimes bike-rides!)   exploring the histories of Royapuram.  Kasimedu, Vannarapettai. These areas from North Chennai have always been ignored as lacking history which she sought to shatter.

“So when I started working along North Madras, It was so fascinating, as the place is like a cultural cauldron with so many different people living a working class life. There was beauty to it that I felt was not being shown enough.  So, I focussed on those aspects with my walks and started writing on the side.“

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Niveditha Louis on her writing journey

Nivedita Louis describes her foray into writing as a big joke that started on social media. She recalls that during an online debate about purdah, she insisted that it should be the women’s choice and how that led to her getting trolled incessantly on Facebook. Following the incident, she lay low for a few days followed by a post titled “25 ways to manage social media nuisance.” The sharp, witty post went viral and eventually landed in the Kungumam Thozhi, a popular Tamil magazine, her first published piece. This followed by her penning a series documenting her experiences, interactions from her heritage walks in the magazine Aval Vikatan which was well received.

Researching and history seemed to be her natural forte, and she continued with assignments relating to archaeology, history, women and cultures all within Tamilnadu. She built on her interest with learning how to relate Sangam literary texts to archaeological finds.  In her writings she simplifies aspects of archaeology in a simple, concise way. Her book  From Adichanallur to Keezhadi The Archaeological Tracks of Tamil Nadu (Adichanallur Mudhal Keezhadi Varai), avoids jargon but remains an informative text for anyone interested in history.

Other books like Vada Chennai (வட சென்னை) chronicles the working-class history and the diverse lives, livelihoods of North Chennai residents breaking stereotypes from mainstream narratives.  She won the SRM Thamizh Perayam Puthumai Pithan and Tha Mu E Ka Sa K Muthaiah Award for the book.

Nivedita’s writings focus on feminist histories and debate current issues with an intersectional lens.  This ethos reflects in her publishing house HER Stories. Last year they published seventy titles, mostly of the non-fiction genre, featuring predominantly women writers.

How Her Stories came to be

HER stories was initially a Facebook page which started during the COVID lockdown period. It was a space about current women issues, achievements which grew organically with many women sharing their views and experiences. In the 2021 Laadli Awards, she received the Jury Special Mention (Tamil social media).

“I am very active on social media and when I started this space, I realised how there was a lack of space when it came to women’s voices. So, I had organised online woman only meet-ups, which helped the community grow, and introduced many new voices who were eager to contribute.  This was very encouraging and we decided to make a web page and started featuring series, write-ups by women. Some of our initial contributors included Sharmila Seyyid, Uma Mohan, Dr. Narayani Subramanian and many more new voices. “

The popularity of the page with new perspectives, writings helped her begin the publishing house Her Stories with Vallidasan and Sahana. Their titles like “Dupatta Podunga Thozhi” (Wear your Dupatta friend) have been extremely popular, especially among young girls and helped foster meaningful discussions around feminism.

Being a writer, Nivedita recognises the struggles of a first-time woman writer and helps many articulate their voice with development, content edits as a publisher. She says, “I got the opportunity to write which is still hard for many others, and I want Her Stories to be a space that helps foster new voices, especially from marginalised sections.”

Women and writing

As a writer, she is very vocal about the challenges that are inherent to women when it comes to writing.   She shares her experiences researching , Ariyappadatha Christhavam Part 1 & 2 (அறியப்படாத கிறிஸ்தவம்ஒரு வரலாற்றுத் தேடல் தொகுதி 1 & 2 பண்பாட்டுக் கட்டுரைகள் during Covid.

“See, it’s a different set of challenges that women face when it comes to fieldwork and research. To start with, a man can pack his bag and leave but I as a woman have to make arrangements for the house, for the days I am away, plan the travel, detail my activities, I mean as a woman it’s hard to just step out of the house.”

These books are detailed ethnographic studies that examine the social, cultural history of Christianity from the churches, practices and saints from Tamil Nadu.

Her other books Ammakannuvukku Neelanai Pidikkaathu (அம்மாக்கண்ணுவுக்கு நீலனைப் பிடிக்காது), Muthal Penngal & Paathai Amaithavargal (முதல் பெண்கள் & பாதை அமைத்தவர்கள்) reveal nuanced and well-researched cultural / social history often.  Following this her latest book, Christhavathil Jaathi (கிறிஸ்தவத்தில் ஜாதி) discusses the topic of caste within Christianity.

The lack of diversity and representation has long been an issue in the business of books. While statistics indicate that women writers, publishers have started to gain momentum, there still remains a huge disparity when viewed with an intersectional lens. In this context it’s important to recognise the personal journey of women writers like Nivedita Louis.

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About the Author

Ambica G

Am a feminist who wished for a room but got stuck in a jar. Still, I go on clueless but hopeful and I keep writing. Taking it one step at a time! read more...

23 Posts | 87,951 Views

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