What makes a book a great read? It is not just the combination of words or fantastic ideas, but a feeling of authenticity that is transmitted to the reader when they sink into its pages. Books reveal the unknown and allow a reader to see and feel what they never have before.
Devaki Nilayangode successfully paints a picture of her life in a series of books that she has written over the past 15 years. A 90-year-old, with no prior experience in writing or a formal education, she is no ordinary writer.
Devaki has authored four books so far and is hugely inspired by her life and experiences. She writes in a conversational and straightforward manner and says that her most significant allies are authenticity, and a calm, sensible attitude towards the difficult life she’s lived.
Devaki comes from a Namboodiri Brahmin (Kerala Brahmin) family which held on to their age-old culture for a very long time. A part of their tradition was unfair towards women, in that they were hardly allowed to step out of their house or pursue education.
In her books, Devaki recalls the differences she observed regarding the upbringings of boys and girls, but she does this without any ill-feelings.
Her first book was titled ‘Nashtabodhangalillathe’ which means no grievance or loss. It was published in 2003 and shows no trail of hard feelings or grief for the difficult times she’s faced.
Devaki recalls the institutional difference in genders, “Gender disparity began even before the birth of a child. When a pregnancy was announced, the elders in the family always prayed for a boy. If their prayers were answered, joyous shouts announced his arrival into the world, but if the baby was a girl, the maids knocked softly on the kitchen door.
Devaki was born in a comparatively prosperous household, but her life was not exactly comfortable. Those times did not allow a free conversation between men and women. Often, brothers and even fathers would not be able to speak with girls who spent most of their days indoors.
Devaki writes about how she and her sisters sneaked in books, with the help of their brothers to read and learn in secret. Devaki’s situation changed when she got married at the age of 15. Her husband’s family was progressive, and she learnt to read and write English with the aid of a tutor. She would also go on to participate in movements of women empowerment.
Devaki’s writing also addresses social elements like casteism, untouchability, traditions, attire, food habits, and means of entertainment.
The original books have been translated into English by Indira Menon and Radhika P Menon and are published by Oxford University Press.