S. Subhalakshmi, M.A. Presidency College, Chennai, 1951

“The first woman graduate in the extended family is my maternal aunt, Subhalakshmi, 84 years old, living in Chennai, who holds a Masters degree in Economics. She passed out of Presidency College, Madras in the year 1951 and was ranked second in the University of Madras. She is currently a writer who writes in English and Tamil with equal facility.

She attributes her education and progress to her father O V Swaminathan, an agriculturist in the hamlet of Ullikadai, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu, who believed that girls must be educated at any cost. The fifth child at home, she went to the elementary school in the village like other girls. But unlike other girls she did not stay back home on completion of elementary education in 1940, but was sent to a secondary school in Tiruvaiyaru, 10 km away. She recalls taking the mofussil bus to school and speaking as a child in weekend school gatherings. Those were the days of fervent nationalism and she moved on from addressing school gatherings to large public meetings in towns and villages. She says she was known locally for her involvement in Satyagraha and Quit India Movement in the 1940s. Imbibed by her father’s patriotic fervour she always wore khadi skirts and blouses, even on special occasions like marriages.

In 1945 she joined the undergraduate programme in Economics in Government College, Kumbakonam. She was elected Deputy Speaker of the college union and later as the Secretary of Science Association. Her price tally in the four years of under graduation included gold medals in elocution, and essay competitions and for proficiency in her chosen subjects, besides more than a dozen prizes in various competitions. In 1949 she became the first graduate in the family.

Unfazed by criticism from friends and family, her father sent her to Chennai for post-graduation. She enrolled in Presidency College, Chennai, and chose to major in Economics with Political Science as minor. She invariably topped the class in all subjects and was ranked University second in the final exam. She recalls how difficult it was for her father, who had no fixed income to pay for her stay in a far away city. Yet he persisted against all odds and she owes what she is today to her father.

She taught in the Department of English in her alma mater before moving onto a supervisory post in the office of the Accountant General, Mysore, South India. She worked till she got married in 1960 but had to quit as her husband was frequently on transfer from one state to another.

However, she soon found an interest in writing. In 1992 her first short story collection ‘Chandana kaaviyam’ (Tale of the sandalwood) in Tamil was published under the pseudonym ‘Sarayu’. It has been selected by the Library of Congress of America for their libraries. Her second short story collection ‘Manidha deivam’ (Human God) won her awards from the Tamil Nadu government and a literary circle in Coimbatore. She states with pride that her first novel ‘Thoduvaanam’ (Horizon) has been the subject of M.Phil research. Her second novel ‘Vithyasamaanaval’ (A different woman) has received the Ilakiya Peetam award recently. Her stories find mention in research papers of various Tamil Nadu universities and Pondicherry University. Her poems in English have been published in various English poetry magazines in India and also abroad. Her name has been included in the list of who is who of Sahithya Academy, Asia Pacific, Learned India and Biography International. She still writes columns in journals. As she says, the journey continues.

Contributor: Maya Ranganathan (niece), Chennai, India.

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