Words Without Borders: Ananda Devi In Conversation With Urvashi Butalia

Ananda Devi gave the audience an insight into her Indian origins, and what it was like to grow up in Mauritius. Devi, who published her first book at the age of 12, is considered one of the most important authors writing in French. The prolific writer speaks Telugu, Creole, French, English as well as Bhojpuri and Hindi, but said that she thinks in French.

Devi emphasized the importance of writing about subjects that have relevance in today’s world, such as marginalized minorities: “Writing isn’t just as an escape to another world, it is an essential voice that can make a difference in the present”.

Devi said she had grown up with books, but that it was the stories told by her mother that had most deeply influenced her writing: ‘my mother had an incredible way of telling stories’.

Uvarshi Butalia observed that for someone who appeared so serene and calm, Devi’s preoccupation with violence and darkness might come as a surprise, to which Devi quipped, ‘appearances can be deceptive’.

Devi discussed violence toward women, saying there were two key aspects to it: the aggressor, and the fear of the victim. She explained how fear could itself become an agency in violence, since ‘none of us are free from prejudices, and everyone has a trigger that can lead to violence.”

Speaking about women and society Devi observed, ‘there are many types of veils a woman can find herself behind’. She explained how veils on the body, character and mind were all ways of asking women to conform to the expectations of a male-dominated world.

An audience member asked her about her favourite time to write, to which Devi replied, ‘Late at night when I am half asleep, that is when poetry comes to me’.

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