During the day, Vennila, who works at a government high school in Tiruvannamalai, is like any other Maths teacher — helping students understand and find solutions to problems. When she’s not teaching, she applies the same formula, albeit in a diametrically opposite medium — she writes poems and short stories on problems, fears and issues faced by women in the society. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years now. While my father, who was part of the Dravidian movement, was a huge inspiration, what also provoked me was the fact that how the society continues to remind me that I’m a woman at every stage of my life — imposing rules and limitations on things I can and cannot do,” she recalls. “And while people may not find any correlation between Maths and my literary work, I beg to differ. In fact, being a Maths teacher has helped a great deal in my writing. Just like in Maths, you know the answers to the problems in our society, it’s only about the steps that you need to incorporate to arrive at the solution that need to be worked on,” adds Vennila who published over 15 titles on women in history, feminism, sexual abuse and more.
Her works include an anthology of 54 women writers from 1932 to 2015; a collection of poems called Yeria thuvang um kadal (Sea that begins to burn) that talks about middle class women, their struggles, relationships, desires and more; Veliye (Outside) that deals with sanitation; Brindavum elam paruvathu aangalum (Brinda and a few young men) that addresses rape, harassment and abuse. However, her most impactful work yet has been the poem Oru vaguparai yum sila ilavarasigalum (A classroom and a few princesses) that throws light on the poor sanitation facilities in schools. The 2011 poem that appeared in a popular Tamil magazine brought about a much needed change in her school. “The poem dealt with the problems faced by girl children without a toilet, particularly during menstruation. After reading the poem, erstwhile Collector Dr M Rajendran of Thiruvanammalai immediately sanctioned Rs 8.75 lakh for constructing 12 toilets. He also launched a district-wide inspection of schools to take note of the sanitation facilitates,” says Vennila who also sold her works at the recently held Chennai Book Fair. Despite these achievements, she is disturbed by the sad state of affairs that women in the country continue to be in. Recalling an incident, she says, “Once I was speaking at an event that also had late feminist Tamil writer Rajam Krishnan. She grieved that it was sad she had to see women of our generation struggle for the same rights as hers and those before her. I share her sentiments now. Although more women are going to schools today, we continue to have more Nirbhayas, dowry deaths and high unemployment rates.”
Venilla, who is currently working on a historical narrative that focusses on the contribution of women in the Chola period, says the way forward is to have constant dialogue on women’s issues. “We need to constantly engage in conversations about ills faced by women. And essentially, it has to involve men equally because they’re part of the problem. Change starts from our homes. We need to treat our families like a democracy — where both the mother and father, the brother and sister have an equal voice and opportunity. When this fails, everything goes for a toss,” finishes Venilla.