The Scent of Happiness

To find her place in the world, Prema must not only leave her abusive husband and bring up her daughter on her own, she must also fight oppression at the workplace and form strong friendships with other women. Her struggles begin at birth, right from the unequal treatment she receives at home vis-a-vis her older brother, the casual attitude of her family towards her education because she is a girl, and the various challenges she faces at school, college and later as a working woman. 

This is equally a tale of hope, offering us new ways of being a woman and of re-thinking the self. It is a sharp critique of gender politics as it plays out both in the private, familial sphere as well as in the public sphere. Prema gives voice not just to her own story but also, by extension, to the stories of thousands of women of her generation, women who grew up in the heady years immediately following the formation of an independent Indian nation state. Embedded in the novel is the idea of freedom, both personal and political. 

The Scent of Happiness could describe Vatsala too. Resilience, positivity and laughter – these are the words that come to my mind when I think of Vatsala. Hers has been a life of deep troughs, just like the protagonist of this story. The scent of happiness pervades this story as it pervades Vatsala’s spirit. Like the manoranjitham flower, the Ananda inside us may turn shades as we live, but it will always be fragrant.
Justice PRABHA SRIDEVAN (Retd), Writer and Translator

When women begin to examine and represent their lives critically and with honesty, several untruths start to break down. In order to prevent women from pointing out these untruths, the heavy burden of family honour is loaded on to their backs. For those women who want to rid themselves of this particular burden and stand erect once again, the journey of Prema in Vatsala’s novel The Scent of Happiness is a beacon of hope and light.
A. ARULMOZHI, Advocate, Madras High Court and Feminist & Social Activist

The Scent of Happiness by R. Vatsala is an epic journey of a woman who tackles various challenges at different junctures in life with persistent efforts and undying hope.
The Book Review

R. Vatsala’s novel The Scent of Happiness is a survivor’s story, the story of all women who survive domestic abuse and navigate stone-walling at the workplace.

This novel records the epic journey of a woman’s bid to break free after a bad marriage.

The fact that the book is autobiographical makes it all the more inspiring. The translation is deftly done.
Savitha Vaidyanathan (

Set in the sixties and moving through the following decades, the novel sheds light on the unequal power dynamics that leave women with less to almost nothing when it comes to asserting their own independence or voice.

K. Srilata and Kaamya Sharma as translators of this novel have tried to bring out the essence of this work for the non-Tamil literate audience. The attempt is to open up a world for people, who would hardly be able to access the literary world that the original text presents. The translated text acts as a window to the vast world of vernacular literature.


Born in 1943, VATSALA grew up in Bombay and Rajkot and worked in IIT Madras. Her books include two poetry collections Suyam (Sneha, 2000) and Naan Yenn Kavingar Aaga Villai? (Ahuthi and Panikudam, 2018), two novels Vattathul (Uyirmai, 2006) and Kannukkul Satru Payaniththu (Bharathi Puthakalayam, 2016) as well as a collection of short stories Chinna Chinna Izhai (Bharathi Puthakalayam, 2018). Vatsala won the Tiruppur Tamil Sangam award in 2006 for her novel Vattathul. Her short stories have won the Illakia Chintanai award, the Agni-Subhamangala award and the Rajeswari Balasubramaniam award. Her poems in English translation have appeared in The Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry (Viking/Penguin, 2009) as well as in Interior Decoration: Poems by 54 Women from 10 Languages (Women Unlimited, 2010).


A Professor of English at IIT Madras, K. SRILATA was a writer in residence at the University of Stirling (Scotland), Yeonhui Art Space (Seoul) and Sangam house. She has five collections of poetry, the latest of which, The Unmistakable Presence of Absent Humans, was published by Poetrywala in 2019. Srilata has also published a novel titled Table for Four (Penguin) and has co-edited the anthologies The Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry (Viking/Penguin), Short Fiction from South India (OUP), All the Worlds Between (Yoda) and Lifescapes: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers from Tamilnadu (Women Unlimited). Srilata’s translation of Vatsala’s novel Vattathul (Once There was a Girl) was published by Writers Workshop. 


With a PhD from the School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, KAAMYA SHARMA has taught courses on literary translation and worked as a translator for Cre-A Publishers. In 2019, she was awarded the Peter Taylor Fellowship at the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop for Literary Nonfiction. When not riding motorcycles, she pursues her interests in heritage, material culture and storytelling.

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