A journey of self discovery
20 August 2018
From being part of a ladies’ drama troupe specializing in male roles to writing plays, from living on a remote island near Madagascar to skydiving at 18,000 feet, Sudha Ramnath has quite the penchant for crafting experiences. She has written, directed and staged four plays in Indian English in Tanzania and Kenya, along with other Indian expats.
She has done the regular things too — worked in a bank, married a man whom she calls the 'sane' part of her life, taught math and physics and describes herself as a mad but loving mum to her two children. While others like her drew up grocery lists and laundry schedules, Ramnath made plans to live the moments and stuck by it — she made the pilgrimage to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis, danced like there was no tomorrow at a flash mob in San Francisco and stood on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and watched the million-dollar sunset.
She also volunteers at Hyderabad-based suicide intervention NGO Roshni Trust.
In this interview with Swetha Amit, she talks about her journey as an author, her idea behind this book and her learnings from it.
Flight or Fright is a catchy title and your book deals with the burning issue of terrorism. How did you come up with the idea?
I finished my first book and was working on ideas for the second. I wanted it to be a thriller and have an element of suspense to it. Around the same time, came the news about Malaysian Airline MH370, which had disappeared. I kept wondering what had happened to its passengers. I had also started to watch a TV series in the US called Lost and was completely fascinated with this particular character John Locke in the story who was clairvoyant. In fact, he is the inspiration for one of my characters in the book who is also clairvoyant. At the same time, I happened to read a book called The Himalaya by Michael Palin which is about his journey across the Himalayas. So, I decided to weave all these themes together and pen down a book.
Could you tell us more about your background and journey as an author?
I have always been writing something or the other since my childhood. Sometimes, it would be about the films that I watched or about my travel experiences. This was before the era of Facebook so I would send my write ups over email to people who enjoyed reading. Once Facebook came, I used this as a platform to reach out to people through my writings. So, I started writing snippets and funny things, which got me a lot of positive feedback from people.
It was only when my brother suggested that I should start thinking of a novel, did I even begin thinking on those lines. So, I wrote my first book which is a collection of short stories. I called it Susp'Ended as each story had a suspense ending to it. Once I finished that, I decided to think along the lines of my second book which is Flight or Fright.
The character sketches have been done well, giving the readers a glimpse into each one’s life. Were these characters inspired from real life?
I travel a lot so I got to meet a lot of interesting people. I also read about so many characters through books and derive some inspiration from there. I have been associated with theatre for a long time, and met a lot of interesting characters in the play.
Publisher: Notion Press
It was interesting to see how all the characters are waiting to board a flight to the same destination. Yet each one is carrying a unique emotional baggage. Was it a conscious effort to create this angle?
I created my characters in a way that all of them have a problem when they begin their journey and how they get resolved at the end. For instance, in the newly-wed characters from New York in my book, the man didn’t know how to deal with his nagging wife. I created a solution for him towards the end of my book. It was a conscious effort to bring this interesting perspective. I feel from the outside everybody seems sorted out but the truth is everyone is battling their own issues. There is more to a person than what meets the eye.
Your book brings out aspects of crisis management and leadership in a tense situation. What do you think corporates can learn from this?
When my husband was the CEO of a company in Mumbai, we used to discuss the problems occurring in his organisation. What I find is that people fail to delegate work.
They think they are the only ones who can solve the problem in a perfect manner. If you look at my story, the leadership angle took a natural course amongst the passengers. The character of Nilima assumed the responsibility of finding their way through the mountains as she was an avid mountaineer. Asiya the air hostess handles the food department. People end up doing what they are good at. I think this is a good lesson for any management to identify who is good at what and allocate responsibility appropriately.
Terrorism is an issue that is enticing innocent lives around the world. Since your book covers this aspect, what do you think are the preventive measures that can be taken to avoid such a catastrophe?
This is an issue to be handled by an expert. However, my take on this is simplistic. These days, people fail to notice what is happening around them. They either plug their earphones or check mails on their phones. It will be a good idea to observe what is going around you especially while travelling, be it airports or stations. If you notice anything suspicious, then maybe you can alert the security forces or use social media to bring that awareness with a proper hashtag.
As an author, you have covered several powerful themes in your book without overwhelming the reader. How did you manage to attain this balance?
I always put myself in the shoes of an average reader. That way I write about things that I personally wouldn’t get overwhelmed about and what I enjoy reading.
Some of the conversations between your characters and carry a deep message which can be applied to life. What have you personally learnt during your journey while penning down this book?
I learnt a lot. One thing is about Tibetans. I did a lot of research with regards to their food habits, customs and the terrains that they lived in. So that this particular portion appears authentic in my book. I also grew as a person while penning down this book. I realise that when you get into the minds of so many distinct characters, you observe how they behave and think. As an author, you give life to several characters but after a while you see that these characters take their own course.
Lastly any more books in the pipeline?
Yes of course. When I wrote my first book, I had several ideas in my head. I am currently developing my second short story collection. I am still on the fourth story so it will take a while as I have to finish 15 such stories.