Malathi Ramachandran says she wanted explore modern-day relationships in her second novel, which tells the story of a fighter pilot and a modern miss who has to choose between love and luxury
It was only correct that I met Malathi Ramachandran at the stately RSI Club. Amid the green leafy trees between bites of a lovely chocolate tart, Malathi, the daughter of an infantryman, spoke of her second book, Edge of all the Light (Melting Pot, Rs. 250). “As the wife of an Air Force pilot, I have often felt that the young men serving at the borders, in remote areas such as the Kashmir Valley and the Rajasthan desert, are caught in a kind of time warp while the rest of the world has moved on. Often they are living a parallel reality. Being highly motivated in their job, they do not realise that the world does not measure success by their standards anymore.”
The novel is basically the story of “a fighter pilot Tanuj who is deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart, Ahilya. She, however, wants more from her future than ‘just being someone's wife.’ She would rather marry a successful man and settle abroad.”
When I spoke with Malathi for her debut novel, the charming The Wheel Turned, (2010) she spoke of her second novel where a fighter pilot would be a sympathetic character but not the protagonist. “I knew you would ask that! When I sit down to write, I often have only a rough plot in mind, and let the characters decide what they would do on that particular day. Yes, I remember I did say that Tanuj would be an important character, but not the main character. But somehow, along the way, Tanuj just took over and became bigger and bigger…”
Unlike Meena from The Wheel Turned, who was all round likeable, Ahilya is definitely a grey character. “Ahilya is a modern girl from a conservative background. So while her thinking and decisions are progressive, she still clings to her family values. Her occasional selfishness is mitigated by immediate remorse, her thoughtless words by loving actions and her materialistic yearnings by her acceptance at last that ‘chemistry is more important than comfort, love scores over luxury and pyaar over paisa’...”
Ask her to pick her favourite character in the novel and the city-based writer says: “As a writer, I tend to fall in love with my characters when I create them. Tanuj to me is the quintessential fighter pilot, an alpha-male and yet so innocent; so confident and yet never aggressive; foolishly impulsive, but very responsible.
Of my secondary characters, great aunt Dela-ma was loosely inspired by ‘modern mamis’ I have known and even a little by the Wodehousean character, Aunt Dahlia. Dela-ma is the epitome of what ‘family’ means in the Indian context.”
The title, from a quote by Richard Bach, Malathi says “seemed to convey how the story begins and ends. The prologue talks of the play of day and night, darkness and light, and the cover has managed to convey this concept effectively.”
While the love story is the main plot, there is a parallel terror plot involving Sri Lankan Tamils. “I could have chosen any terrorist outfit to make my point (that our lives are finally in the hands of larger forces we have no control of) but I chose the Sri Lankan situation because the story is set in Chennai and it just made more geographical sense. Also, there are thousands of Sri Lankan refugees living in Chennai who do nurse old wounds like Dix in the novel.”
Research Malathi says “involved getting a grip on the Sri Lanka situation, then some for the combat sortie and spin dive, and also for the flight emergency on the commercial flight.” The flight emergency is described in scary detail. “I wanted to show the scene in the plane in great detail for two reasons. One, because this was a build-up for the climax and extremely important as a turning point in the story. Two, because this is where we see Tanuj at his best, as a strong, responsible young man who risks his life to prevent an air disaster.”
Both in The Wheel Turned and Edge of all the Light, defence officers are shown to be pucca sahibs. This seems vaguely unrealistic considering the press the armed forces is getting these days. “I am the daughter of an Army Infantry officer and the wife of an Air Force pilot. So it does give me a ringside seat view into these esoteric worlds. I present a view of people in the defence services as I see them. Yes, today, there is a lot of media attention on the dirty underbelly of the forces, but I prefer to think of the upright, motivated soldier as the norm and the corrupt ones as aberrations.”
Malathi says her next book will not be about the Forces. “It will be a literary novel dealing with the concept of migration. It is inspired by books such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck and our very own City of Joy. The dispossessed in any culture are the same, and I believe that their stories are waiting to be told, if only so that we understand their world.”
Edge of all the Light is available at the Sapna outlets, Strand (Manipal Centre) and Blossom Book House. They can also be ordered online on pothi.com, sapna online, and shortly at Flipkart, Indiplaza, Amazon, etc. The Ebook can be downloaded from Amazon Kindle and Pothi.com.