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Updated: March 1, 2010 17:17 IST

A soldier's saga

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER
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MULTI-LAYERED - Malathi Ramachandran: 'The book is not autobiographical though the sould and spirit is' Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
THE HINDU
MULTI-LAYERED - Malathi Ramachandran: 'The book is not autobiographical though the sould and spirit is' Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Malathi Ramachandran tells MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER she wanted to tell an old-fashioned tale of love and commitment in the time of war in her debut novel, The Wheel Turned

Malathi Ramachandran firmly believes everyone has a story within them. And “The Wheel Turned” (Pustak Mahal, Rs.175), which was released last week, is the novel Malathi had within her. The wide, sweeping saga tells the story of a soldier's wife in the Sixties.

Daughter of an infantry man with “olive green in his veins” and married to a fighter pilot, Malathi says: “The book is not autobiographical though the soul and spirit is.” The copywriter-turned-author lists three reasons for writing the book.

“There are many people who are true-blue soldiers, who want to serve and defend their motherland. I wanted to tell their story. The second reason is the fact that when nations fight, it is the innocents, the families of the soldiers that suffer. And finally, I wanted to explore the feelings of a woman who has to choose between her first love and a second relationship she gets into because of various situations.”

The story

“The Wheel Turned” follows the fortunes of young, vivacious Meena from Coimbatore who is married to Anand, an honest, upright officer in the Army. Just as the young couple are starting off their new life in the Army Cantonment at Dharmashala, Anand's unit is called to battle the Chinese in the North East where Anand goes missing.

The book explores Meena's wait for Anand, her fresh chance at happiness and Anand's horrific fate.

“I chose the Sixties as I am familiar with social milieu of the time. I was a child in the Sixties in Dharmashala when overnight soldiers were moved to the North-East. It was very emotional to see families and soldiers moving. The rest was all researched. For the battle at NEFA (North East Frontier Alliance, now Arunachal Pradesh), I referred to Brigadier John Dalvi's “The Himalayan Blunder”. The Battle of Tseng Jong is 100 per cent factual. China however, was a closed book, so I had to use my imagination. I researched the names however.”

The wide canvas of the novel was not part of Malathi's original plan. “I had wanted to use a fine brush to paint relationships but the canvas inadvertently grew bigger till it geographically touched the four corners of India.”

The book took a year and a half to write and a year of research. “I wrote it sometime ago. When I wrote it, China was not the flavour of the season.”

The book, with its themes of love and honour and of a woman waiting for her soldier husband to return from war has an old-fashioned solidity about it.

“I believe everything has been written about. What matters now is the way you say it. I developed a multi-layered storyline with a stream of consciousness style side by side with the main narrative.”

Character study

The Bangalore-based author says one of the greatest excitements of being a writer is “the characters take on a life of their own. Where the book ends, is not the end of the characters. When I sit at the computer, I have a rough plot in mind. But I don't know what my characters will do on a particular day. That is why I prefer the novel to the short story as I develop a fondness for my characters and in a novel I can spend more time with them. There is every chance of a sequel where we can find out what happened to Anand, Meena, Pradeep and Ming Lee.”

As of now, however, Malathi is not planning a sequel. She is working on her second book “set in the Nineties. There is a fighter pilot in the book. He is not the main character, but he is an important, sympathetic character.”

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