A surgeon who has worked in six countries in four continents, Dr Anantha Ramanathan has had the rare opportunity of interacting with people from nearly a hundred countries. This exposure to different cultures is reflected in his writings. He writes under the name Ezhuth Aani which means “a pen”. Having published an anthology of poems in Tamil in 2013, Ezhuth soon followed this with two novels in Tamil. In English, Ezhuth has published I am the Lord, Another Tale of Two Cities, and RAINBOW. His fourth novel, Riding with Ravan came out in March 2021. The Sunday Guardian spoke to Dr. Anantha Ramanathan about his novels. Excerpts:
Q. What was your inspiration to write this novel?
A. I have always wanted to write something that binds Sri Lanka and India together. Ramayan is the best way to achieve this. Just as Ram is revered in India, Ravan has many fans in Sri Lanka. Many places are named after him. Ravan had many great qualities and was a great musician. But for his folly of abducting Sita, he may be viewed as a hero and not as a villain.
Also our ancient civilization was far more advanced than people give them credit for. For example I cannot begin to think how King Kashyap could have built a palace on top of a 200 meter high rock in Sigiriya in the fifth century AD. How could it be possible, without any of the modern engineering equipment even to haul supplies to the top? Then we have evidence of Rama Sethu bridge which is a collection of atolls and sand dunes. The vanaras may have been Neanderthals who co existed with Homo sapiens at some point. So I thought why not base a fictional work on the mythology and add science to it. It had to be a contemporary story to make it interesting for the readership.
Q. How do you get time to write, as you are a full-time professional?
A. You can always find time. I wrote some of my books even while on the exercise bike. Then there were periods of travel where I got plenty of time for doing the background research and for writing. Also considering that most people spend one third of their day sleeping, I don’t think anyone can say they do not have time.
Q. Are you going to continue to write in the same genre, retrograde science fiction?
A. Perhaps. But if you see my history, no two novels have been in similar genre. Each has been totally different to the one before that. But I do hope others will keep our quest to vindicate and validate our mythology by exploring Ramayan and Mahabharath and trying to relate them to modern science. We don’t need to go to the future. We don’t need Star Wars. Everything is in our ancient epics.
Q. What are your expectations for Riding with Ravan?
A. My sincere hope is that it will become a popular novel, and will inspire a Bollywood movie, a cartoon series with Ravan and his Pushpak Viman helping Sunil Mishra defeat the enemies. I also hope there will be an audio book. Furthermore I hope it will arouse sufficient interest among Indians to go of Ravan trails and for Sri Lankans to travel to India. When tourism flourishes and people interact, there will be peace and harmony.
Q. What have you been reading lately in English?
A. Due to work commitments I haven’t undertaken reading any long novels in the recent past. But I have been reading poems with my late mother in law, Mrs. Baleswary Selvarajah. Being an English teacher she got me interested in poetry. One of the poems that touched my heart is The Lake Isle of Innisfree. These lines in particular strike a chord:
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
We hail from villages and have travelled the world, standing in big cities. But in our heart of hearts we yearn for the simple peaceful life of our childhood.
Q. What do you think of the future of English publishing in India?
A. I think it is very bright indeed. India has a population of 1.5 billion. Even if 10% of the people read English books, we have a 150 million readership which is more than double the entire population of England. At some point the publishing industry has to shift its focus to India. India has a vibrant and expanding middle class with a relatively young population. This is going to be the future for the English publishing industry.
Q. Have you got any other novels in the works?
A. Yes I have two completed novels which I will release in the coming years. The first is about politics, corruption and bias in the medical world. This story will move you to tears.
The second is about a group of medical students in Sri Lanka. We went to medical school in Colombo during the height of the civil war and during a violent leftist uprising. However, we still managed to have a lot of fun. This is a story about out student life but with a profound message.
Q. You still rave about Suhail Mathur’s book cover for your first novel I am the Lord. Why?
A. Suhail Mathur from The Book Bakers Literary Agency designed the cover for I am the Lord. I have had the greatest regards for Suhail since that first introduction. I am the Lord is about the futility of religious conversions. The cover shows Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man rising up from the ocean while others are struggling. Only this man is fully shaven unlike the original who has long locks. As you know many Eastern monks shave their heads. It signifies the synthesis of Eastern and Western thought. Absolutely brilliant!