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Meet Meera Ramachandran: Writer and Scholar

Chitra Parayath

'In Their Shadows', in author Meera Ramchandran's own words is a sensitive portrayal of human beings, who are spurred by love, ambition, parental angst and other emotions that often lead to dramatic turns and twists in their lives.

Meera Ramachandran claims that she was struck by the different ways the young and old reacted to the 1980's serialization of the ancient Hindu epics, Mahabharatha and Krishna. While the older generation lapped it up with an veritable religious zeal, the younger viewers found the rendering archaic, didactic and over the top. Instead of intriguing them and engaging their interest, it portrayed a world alien to their rational minds. "If the story puts them off, how will they absorb the substance in the tales?" she asked herself, and thus were sown the seeds of an idea for her collection of stories: 'In Their Shadows'. To make the tales palpable to the present generation of readers in terms and a style they understood was the challenge she undertook.

Juxtaposing composites of characters from her favorite Puranic tales and placing them in present day predicaments, she weaved tales of morality and everyday angst around them.

Greeted enthusiastically by critics and readers in India, this collection contains thought provoking, heart-warming tales. Combining the internal intuitive approach of religious belief systems and the external, rational approach of Science, Meera has succeeded in looking inward to the psyche for the wisdom that comes through intuition and imagination. Her interpretation of the mythological stories is poignant, fraught with humanity, and points to the authors keen insight into the minutest of human emotions. The tales are familiar and the characters will ring a bell. But there always is, at the denouement of each story, an element of surprise.

Meera tells us that this is her first extended creative work. She has written critical and scholarly articles for various publications, has translated Tamil works into English and has also contributed middles to popular newspapers in India.

Among the characters she mentions when explaining the book to me is Karna (Karunesh in 'In The Shadows'). Karna, we all know is the illegitimate son of Kunti and the Sun God who is adopted by a family of Charioteers and raised as one till he finds his calling as a soldier and joins the Kauravas in their battle against Kunti's sons, the Pandavas. "This is a fascinating tale. Legends of immaculate conception features in myths of almost all regions of the world. Karna's story had to be modified to satisfy a modern, scientific, intellectual and skeptical reader. In the process, I noticed something strange happening. I began to tune into a lot of silent sources within me. I began to think like my characters. Karna , I realized at some point in my retelling, must have had a tremendous sense of identity crisis. His excessive competence and his personal charisma must have signaled to him that he did not belong to the family that brought him up. Then there is the story of how Dhruva becomes a star, a transorganic transformation. I had to place him in our present day context. There too something clicked. The story of Dhruva evolved and his mother became the mover of the plot."

So the characters take over from the writer to write their own story? I wonder. As myths are specific accounts of gods or superhuman involved in extraordinary events or circumstances in a time that is unspecified but which is understood as existing apart from ordinary human experience, how does one stay close to the original and yet impart it more insight?

Meera hastens to explain, "It is an internal journey actually. I am experiencing some of what my characters have gone through. Let me give you an example. A wonderful experience I drew from during the writing of this book. While working on the tale about Vishvamitra, I decided to experience meditation and began to practice it. Every night, after dinner, I would walk to the park, sit on a bench and meditate. One night while meditating I thought about my character and realized with a start that I had begun to think of him in first person. I like to think that I grew with these stories, as I am hitting my brain trying to come up with an explanation of this metaphysical dialogue, this cosmic experience. Now the story was to be written! Not as an abstract idea but in very down to earth, concrete terms. I had felt this one ness with the cosmos and I had to get it out in communicable terms."

Meera's passion is evident in her words and reflected in her stories. These are ultimately stories about everyday heroes in the present day world. I ask Meera about the popularity of Indians writing in English. "I am so glad we are becoming mainstream now. I enjoy Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth the most" And influences? " Being a teacher of English, I read a great deal and I am sure I draw from all but my true favorite is William Faulkner."
We wish Meera luck and thank her for talking to Lokvani.

Meera’s statement about the book.

“In the stories of In their shadows…characters from our mythological heritage, like Dhruv, Vishvamithra, Savithri-Satyavan, Nal Damayanti and Kunti- Karan are reborn in our modern day world. What could be their thoughts, drives and goals now- in the post- feminist, scientifically advanced, politically correct milieu? How will their destinies, already determines by their mythological origins be played out in today’s environment? Thses questions led on the one hand, to a search for parallel incidents and plot sequences that would be deemed probabale today and on the other hand to penetration into the character’s minds especially into their hitherto silent zones. Thus a drama began to unfold on both planes- plot and personality. In every story the inner and external drama progress inevitably and authentically- I hope- towards building bridges between today’s pressures and inherited memories.”

MEERA RAMACHANDRAN is a Reader in the Department of English at Maitreyi College, University of Delhi. Educated in India and in the United States of America, Meera has published literary articles, commentaries on social issues and translations of stories from Tamil into English. In 1989 she received the Bharat Nirman Award for her contributions in the field of education. An active social worker, she has set up a slum welfare center under the aegis of the Inner Wheel Movement. We talked to her when she visited the area in October. 'In Their Shadows' can be purchased online at www.indiaclub.com

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